Five Ways You Can Boost Innovative Thinking and Solve Problems Creatively

Light-bulb-creativity-300x262Creative problem solving and innovative thinking is pretty much drilled into you every waking moment while you’re in design school. As designers, we are constantly pushed to justify our design choices and defend our reasoning. We must push past the traditional and embrace the unknown in our search for our own creative process. Most business people do not have the benefit of experiencing design school and as such have a hard time getting those creative juices flowing, especially when tackling a particularly new or challenging problem. Designers get stuck, too. Hopefully, this blog will give you a few new tips for ways to jumpstart your creative thinking and help you to see things differently.

#1 Blue Ocean Competitive Canvas Mapping
Not sure how to differentiate yourself from your competition? Map out your company’s strengths and weaknesses vs. your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. These attributes can be marketing and non-marketing related. Don’t repeat any of them as you map across. Connect the points to see your competitive landscape. Look at the open spaces to see opportunities for differentiation. Then, reduce, raise, create, or eliminate variables to move your brand into a “blue ocean” space of minimal competition. This exercise can help you effectively create your strategic annual plan, differentiation tactics, and marketing messaging.

If you have a personal brand, then pick key archetypes that align with your competition for a job or a consulting gig and modify the variables appropriately. The methodology still applies. This process can really help you with your elevator pitch, resume summary, and organization of skills/education/experience on your resume plus cover letter.

Looking to develop a new product and need help figuring out how to “fail” or “win” fast? Scrum is a great methodology pulled from the software developer world that can help you launch quickly and efficiently. It all starts with the user story: “As a (role), I want (feature), so that (benefit).” Next, you’ll collect these “user stories” to become your “product backlog.” Assign different roles within your team to pretend to be the “product owner,” for example, so that each archetype is advocating and helping to prioritize features/benefits in a way that makes the most sense. Put your prioritized product backlog notes into a “product release” plan and organize into “sprints.” Then, enter hours into a “burndown chart” to project completion date and manage on a daily basis. By putting your features and benefits in context as it relates to the different archetypes and priorities, you can better organize a product development strategy and timeline.

#3 Mind Mapping
You can’t eat an elephant all at once, but you can one bite at a time. Mind mapping is a fantastic tool for breaking large projects into small, manageable, bite-size chunks. Start by putting the challenge or problem you are trying to solve into an oval or circle in the middle of your blank page. Then, draw lines out from the oval or circle and write smaller elements that relate to it. For example: who, what, where, when, why. Or, questions you need to answer to solve that challenge. Next, draw lines out from those lines (almost like tree branches) and “map” out elements that affect the solution of that individual question or issue. Keep drawing lines and expanding the “branches” of your “map” drawing until everything you can think of is mapped onto the page. Then, you’ll have a much clearer understanding of all of the components that add up to that problem or challenge and what you need to do to solve it.

#4 OODA Loop

The OODA loop (for observe, orient, decide, and act) is a concept originally applied to the combat operations process, often at the strategic level in military operations. The OODA loop has become an important concept in litigation, business, and military strategy. This concept was originally developed by military strategist and United States Air Force (USAF) Colonel John Boyd. According to Boyd, decision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. When you look in the “Orient” box, we filter the information through our culture, genetics, and ability to analyze and synthesize previous experience. Since the OODA Loop was designed to describe a single decision maker, the situation gets a lot worse when you have a team of people observing and orienting, each bringing their own cultural traditions, genetics, experience and other information. It is here that decisions often get stuck. Understanding the layers of complexity that each team member brings to the project can be the key to unlocking “paralysis by over analysis” and moving a project forward.

#5 Simplex Process
The Simplex Process, created by Dr. Min Basadur, is a great problem-solving strategy that can be applied to many different situations. It’s an eight-step process that starts with finding the problem and supporting it with facts, before defining the problem. Then, generate as many ideas (or solutions) as possible without censoring them. Select and evaluate the best ideas. Put together an action plan, sell the idea, and move into action whereby you apply the best solution to the problem. It is a collaborative process, so it is especially effective in a team environment where you have multiple “brains” coming together to solve the problem. After all, ten brains working in tandem equal one genius!

– Angela Hill, CEO & Chief Creative Officer

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