How to Become a Creative Problem Solver: A Definitive Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 28 December 2022

Published 27 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Creative problem solving may help organisations develop innovative solutions. Employees can use this process to identify unique opportunities for growth in their workplaces. Becoming a creative problem solver can increase your value and make you more attractive to potential employers. In this article, we discuss what creative problem solving is, provide a step-by-step guide to improving your creative problem-solving skills and identify some additional tools and techniques to use in the creative problem-solving process.

How to become a creative problem solver

To find out how to become a creative problem solver, you might start by defining creative problem solving. It's a process that involves identifying unique solutions to challenges that you may encounter. It typically goes beyond traditional approaches to develop new solutions to various issues, from product innovation to resolving workflow problems. Creative problem solving helps create new ways to overcome challenges in the workplace, regardless of the industry or job role in question.

Creative problem solving is a soft skill that relates to how you work rather than to your technical or role-specific abilities. During job interviews, you can use practical examples to show how you might apply this method to tackle real workplace challenges. Employers may want to understand your thought process and establish how you address various issues. Knowing this can help them clarify what value you could bring to their organisation. Here are nine steps that you can follow to enhance your creative problem-solving skills:

1. Use a strategic framework

Creative problem solving can help you tackle challenges that may be difficult to define or solve using traditional techniques. To approach creative problem solving more strategically, you could try using the following methods:

  • Gathering relevant information: Having as much information as possible can help you understand the issue you're dealing with. Carrying out customer surveys, talking to employees and using the data to identify trends or patterns might all be useful steps to take.

  • Identifying patterns: Once you've gathered the data, you may want to analyse it to look for patterns or associations. You could use mind mapping or creative brainstorming to further understand the issue.

  • Developing solutions: When you want to solve problems creatively, generating several hypotheses can be an excellent idea. Once you have a range of potential solutions, you could use A/B testing to compare different ideas and see which one might perform better.

  • Implementing the solutions: Once you've implemented the solutions, it's essential to evaluate the results and either adopt them or repeat the steps. This method can help reveal if there's more than one solution to your problem.

2. Practise empathy

Empathy is an essential component of emotional intelligence and often allows you to understand your own emotions, behaviour and responses, and perceive the emotions of your colleagues. Being empathetic may provide you with the ability to put yourself in someone else's situation to look at things from their perspective. It can be essential to creative problem solving by helping you understand the viewpoint of your colleagues and customers. This may prove important when developing solutions that can affect customers.

Empathy can also be helpful if you're dealing with a conflict, so you can adapt your communication style to help resolve the situation. Emotional intelligence is also a critical leadership quality and can allow you to create loyal and productive teams. Using empathy may be particularly useful when collaboratively developing solutions.

Related: 12 Cognitive Skills Examples (With Steps to Develop Them)

3. Explore creative interests outside the workplace

Exploring various interests outside work may require you to use your brain differently and help stimulate your creative problem-solving abilities. For example, you could start a new hobby that challenges you to use different skills and increases your overall creativity. Exploring new activities can make you open to new possibilities, including taking creative risks. You might also get a chance to interact with a diverse group of people, who may expose you to different ways of thinking. These elements can help boost your creative problem-solving skills and are usually transferable back into the workplace.

4. Approach problems differently

It may seem easier to use traditional problem-solving methods that you're comfortable with. Yet applying the same techniques can prevent you from developing innovative ways to deal with new challenges. Pausing and recognising this tendency before you start to tackle a problem can help you to look at it from a different perspective. Clarifying assumptions, and defining expectations and goals, and then responding appropriately to these, can help you overcome any resistance you may face from colleagues who don't want to take on a new approach.

5. Ask questions

Asking questions may be a great way to develop creative solutions. It can help you identify seemingly obvious ideas that your colleagues may not have tested before. It can also help convince your team to change the way they usually look at solving problems. Questioning traditional methods can reveal why team members believe a particular approach is better, and generate a discussion about different ways that may prove more effective at dealing with problematic situations.

Using data insights and research when framing questions may convince your team to try applying new problem-solving methods. For example, you might consider why the organisation you work for continues to send letters to customers who have stated that they prefer to receive emails. You may explore if there are any valid reasons for continuing with this communication channel.

6. Be persistent

Achieving goals and developing solutions that create positive change can take time and perseverance. Maintaining a high level of strategic focus can mean engaging multiple stakeholders to design a solution. You may face delays or further challenges, which can significantly derail your time scales. For example, your solution might require technology that is not yet available.

Remembering why it's important to solve the problem may keep you and your team motivated and focused on achieving your goals. Taking consistent daily action can help to demonstrate the progress you're making. It might be a good idea to identify new information sources that could contribute to designing the solution.

7. Explore further study options

Sometimes further training can boost your creativity. Learning more about the technical components of your role or industry can help you better understand potential challenges, identify connections and develop the right solutions. Enhancing your technical skills can also allow you to pre-empt any issues before they arise. You might consider attending conferences or business events where you might engage with other professionals in your industry and learn how they manage similar problems.

8. Practise creative problem solving

Whenever an issue arises in your workplace, you can use it as a chance to hone your creative problem-solving skills. Try exposing yourself to different scenarios that require a change in thinking. For example, you might ask to complete a new challenge, such as leading a presentation.

Related: Creative Thinking: How to Start Thinking Creatively

9. Seek help

Sometimes it might be useful to ask for help to understand how others use creative problem-solving skills in the workplace. For example, you may seek advice from a mentor or an experienced colleague. Their insight can reveal different ways of thinking that you haven't considered.

Related: What Is a Mentor and How Can it Improve Your Career?

Tools to increase your creative problem-solving skills

In addition to following the above steps, certain techniques can boost your creativity and help you become a creative problem solver. The following tools may help you increase your problem-solving skills:

Mind mapping

Mind maps are creative tools that can help to improve your memory and organise your thoughts. They're visual and usually incorporate various shapes, images and colours. Their layout, which uses short phrases or keywords, can help your brain to create associations and links, thus generating new ideas. Team leaders often use mind mapping in the workplace to help their teams brainstorm ideas and solve arising issues. This tool can prove efficient when you work both collaboratively and individually.

The six thinking hats

This technique requires you to look at problems from different angles by wearing different thinking hats. Whether you use it independently or with your colleagues, it can allow you to consider various perspectives, leading to more creative problem solving.

Each of the six hats has a different colour that signifies a different way of thinking. For example, if you're wearing the white hat, you might focus on the available data and the analysis of past trends. Wearing the red hat might make you consider people's emotional reactions, while the blue hat might mean focusing on the potential adverse outcomes of the solution.

Reverse brainstorming

As a creative problem solver, you can use different techniques to look at an issue from various viewpoints. Reversing a problem can be helpful because it might encourage you to discover new ideas that you may not have considered when using conventional brainstorming. For example, instead of focusing on how to increase your customer base, you may explore why your organisation is losing customers. Changing the perspective might lead you to find completely different solutions.

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