#MTtalk: How to Problem Solve Creatively » Mind Tools Blog
Creating a Happy Workplace

#MTtalk: How to Problem Solve Creatively

July 25, 2017

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer, author and speaker (1940-2015)

Baking in the Bedroom

To solve problems creatively, you must be willing to challenge your assumptions about how things should be.

Thinking about this brought to mind a happy childhood memory.

When I was about seven years old, and my sister was almost 13, the doorbell rang just after my family had finished supper. As my mom walked from the kitchen to the front door, she said, “I hope it isn’t visitors. We don’t have biscuits or cake to serve with coffee.”

The unexpected guests were friends from our church, and they were invited in for coffee. My mother was very particular about how coffee and tea should be served. She had taught us from very young that we shouldn’t offer guests “dry” tea or coffee. That is, tea or coffee without cake or something home-baked. As a last resort, she would offer shop-bought biscuits.

As the adults chatted in the lounge, my sister and I excused ourselves and set our young minds to work: how could we creatively solve the problem of serving “dry” coffee?

Gambling Creatively

As we both loved to cook and bake, we decided that, with the help of a few stalling tactics, we would bake scones there and then! We took a little longer than usual before asking the guests what they’d like to drink, and then took our time making the tea and coffee. We gambled on the fact that walking in with freshly baked scones would earn forgiveness for the lateness of the drinks!

Our next problem was that we couldn’t make a noise in the kitchen, because it was right next to the lounge. We decided to mix and prepare the scones in my bedroom, and just bake them in the kitchen.

Traipsing up and down the passage with its wooden floor, carrying all sorts of baking paraphernalia, would also be noisy. So I gathered everything we needed, went out the back door and round the house, and passed it to my sister through my bedroom window. Five trips later we were ready.

By this time, the adrenaline was pumping. We had faced a number of obstacles, but we were proud of our ingenuity. Behind a closed bedroom door, the eggbeater was whirring, there was giggling and “whispering” that was so loud the neighbors probably heard us!

Sisterly Cooperation

After a few minutes of frantic activity and perfect sisterly cooperation, we had a tray of scones, ready for the oven. While they baked, we took our time to prepare the coffee tray.

I will never forget the look on my mom’s face when we carried the tray into the lounge. She expected to see only a few cups, but we presented her with coffee and a beautiful plate of piping hot, freshly baked scones, with jam and cream on the side.

Although we were glad that we had made my parents happy, my sister and I felt proudest of the fact that we were able identify a problem, make a plan to solve it creatively, and see it through. And we enjoyed the fun and novelty of making scones in my bedroom in secret!

“If you change the way you look at things… ” Instead of getting stuck at “there’s nothing to serve with the coffee,” we asked ourselves what other plan could we make. We learned that a bedroom could also be a kitchen, that you can roll out dough on a dressing table, and that you can even hide dirty dishes under the bed!

During our #MTtalk Twitter chat on Friday, we talked about solving problems creatively. Here are the questions we asked and some of the responses you gave.

How to Problem Solve Creatively

Q1 What do we mean by creativity in problem solving?

@LorenMargolis Creative problem solving means the opportunity to think and act outside the box, without judgment, to resolve business issues.

@Yolande_MT Solving problems creatively is about looking at “old” problems with “new” eyes.

Q2 Why do we need creativity in problem solving? What benefits does it bring?

@JKatzaman Creativity in problem solving is the best antidote to the status quo. No “this is how we’ve always done it” restraints.

@SayItForwardNow  We need creativity in problem solving because solutions to big problems are generally not obvious, or there would be no problem!

Q3 What makes some people more creative than others?

As we see from the responses, creativity can be both an innate or a learned skill.

@thevijaymahajan Openness, a preference for complexity and ambiguity, the ability to extract from chaos, unconventionality, and willingness to take risks.

@MicheleDD_MT Creative people aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. They are comfortable with risk and moving out of their comfort zone.

@KLC2978 Natural talent! Some people are “open,” see things in a “bigger picture” way, and process information differently to rigid thinkers.

Q4 Which mindsets stimulate the most creative problem solving approaches?

A common theme of being willing to grow and change emerged here.

@Midgie_MT Growth mindset, attitude of curiosity, willing to try and if doesn’t work, try something else. There is no one right answer.

@PG_pmp It requires imaginative and analytical skills to make use of creative problem solving approaches.

Q5 Which tools do you like to use to generate creative solutions?

@TwisterKW My go-to remains flipchart/white board; no idea is a bad idea, wild ideas are welcome, get juices flowing and jump-start creativity.

@70mq Social media platforms are excellent tools to listen and engage with. They can help you find creative solutions.

Q6 What are your favorite questions that challenge you to think differently about a problem?

@ShereesePubHlth “What is stopping me from solving this quickly?” My favorite question: “What am I really trying to solve here?” Many don’t answer this question first.

@social_melanie  As an amateur photographer, I’m constantly asking how to represent something in a new way, e.g. how can my pics stand out?

@famutsvene What is the root cause of this problem? How did it end up being a problem? What lesson do I learn from this?

Q7 What is the most unconventional way you’ve approached the idea-generating (ideating) stage of problem solving?

@GodaraAR Solving a corporate strategy issue through a motorcycle trip.

@manavlalotra Brought all characters of the problem in one room and made them shout/debate/yell – in the end they came up with the solution themselves.

Q8 Think back to a time when you solved a complex problem – what were you doing when you had your breakthrough?

@jeremypmurphy Sometimes when I’m playing Scrabble, running, playing the piano, walking, or talking with someone creative.

@SayItForwardNow Most of my “breakthrough” solutions come when I am NOT focused on the problem, but rather taking a walk or listening to music.

Q9 A common response to a new idea is, “Well, that won’t work!” What do you do?

@SnowinRI Prove them wrong.

@TheGenPeople Seek to understand where they’re coming from. They might have valid concerns you can resolve together.

Q10 If you could only say one thing to managers/leaders about creative problem solving, what would it be?

@BrainBlenderTec No one ever disrupted an industry by thinking the same, and you can either be a disruptor or get disrupted – choose wisely.

@NBlairHRDigital Embrace it!

Next time, on #MTtalk…

Cultivating a culture where creativity and innovation is welcome is only one element in creating a happy workplace. There are many others that come into play, and we’d like to know what you think the most important one is. Please cast your vote in our Twitter poll, here.

In our next #MTtalk on Friday, August 4, our topic is “Creating a Happy Workplace,” as suggested by one of our regular participants, Akilah Ellison @OrganicLeaderVB. To share your thoughts and ideas, please join us at 1pm EDT/5pm GMT/10:30pm IST.

To participate in our chat about creating a happy workplace, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “All Tweets” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. To join the conversation, simply include #MTtalk in your tweet and it will show up in the chat feed


In the meantime, here are some resources that will help you to learn more about solving problems creatively:

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