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How can we use creativity to solve problems

Part Two – 'How to think creatively' series

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This article is the second in a three-part series, and in Part one, we went over what creativity is, divergent and convergent thinking, and how to think creatively. In Part two, we will delve deeper into how to use creativity to solve problems and how fun collaboration can help spark innovative ideas.

The world is changing. The way we learn, the way we work, and the way we communicate is evolving. Today, we can share ideas and collaborate with people worldwide in ways that were never possible. This has led to a greater understanding of complex problems, better products, and better services.

More and more people are turning to creativity to solve problems instead of relying on traditional methods, which has led to an explosion in the field of creativity. Where once only a few were trained in the arts, now anyone can be creative.

Spark creativity with collaboration

Writing on creativity has mainly focussed on individual creativity and rarely group creativity (Paulus & Nijstad, 2003). This may be because the stories of creative accomplishments usually come together with talks of isolation and individual reflection, but Osborn started promoting group brainstorming to develop innovative ideas (Osborn, 1963).

Collaboration and creativity are two critical aspects of a successful team. When we work together, we can bounce ideas off one another, develop better solutions, and build stronger relationships. Creating and collaborating with others is one of the most important aspects of being a successful problem-solver. The best work happens when people from different backgrounds and experiences work together.

Gone are the days of siloed and insular organisations where employees were often cut off from one another and forced to work in isolation. Today, organisations are turning toward a culture of collaboration to achieve a deeper level of insight, better decision-making, and faster, better results. But to unlock the value of cooperation, it is vital to understand the power of communication.

Restricted problem-solving

Creativity is not only about having a childlike mind and always thinking outside the box - it's also about being able to focus and apply analytical thinking. It's about flexible focus - sometimes you need to read a book thoroughly - occasionally, you skim through it. Successful problem-solving comes down to a flexible strategy. And once you have a plan, it helps you to stay organised. You must be able and willing to apply it to real-life situations, not just abstract theory. (Ahrens, 2017)

In a world where we're constantly being told to "be creative," it can be challenging to understand why restricting ourselves from certain things can help us be more creative. However, new research has shown that limiting ourselves from certain things can help increase our creativity. (Ahrens, 2017)

In a series of experiments, psychologists at the University of British Columbia asked some participants to write without restrictions and some with them. The researchers then analysed the content of the written responses and found that the restriction-free writing tended to be longer and more abstract than the other writing.

But certain restrictions can help creativity. A great example is Haiku, a type of short-form poetry originally from Japan. Many poets still write in the original 5-7-5 syllable pattern and follow the traditional rules for writing Haiku. You may think these constraints can stifle and curb creativity, but the process can be fun and rewarding.

Time-boxing ideations session or doing exercises like "crazy 8s" can make the participants come up with more new and original ideas. This suggests that time-boxing can help increase creativity by forcing the individual to be more creative in less time.

By setting ourselves time limits, we are forced to focus our attention on those ideas and let other ideas and distractions go. This can increase our creativity because we are forced to come up with as many ideas as possible.

Using Creative thinking to overcome unconscious bias

We all are guilty of having biases and stereotyping, which can lead us to make decisions and take actions that we might not be fully conscious of, especially when it comes to hiring, promoting and other important decisions. An unconscious mind is a powerful tool for learning and growth, but it can also detrimental if we don't learn how to control it. Recognising your own biases and stereotypes is the first step towards managing them.

My husband is doing a first aid course, and in the last session, they talked about unconscious bias and being judgmental. They did an exercise where they were given 15 options:

  • Family

  • Social media status

  • Work

  • Education

  • Friends

  • Pets

  • Career progression

  • Toilet paper

  • Volunteering

  • Eating 3 meals a day

  • Hygiene/shower

  • Fashion

  • Nature

  • Hobbies

  • Sustainability

They had to choose two things that were most important to them and two things that they least focused on in their lives.

The exercise showed people how very different we all are. The activity did not end with concrete answers or a clear understanding that changing behaviours could improve results. The experiment merely asked people, "How would you behave in a situation you had not encountered before, where you don't know what to do?". It highlighted that people prioritise differently, not only because they have different motivations but because they are all in different life situations (like poverty or lack of work). Finding ways to change our behaviour is the first step in overcoming our biases and creating more opportunities. If we can change our behaviour, then the results of our actions will change, which will alter our experiences.

