Be creative at every stage of the problem-solving process.
Creativity is incredibly important in problem-solving – if you're not creative, you'll struggle to understand the issues surrounding a problem, and you're unlikely to identify the best solutions.
Even worse, you may fail to solve the problem altogether!
So, how can you be more creative in your problem-solving, and thereby come up with the best ideas to move forward with?
Hurson's Productive Thinking Model helps you do this. This framework encourages you to use creativity and critical thinking at each stage of the problem-solving process. This means that you get a better understanding of the problems you face, and you come up with better ideas and solutions.
In this article, we'll look at the Productive Thinking Model.
The Productive Thinking Model was developed by author and creativity theorist, Tim Hurson, and was published in his 2007 book, "Think Better."
The model presents a structured framework for solving problems creatively. You can use it on your own or in a group.
The model consists of six steps, as follows:
The advantage of this model over other problem-solving approaches (like Simplex or Plan-Do-Check-Act) is that it encourages you to use creative and critical thinking skills at each stage of the problem-solving process. This means that you can take a well-rounded look at a problem, and you can come up with better potential solutions.
Let's look at each step in further detail, and explore how you can apply the model.
First, you need to get a good understanding of the problem that you want to deal with. This is often the most involved part of the process.
To do this, explore the following four questions:
List as many issues as possible, even if you already have a good idea of what your main problem is. These don't have to be well-defined or even justified: all that you're doing is generating a good list of possibilities, so don't worry about being right or wrong.
Then, use an Affinity Diagram to organize the issues that you've identified into common themes, and identify the most important problem or group of problems to deal with. If this isn't obvious, use techniques like Pareto Analysis or Paired Comparison Analysis to decide.
Make a list of all of your stakeholders, and identify the positive and negative impact that the problem has on each of them.
To help with this, ask questions such as:
Rolestorming is also useful here, as it helps you look at problems from other people's perspectives.
Now, gather information about the problem. What do you know about it? What don't you know? Has someone else tried to fix this or a similar problem before? If so, what happened, and what can you learn from this? Make sure that you have evidence that the problem really does exist.
This is where it helps to use tools such as Cause and Effect Analysis, Root Cause Analysis, and Interrelationship Diagrams to identify the actual causes of your problem – you'll need to deal with these root causes to solve the problem fully.
Finally in this step, identify your vision for the future once you've solved the problem – Hurson calls this the "Target Future."
Begin by writing down as many Target Futures as possible, and then narrow these down to something that is achievable and that is important to you.
If you're finding this difficult, use starter phrases such as "I wish...," "If only we could...," or "It would be great if...." For example, you might say "I wish that the majority of our customers were happy with how we process returns," or "It would be great if we could cut waste by 20 percent."
In this step, you're going to develop your Target Future by defining what success is once you've implemented a solution to your problem.
A good way to do this is to use the "DRIVE" acronym. This stands for:
The aim in this step is to generate a list of questions that, if answered well, will solve your problem.
To do this, look at all of the information that you gathered in the first two steps. Then brainstorm the questions that you will need to answer to achieve your Target Future. Use phrases such as "How can I…?" and "How will we…?" to begin.
For instance, imagine that your Target Future is to have a bigger departmental budget. One question might be "How can I get a bigger budget?" Then you could brainstorm related questions, such as "How can we spend less on routine work, so that we can do more with our existing budget?" or "How would we operate if we had no budget?"
If you generate a long list of questions, narrow these down to the questions that are most relevant for solving your problem.
In this step, you generate solutions to your problem by coming up with answers to the questions that you developed in the previous step.
Again, brainstorm as many possible solutions as possible, and don't criticize – just concentrate on coming up with lots of ideas. If you're struggling to come up with solutions, techniques like Reverse Brainstorming, Random Input, and Provocation will help jump-start your creativity.
You're now going to develop your ideas into a fully formed solution.
First, evaluate the most promising ideas by comparing them with the success criteria that you identified in step 2. Pick the solution that best meets those criteria. (Grid Analysis is helpful here.)
Then develop your best idea further. What else could make this idea better? How could you refine the solution to fit your success criteria better?
If you're working on a complex problem or project, don't underestimate the effort needed to develop and refine your solution.
In this last step, you identify the people and other resources that you need in order to implement your solution.
Tim Hurson developed the Productive Thinking Model and published it in his 2007 book "Think Better." The model provides a structured approach for solving problems creatively. You can use it on your own and in a group.
There are six steps in the model:
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Hurson, T. (2008) 'Think Better,' New York: McGraw-Hill.