Unlocking the myths of creative problemĀ solving


We all know how to do it… but may have forgotten how

Matching shapes and colors seems simple right? But this is an extraordinarily complex task for a child. To be able to match the square peg with a square hole requires a leap of visual cognition. They have to identify what a square is and then match that shape with the square hole. No small task and requires trial and error to actually make it work. Like much of what we learn as children, adults tend to take this for granted. Somewhere along the way we lose sight of the value of being able to match our perceptions with reality (I tend to believe that the regimented routine and testing of traditional school is to blame but that’s another story). A creative individual who is actively engaged in abstract problem solving will unconsciously utilize these skills on a continuing basis. So, how do I improve my creative problem solving skills?

Identify every aspect of the problem

It stands to reason that if you don’t understand the problem you are trying to solve then solutions are either accidental or coincidental. When dealing with abstract problems (like writing music or creating art) the most difficult question to answer is: how do I define the problem in the first place and how do I know which pieces fit where?

Imagine yourself trying to understand what a triangle is for the first time. Until children start to speak they don’t have language skills or vocabulary to be able to articulate what they see. They learn by what they see and feel. They will pick up and look at the triangle, and manipulate it to create an internal visual image. Then, through trial and error they match the shape of the object with the shape of the hole in the puzzle. This leap of visual cognition creates a memory that will direct them to put the triangular shaped puzzle piece through the triangle in the board in the future. Seems straight forward enough. Sounds simple right? So what does this have to do with creative problem solving?

“Creative problem solving is nothing more (imho) than using this same process using ideas instead of objects.”

If we reacquaint ourselves with how this cognitive process works it becomes possible to find a creative (or new) solution to most any problem we encounter IF we take the time to identify the pieces first. Again, this sounds simple but it is much more complex than you might think. As adults we have a lifetime of learned skills, conditioned behaviors and inherent biases. It’s unavoidable because we are a product of everything we have learned throughout our lives. When people get stuck trying to solve problems the cause can easily be because our responses are drawn from our conditioned responses.

Objective discovery

If you can disassociate yourself from your preconceived notions and beliefs you can objectively identify the bottleneck that is preventing you from finding a solution. Conditioned responses are highly subjective and are not guaranteed to provide an effective solution.

We can all use help with this. It’s not easy and requires commitment and hard work. This is why I believe that If you have a process you can rely on as a guide, you can develop your skills at objective analysis without losing sight of your individuality or point of view. Inserting your opinion comes later.


  • Take the time to realize that not all problems can be solved by resorting to preconditioned responses.
  • Separate your ego from the process.
  • Finding a solution will create a sense of satisfaction but your self-worth need not be predicated by the work you do. It’s just a solution to the problem and nothing more.
  • Articulate your observations and write them down.
  • Our brains work much too fast to be able to make objective observations in our heads. Get your observations out of your head and make them real in the world. Then and only then can you truly be objective about what you have observed.

Not unlike making the perceptual leap to identify a triangle, if you assess your problem objectively then you will be able to determine how the puzzle pieces will ultimately fit together. Or not. If not, then more observation is necessary. Like washing your hair: wash, rinse, repeat until you find your solution.

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