How To Transform Your Problem-Solving And Creativity

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Think of all the people you know who inspire you, whether family and friends or public figures. Who are the

most interesting, engaging and stimulating to be around? The ones with the great ideas and energy for life?

These people almost certainly always ask questions and have an insatiable thirst to learn new things.

 

According to Donald N. MacKinnon, who is considered to be a world-leading researcher on creativity:

 

“Creative people have considerable cognitive flexibility, communicate easily, are intellectually

curious, and tend to let their impulses flow freely.”

 

Creative thinkers tend to be balls of energy and productivity machines. Think of Richard Branson and Elon

Musk. Another is Yoshiro Nakamatso, a Japanese inventor who claims to have his best ideas while under-

water suffering from oxygen starvation. He invented the floppy disk in 1952, apparently seconds away from

death by drowning.

 

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Creativity is generally perceived to be something external, out of our control, or an inherent talent for a

chosen few. But consider that creativity is fundamentally about ideas (the Oxford Dictionary defines a cre-

ative state as relating to or involving imagination or origial ideas). Ideas are generated by thiking, and

skills for thinking can be learned. Therefore, creativity, thinking and idea generation are skills that can be

learned. Jose G. Gomez says this in “What Do We Know About Creativity?”

 

“Perhaps the most prevailing view today  is that beyond a minimum level of intelligence

necessary for mastery in a given field, additional intelligence offers no guarantee of a

corresponding increase in creativity.”

 

Some people do have a greater aptitude for thinking creatively and laterally, just as some people are more

logic-based, but it’s a misconception that creativity is the exclusive right of a select group. Research indi-

cates that anyone can tap into this energy and be more productive.

 

“Creativity is not a talent, it’s a way of operating.”

– John Cleese

 

Learning a variety of thinking skills will have a dramatic impact on your productivity and output. Although

often considered technical and, therefore, logical disciplines, coding and web design (like mathematics)

require a highly creative approach and superior problem-solving skills. Anyone can increase their creativity

by learning the practical skill of thinking.

 

The five books we’ll explore below are my recommended reading list. This selection of material will

stimulate your thinking and reflection on creativity, as well as provide valuable, practical exercises that will

improve your thinking and problem-solving skills.

 

VERTICAL THINKING VS. LATERAL THINKING

 

The traditional type of thinking is vertical. Sequential and logic-based, vertical thinking moves through a set

process and stops when the best solution for a problem is found. Traditional thinking is done this way — we

are taught to think vertically.

Lateral thinking is about removing all preconception and previously held beliefs and being prepared to

work with ideas that at first appear wrong, jumping randomly between thoughts. Taking such a seemingly

chaotic approach to thinking enables you to set aside any ingrained beliefs that might influence your

thinking subconsciously and, therefore, influence your solutions. Solutions would then be real solutions and

not just the same old ideas regurgitated. Lateral thinking is about breakthroughs and innovation. Ideas are

conceived in a way that simply isn’t possible with vertical thinking.

Vertical and lateral thinking are essential for different tasks and work hand in hand. Whereas radical

creative ideas can be conceived with lateral thinking, vertical thinking is then required to process those

ideas and implement them in functional ways.

Lateral thinking will help you to conceive new tools, apps and programs, while vertical thinking will enable

you to write the code that makes them work.

 

THREE TECHNIQUES FOR LATERAL THINKING

 

  • Use an analogy.

 

To avoid getting trapped by the obvious when looking for creative ideas and solutions, use an analogy to

shift your thinking. Imagine searching for a solution to find car keys. Consider different scenarios: being lost

in fog, a vision-impaired person finding their way around, a stranger in a foreign location. You will see the

problem in different ways and approach it with fresh solutions.

 

  • Reverse information and reject the obvious.

 

Break the natural pattern of order. For example, the aim of online marketing is to direct traffic to websites.

Reverse and consider: How do you take the website to the traffic? Or reject the obvious, which will force

the brain to consider alternatives. For example, when considering how to increase the online visibility of a

website, imagine that search engines didn’t exist.

 

  • Oppose elements.

 

Another pattern-breaker is to take two random and opposing items and connect them (a classic technique

for humor); for example, a fish riding a bicycle, a ballet-dancing hippo, a toad singing opera. Brainstorm and

create a mind map of keywords related to your theme, which could throw up a lot of possible connections

that suggest creative ideas.

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When approaching any project, always ask what, why, where, how, who or when.

 

THE WHY TECHNIQUE

 

This is a great technique to get past all of the must, shoulds, have tos, whats, hows and I don’t knows. It’s

ideal for breaking through mental blocks when you’re fixing bugs.

You need more than one person, one to be the teacher answering questions and the other to be the

student asking “Why?”

Ask “Why?” regarding an element of your problem that you already know the answer to:

Student: “Why are mobile phones flat and oblong?”

Teacher: “They are flat to save space.”

Focus on a part of the previous explanation.

Student: “Why do they need to be small and save space?”

Teacher: “It’s convenient, and we can carry them around more easily.”

Refuse to be comforted by usual explanations and generate discomfort (this is where new ideas will break

through).

Student: “But why does the phone have to be convenient?”

Teacher: “To make our lives easier by having less to carry around.”

Student: But why do we want to carry less around?

Alternatives and solutions can be offered at any point:

Teacher: “If we had a small watch on our wrist that we could speak commands to and that fed back to a

‘base station’ at home or the office, then we could combine a phone and a laptop and have to carry neither,

only a watch.”

The teacher can at any point reverse the roles and say, “I don’t know, why do you think?” The teacher

would then be asking the questions and the student answering.

Student: “Why would we want to combine a laptop with a mobile phone?”

Teacher: “I don’t know. Why do you think combining a laptop and a phone would be a good idea?”

Keep asking “Why?” to push past your preconceptions and assumptions. Innovative ideas will start to break

through in the flow of discussion.