We are all different, and we all have different opinions and beliefs. When we embrace diverse thoughts, we can think creatively and make more insightful decisions.

Have fun!

Research has shown that we are more creative when in a good mood (A.Davis, 2009). Having fun is the first step to having a good attitude, yet time and again, we prioritise work above ourselves. Having a good work/life balance is not only good for our health and wellbeing - but it also boosts our creativity. We can't work 10-12 hours a day and still be as creative as when we work our regular 8 hours, go for a walk, talk to our family and friends, and switch off from work. It gives us a side view of our actions and allows our brains to refocus.

A growing body of research suggests that the ability to be creative is linked with several positive outcomes, including improved mental health (Cropley, 1990). In one study, for example, people who scored higher on a divergent thinking test were less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than those who scored lower (Bin, Qi, Yalan, & Ding Yu, 2021).

There are many ways in which creativity can be fostered. One important factor is exposure to new experiences. People who regularly travel or participate in other activities that challenge their preconceptions are likely to be more open-minded than those who stick to familiar routines.

Another critical factor has a supportive network. Those with robust support systems are more likely to feel comfortable experimenting with new ideas and taking risks, while those who struggle to connect with others may feel too overwhelmed by daily life's pressures. Finally, keeping an open mind when it comes to the unexpected outcomes of your creative projects is essential. If you set out with the goal of making something beautiful, but end up with something ugly, don't give up on your vision; instead, use the experience as a springboard for something even more incredible!

Learn to “farm” ideas creatively

Farming means we must plan what we eat. That's the difference between foraging, where we find food already there. If something goes wrong with what we're farming - we go hungry. And farmers or farming communities lost the ability to forage. That may be why cultures close to the equator (where it's warmer and easier to comb and farming goes wrong less) think more about the present, whereas cultures in climates with changing seasons think more about the future. When surviving tomorrow depends upon what you do today, you think ahead.

This is a good way of thinking about creativity. If you only "farm" creatively, you'll replant the same seeds in the soil till there are no nutrients left. If you only "forage" creative ideas, you'll always be looking and have long periods between creative ideas. (Kadavy, 2021)

It's good to use a combination of both. Keep wandering to find the creative ideas - but once you do - plant the seed - build innovative systems that allow you to keep growing these ideas without sapping your soil.

Frictionless creative processes are not about finding the right tools for the job. They are about finding the right way to use the toolset that is already accessible to you. Frictionless creative processes are only possible when an environment is conducive to them. It would help if you had the right tools, the proper access to information, the right partnerships, and the suitable support systems to enable them to flourish.

Be curious

We all have moments when we feel like we're hitting a wall when finding the right words and ideas to express our opinions. It can be tempting to give up and move on to something else when this happens. But sometimes, the best way to break through a wall of writer's block is to tap into your curiosity. Instead of forcing yourself to keep writing when you don't know what else to say, turn your attention to whatever it is that inspired you to write in the first place.

Curiosity is, of course, a natural part of a child's development. Curiosity is powerful. It is the source of great discoveries and scientific breakthroughs, from the invention of the microscope to the discovery of DNA. While we can never know how much of a difference curiosity made in human history, we can be sure that it changed people's lives for the better.

We know that our brains have evolved over millions of years to be hardwired to be curious and to look for patterns. This hardwiring has two important consequences for everyone. First, it has made us hyper-curious, drawn to novelty and exploring the unknown, and more open to new ideas. Second, our increased curiosity gives us more incentive to learn, which means that we are better informed, more knowledgeable, and more curious.

In Part 3 of the series, we will focus on how Design Thinking can help tap into Creativity and the importance of Human Centred Design.

  • A.Davis, M. (2009). Understanding the relationship between mood and creativity: A meta-analysis. Science Direct, 25-38.

  • Ahrens, S. (2017). How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

  • Bin, Z., Qi, W., Yalan, Q., & Ding Yu, W. F. (2021). Impact of Divergent Thinking Training on Teenagers’ Emotion and Self-Efficacy During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Psychology.

  • Cropley, A. J. (1990). Creativity and Mental Health in Everyday Life. Creativity Research Journal, 167-178.

  • Kadavy, D. (2021, November 25). Blog. Retrieved from

  • Osborn, A. F. (1963). Applied imagination; principles and procedures of creative problem-solving. New York: Scribner.

  • Paulus, P. B., & Nijstad, B. A. (2003). Group Creativity: Innovation Through Collaboration. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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