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Thinking Out-Side of the Box to Find the Best Solutions to Real Problems

Thinking Out-Side of the Box to Find the Best Solutions to Real Problems

Thinking Out-Side of the Box to Find the Best Solutions to Real Problems

Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” This quote exemplifies the importance of understanding the nuances of a problem before you start brainstorming solutions.

Often, individuals skip steps in the creative problem-solving process. The key to finding a creative solution is to follow a 3 Step Process for Problem Solving. These steps include defining the real problem, exploring different solutions and making the best decision.

Outside the box thinking is essential to the creative problem-solving process and can be challenging at times. There are several ways you can increase your and your team’s ability to think outside the box. One important way to do this is to start your brainstorming meetings with a warm-up that gets everyone thinking in sync and stretching their minds.

Step 1: Define the Real Problem

MaxPeople teaches our clients how to diagnose the “real problem” before time is wasted on creating band-aid solutions that only treat the symptoms and not the root cause of a problem.

One method that can be used to get to the heart of a problem requires the problem solver to start with the current symptoms they see and ask “Why?” until the real root of the problem is found. This helps to keep the problem solver on track and looking at the why of an issue– rather than the who. Looking for someone to blame will not solve the problem or help you understand the true cause of the issue.

Step 2: Explore Solutions

You know the saying “Two Heads are Better Than One”? Well, there are circumstances when that statement is true and others when it just doesn’t make sense. So, how can you possibly know the difference?

You should ask a group of people to help you problem solve if the below criteria are present:

  • The problem is cross-functional
  • There are vested interests from other parties
  • You need to dig deep into a problem using collaboration
  • It could be a development opportunity for other people
  • You need stakeholders to buy into the results

Brainstorming is an art that cannot be mastered overnight. Below are some tips to get you started on the right track:

  • Invite the right people – you want your group to have variety in terms of perspective and expertise
  • Set an agenda – just because this is a creative session does not mean you don’t need structure
  • Assign a note taker – don’t let great ideas be forgotten
  • Set ground rules – don’t allow people to interrupt, get distracted or put down others’ ideas
  • Start general, end specific – start with every possible solution without evaluating; then narrow down using comparative techniques

The Force Field Analysis is a comparative technique that helps to analyze all the Helping (positive) and Hindering (negative) factors which affect the proposed solutions. Once you know these factors you can attempt to reduce or eliminate the negative forces for each option. Only then, can you truly understand which solution will best fit the situation.

Step 3: Make the Right Choice

Of course, at this point you will want to check-in with your stakeholders both internally and externally. You will want to provide them with sound reasoning for how you have narrowed down the options. To do this, you want to establish the right criteria to fit the situation. Some example criteria could be practicality, policy and value alignment, legal compliance, ease of implementation, etc. These criteria should then be separated by “nice to haves” and “must haves”. Now you can organize your best solutions and compare them to each other using the criteria you have set.

Creative problem solving is not an exact science therefore, at times, it can be a bit challenging and draining. However, if you use these tips, tricks, and tools while following the 3 Step Process you will be better equipped to find the best solution to the problems that are keeping you up at night!


Johanna Van Bilsen, Training and Recruitment Coordinator

Ilana Stern, Senior HR Manager of Central Services and Training

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