A Simple Process for Creative Thinking

DO IT - A Simple Process for Creative Thinking

© iStockphoto

Get creative with DO IT.

How many times have you got stuck trying to find a creative solution to a problem? It's not always easy to come up with good ideas, and you can fall into many thinking traps along the way.

For instance, you might assume that your first idea is the best one, without having explored alternatives. Or you might generate so many potential solutions that you don't know which one to implement.

This is when it helps to use a problem-solving framework to guide you. In this article, we'll look at "DO IT" – a simple process that you can use to strengthen your creative thinking, and come up with better ideas.

About the Model

Robert Olson developed the DO IT model and published it in his 1986 book, "The Art of Creative Thinking."

It's a simple but effective process that spurs innovative thinking and helps you overcome habits that can limit creativity.

The DO IT acronym stands for the four steps in Olson's process:

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Open your mind and apply creative techniques.
  3. Identify the best solution.
  4. Transform.

From "The Art of Creative Thinking" by Robert W. Olson. Published by Harpercollins, 1986. Reproduced with permission.


DO IT is a simple and informal approach to creative thinking. If you need to solve a highly complex problem, or if you'd like a more structured approach, you may find tools like Simplex and Hurson's Productive Thinking Model more useful.

How to Use the Tool

Let's look at each step of DO IT, along with tools and techniques you can use with it.

1. Define the Problem

Your first step is to identify and define the problem you want to solve.

It's often tempting to rush through this first step. However, if you work through it thoroughly, you can save a significant amount of time and effort later – particularly if you're trying to solve a difficult problem.

Once you understand your problem, summarize it as concisely as possible. Olson suggests that the best way to do this is to write down several two-word problem statements and choose the best one.

Keep in mind that if you focus on the wrong issue, you'll still have to fix the real one later. Take your time with this first step to ensure that you clearly understand what you are trying to do.


If you're struggling to define your problem, use tools like the 5 Whys, CATWOE, Cause and Effect Analysis, and Root Cause Analysis to understand it more clearly.

2. Open Your Mind and Explore Solutions

Once you have defined the problem you want to solve, you can generate possible solutions.

It can be easy to accept the first good idea that you come up with. However, this means that you may miss out on even better solutions. Take plenty of time to generate ideas using normal, structured thinking, supported by brainstorming.

While you're doing this, remember that other people may have different but equally valuable perspectives, which can lead them to come up with other possible solutions. Involve your colleagues in the problem solving process.

If you're finding it difficult to generate ideas with a group, consider using techniques like Crawford's Slip Writing Method or Round-Robin Brainstorming to ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute ideas.

Don't worry about evaluating ideas at this stage. Instead, try to generate as many different solutions as possible – even bad ideas can lead to better ones down the road.

3. Identify the Best Solution

Now it's time to choose the best idea. This may be obvious, but don't jump to conclusions. It's often better to examine and develop a number of ideas in detail before you select the final one.

If you're struggling to pick a good solution, our Decision-Making Techniques section explores a range of excellent tools that you can use to choose the best one. (Decision Matrix Analysis and Force Field Analysis can be particularly useful.)

Free "Build a Positive Team" Toolkit

When you join the Mind Tools Club before midnight PST September 27

Find out more

When you select a solution, keep your own or your organization's goals and Mission and Vision Statements in mind.

4. Transform

Now that you've identified the problem and chosen the best solution, the final stage is to take action.

For small projects, come up with an Action Plan. If you're implementing a large-scale change or project, you might want to brush up on your project management and change management skills, so that things run smoothly.

Bear in mind that many very creative people can fail at this stage. They have fun creating products and services that may be years ahead of what is available on the market, but they then fail to develop them, and watch someone else make a fortune out of the idea.

Don't let procrastination, fear of failure or even fear of success stop you from pursuing your great ideas!

Key Points

DO IT is a structured process for creative problem solving. You can use it individually or with a group.

The steps in DO IT are as follows:

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Open your mind and explore solutions.
  3. Identify the best solution.
  4. Transform.

DO IT is a relatively simple approach for creative thinking. If you need to solve a complex problem, you'll likely find other problem-solving tools useful as well.