Leaders must find ways to maximize the current opportunity. At the time we are in the so-called VUCA times (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), and these moments require different ways to approach problems. 

That exactly is what Creative Problem Solving (CPS) tool kits and methods have to offer to leaders and their teams. Novelty, innovation, and disruption are seeked out by almost every single leader when thinking about their business, products or services. As of now you have probably been in at least one design thinking session, and during the last year you have also probably upgraded the physical post-its into a digital board. What you might not know is that this process is only one of many possible roads in the map of CPS.

Is it possible to redesign a business and revisit or build a purpose one post-it at a time? The answer has deeper roots than “yes” or “no”, that is why I interviewed Matthew Manos, Founder of Verynice, a collaborative design strategy practice that specializes in Creative Problem Solving, and Editor-in-Chief of  Reginald, a library of pay-what-you-want creative problem solving tool kits.

When asked to define the concept, Matthew said that: “The most typical definition of ‘Creative Problem Solving’ is the creation of an entirely novel solution to a problem; an idea that no one has come to before. Some of the most popular methods in the space include participatory design or co-design (designing a solution in collaboration with your end user, as opposed to just with a team of “experts”), design thinking (empathizing with the end user, defining the problem, ideating, prototyping, and testing), and the traditional creative problem solving method (clarifying the problem or need, ideating solutions, developing an idea, and implementing it). So, Creative Problem Solving is often associated with the end result of a creative pursuit; it tends to assume a solution is always what we’re working toward”.

However, for him it is more about the process than the solution itself, in his words, it “is about developing unique and unconventional processes that may lead to appropriate (not necessarily innovative) “solutions”, but can also focus efforts on gaining a better definition and understanding of what the “problem” itself is”.

How to Pivot and Find Purpose Through Creative Problem Solving 

We’ve heard a lot about being in “uncertain times” during the last 18 months, but Matthew clarifies that there is no such thing as “certain times”, since the future is impossible to predict, so it is always helpful to foster creative thinking when approaching big and small opportunities to mix things up at a company.

Divergent thinking, one of the pillars of Creative Problem Solving, is about throwing big and even unrealistic ideas that can open up an entirely new way of thinking about the vision of a product or service simply by cultivating a new and unusual perspective. 

Regarding the best approach to get started, Matthew recommended asking “why do I need to do so?” in order to have clarity about the problem, instead of jumping too quickly into conclusions on how to improve the business. 

One way to do this is through a very popular methodology called “The Five Whys”. This method was created by Sakichi Toyoda to help the Toyota Motor Corporation better understand the root cause of a problem. The way it works is simple, ask “why?” five times. By the fifth answer, you’ll gain more clarity around the problem you are trying to solve. 

Once you’ve done this, engage in a brainstorming session with a diverse group of stakeholders from within the organization (staff, leadership), and external stakeholders (customers, vendors, etc.). Work with them to refine your definition of the problem, and to generate ideas.

The Paradox of Choice: Picking the Most Suitable Tool Kit

There are several techniques and tool kits to go through a Creative Problem Solving process. From Matthew’s perspective, when selecting a tool kit or method to use, businesses should consider two things: the culture fit, and the functional fit. 

A more playful approach may not fit well within a more traditional environment. And vice versa. Selecting a tool kit based on culture fit is important, as a method with a structure that aligns with the team you’re working with will be more easily adopted. The same thing applies to functionality, depending on the problem the organization wants to solve, one specific tool kit might work better than the other. 

“I do believe that one of the best things a company can do is create its own unique approach to Creative Problem Solving. My recommendation is to try all kinds of approaches in order to learn more about how these methods work, then remix them to create your own unique approach that better aligns with the ambitions and culture of your team”, added Manos. 

Measurement and ROI 

The impact could be measured in two ways: by asking the impact on the problem originally identified or the impact of the process in the mindset of the team. Creative Problem Solving can also lead to a creative culture change. As an example of this, Matthew shared the case of a psychologist named Robert Epstein who, in a study with a group of 74 people, was able to increase the group’s capacity for idea generation by 55% over the course of 8 months by using creative thinking exercises.

Finally he added that “creative work is often hard to measure in a scientific manner. However, one attribute of Creative Problem Solving is it tends to make processes or approaches that may otherwise feel subjective, objective. In doing so, as odd as it might sound, creativity can come closer to feeling like a science”.