How to Solve Problems More Creatively
Solving problems more creatively doesn't mean working harder.
It starts with thinking differently. One way to do this is to
ask the questions that we don't normally ask. These are questions
that challenge not only the assumptions we may be making, but
the problem itself. Let's look at an example.
Lose an Election to Change the World
Janet's problem was how to get elected to the U.S. House of
Representatives. She wasn't wealthy, so she was thinking about
the money needed. Then one day she decided to get more creative,
by asking a lot of questions, and challenging the answers. She
asked, "Is raising money really the first thing to do here?"
Researching the issue online, she discovered that winners typically
have more money because they're liked as candidates, and that
brings in contributions, not the other way around as is commonly
This lead Janet to reorient her campaign from fund raising
to making the message clearer, targeting those who shared her
beliefs, and letting people know what she stood for. Soon she
was getting contributions from thousands who followed her campaign
on the internet. (Consider how Ron Paul raised millions online.)
Then she asked, "Why do I need to get elected?"
She wanted to make a real change in how things were done in Washington,
but challenging the hidden premise in that idea, she wondered
if winning a seat in congress was the best way to change things.
After all, it seemed that the corrupt way things were done had
so much to do with how one got there in the first place.
She studied history a bit, and noticed that those who lose
elections often cause more change than those who win. Consider
politically active fighters for civil rights in the 1940s. They
could not win an election in those more racist times, but they
did affect the views of many people. The new political climate
thus created required the "electable" candidates to
alter their views and promises.
In other words, if a man wants to win he must compromise what
he sees as right, and is eventually bound by his political obligations
to continue that corruption of his original mission. When he
ignore the unspoken rules of politics he won't get elected, but
he is entirely free to speak the truth, and so actually causes
more change. The message is clear, and by changing public opinion
he drags the "electable" compromisers in his direction.
They are the ones who have to abide by the will of the people
This gave Janet an idea. She still did her best to get her
message out and gather support. But knowing she would likely
lose the election, she created a document detailing what she
and her supporters believed in and wanted to accomplish. It was
sent to other candidates, who were invited to make their case
for how they could meet those goals. When it was clear she was
losing the race, she would drop out and endorse the candidate
most willing to align himself with her values and goals.
She would push her supporters to vote for the one endorsed,
but withdraw support from any who lied or broke promises to her
supporters. By the next election she worked this into a system
for generating votes, which were then be "delivered"
to whoever would promise the most and keep their promises. This
changed things in the direction she and others wanted, and without
compromising their values or goals.
Notice that it was only when she challenged her stated problem
of "how to get elected " that Janet found a more creative
and effective way to accomplish what she really wanted.
Solving Problems by Asking Deeper Questions
To identify the key elements of the problem, ask "why
do I care?," or "why is this problem important?"
These questions not only clarify the problem itself, but can
help to determine which problems you need to be working on first.
Identify and challenge any and all assumptions.
Work up and down the hierarchy of values to clarify what the
problem is. Suppose you start with "where to go on vacation."
Ask why you need to solve this. The answer might be the more
important value of "I want to have a good vacation."
Approaching the problem at this level may yield other solutions
that resolve the "where" or make it less important.
("How to vacation" is perhaps a better question
for the many stressed and rushed vacationers out there.)
Challenging the need for a good vacation can lead to the more
important value of "enjoying life." Working from that
level, some people may find that their vacations are an escape
from an unsatisfactory job. Finding a better career may be the
more important task. In the end, a person might just get back
to choosing a vacation destination, but this process can help
clarify why the problem needs to be solved, and suggest new ways
to do that.
Consider the child's game of "why?" It starts something
like this: An adult tells a boy he needs to go to school, and
the child asks "Why?"
"To get educated."
"So you can go on to the university."
"To get a degree."
"Because good employers require them."
The game goes on, usually ending when the adult says impatiently,
"Because I said so!" But this simple process gets deep
into the heart of these things. A smart kid might even notice,
"If I am the employer, I can hire myself without a degree."
More creative problem solving can start with this child-like
willingness to ask again and again, "Why?"