9 Creative Problem Solving Examples to Solve Real Interview Questions

9 Creative Problem Solving Examples to Solve Real Interview Questions

Jane Ng • 14 Nov 2023 • 8 min read

Are you preparing for an interview where you’ll need to demonstrate your creative problem solving skills? Being able to think on your feet and discuss real examples of innovative issue resolution is a key strength many employers seek.

To get a deeper understanding of this skill and prepare for related interview questions, let’s dive into creative problem solving examples in today’s post. 

From questions about approaching challenges in a methodical way to those asking you to describe an unconventional solution you proposed, we’ll cover a range of common problem solving-focused interview topics.

Table of Contents

What is creative problem solving, benefits of having creative problem solving skills, #1. how do you approach a new problem or challenge , #2. what radical new or different ways to approach a challenge, #3. can you give an example of a time when you came up with a creative solution to a problem, #4. can you recall a time you successfully managed a crisis, #5. can you name three common barriers to creativity and how you overcome each of them, #6. have you ever had to solve a problem but didn’t have all the necessary information about it before and what have you done, #7. what do you do when it seems impossible to find the right solution to a problem, #8. how do you know when to deal with the problem yourself or ask for help , #9. how do you stay creative, tips to improve your creative problem solving skills.

  • Final Thoughts on Creative Problem Solving Examples

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As the name implies, Creative Problem Solving is a process of creating unique and innovative solutions to problems or challenges. It requires coming up with out-of-the-box ideas instead of the traditional way of doing things. It involves a combination of thinking differently, figuring out what’s best, seeing things from different angles, and seizing new opportunities or generating ideas.

creative problem solving process examples

And remember, the goal of creative problem solving is to find practical, effective, and unique solutions that go beyond conventional (and sometimes risky, of course).

Need more creative problem solving examples? Continue reading!

As a candidate, having creative problem solving skills can bring several benefits, including:

  • Increase employability: Employers are looking for individuals who aren’t stuck in a rut but can think critically, solve problems, and come up with creative solutions—things that work more efficiently, and save more time and effort. Showing off your skills can make you a more attractive candidate and increase your chances of getting hired.
  • Improve decision-making: They help you to approach problems from different angles and make better decisions.
  • Increase adaptability : The ability to find creative solutions can help you adapt to change and tackle new challenges effectively.
  • Improve performance: Solving problems in innovative ways can lead to increased productivity, performance, and efficiency.

In the explosive growth of generative AI world, it’s considered one of the most important soft skills for employees. Head to the next part to see problem solving interview questions with answers👇

9 Creative Problem Solving Interview Questions and Answers

Here are some creative problem solving examples of interview questions, along with sample answers:

creative problem solving examples in real life

This is the time when you should show the interviewer your way of doing, your way of thinking. 

Example answer: “I start by gathering information and understanding the problem thoroughly. I then brainstorm potential solutions and consider which ones have the most potential. I also think about the potential risks and benefits of each solution. From there, I select the best solution and create a plan of action to implement it. I continuously evaluate the situation and make adjustments as needed until the problem is solved.”

This question is a harder version of the previous one. It requires innovative and unique solutions to a challenge. The interviewer wants to see if you can have different approaches to problem-solving. It’s important to remember that not necessarily giving the best answer but showing your ability to think creatively and generate new ideas.

Example answer: “A completely different way to approach this challenge could be to collaborate with a company or organization outside of our industry. This could provide a fresh perspective and ideas. Another approach might be to involve employees from different departments in the problem-solving process, which can lead to cross-functional solutions and bring in a wide range of ideas and perspectives and more diverse points.”

The interviewer needs more concrete proof or examples of your creative problem-solving skills. So answer the question as specifically as possible, and show them specific metrics if available.

Sample answer: “I’m running a marketing campaign, and we’re having a hard time engaging with a certain target audience. I was thinking about this from a different perspective and came up with an idea. The idea was to create a series of interactive events so that the customers could experience our products uniquely and in a fun way. The campaign was a huge success and exceeded its goals in terms of engagement and sales.”

problem solving examples

Interviewers want to see how you handle high-pressure situations and solve problems effectively.

Example answer: “When I was working on a project, and one of the key members of the team was suddenly unavailable because of an emergency. This put the project at risk of being delayed. I quickly assessed the situation and made a plan to reassign tasks to other team members. I also communicated effectively with the client to ensure they were aware of the situation and that we were still on track to meet our deadline. Through effective crisis management, we were able to complete the project tasks on time and without any major hitches.”

This is how the interviewer gauges your perspective and sets you apart from other candidates.

Example answer:   “Yes, I can identify three common barriers to creativity in problem solving. First, the fear of failure can prevent individuals from taking risks and trying new ideas. I overcome this by accepting failure as a learning opportunity and encouraging myself to experiment with new ideas.

Second, limited resources such as time and finances can reduce creativity. I overcome this by prioritizing problem-solving in my schedule and finding the best cost-effective tools and methods. Lastly, a lack of inspiration can hinder creativity. To overcome this, I expose myself to new experiences and environments, try new hobbies, travel, and surround myself with people with different perspectives. I also read about new ideas and tools, and keep a journal to record my thoughts and ideas.”

problem and solution examples

Having to deal with a “sudden” problem is a common situation you will encounter in any work environment. Employers want to know how you deal with this inconvenience reasonably and effectively.

Example answer:   “ In such cases, I proactively reach out and gather information from different sources to better understand the situation. I talk to stakeholders, research online, and use my experience and knowledge to fill in any gaps. I also asked clarifying questions about the problem and what information was missing. This allows me to form a holistic view of the problem and work towards finding a solution, even when complete information is not available.”

Employers are looking for candidates problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking skills. The candidate’s answers can also reveal their problem-solving strategies, thinking ability, and resilience in the face of challenges.

Example answer:   “When I have to face a problem that I can’t seem to solve, I take a multi-step approach to overcome this challenge. Firstly, I try to reframe the problem by looking at it from a different angle, which can often lead to new ideas and insights. Secondly, I reach out to my colleagues, mentors, or experts in the field for their perspectives and advice. Collaborating and brainstorming with others can result in new solutions.

Thirdly, I take a break, by stepping away from it and doing something completely different to clear my mind and gain a new perspective. Fourthly, I revisit the problem with a fresh mind and renewed focus. Fifthly, I consider alternative solutions or approaches, trying to keep an open mind and explore unconventional options. Finally, I refine the solution and test it to guarantee it meets the requirements and effectively solves the problem. This process allows me to find creative and innovative solutions, even when the problem seems difficult to solve.”

In this question, the interviewer wants to get a clearer picture of your ability to assess situations, be flexible when solving problems, and make sure you can work independently as well as in a team.

Example answer: “I would assess the situation and determine if I have the skills, knowledge, and resources needed to solve the problem effectively. If the problem is complex and beyond my ability, I will seek help from a colleague or supervisor. However, if I can afford it and deal with the problem effectively, I’ll take it on and handle it myself. However, my ultimate goal is still to find the best solution to the problem on time. “

creative thinking examples

If you’re working in creative fields, a lot of interviewer will ask this question since it’s a common problem to have “creative block” among working professionals. They would therefore want to know different methods you had done to go back to the flow.

Example answer: “I immerse myself in broad subjects to spark new connections. I read widely, observe different industries, and expose myself to art/music for perspective. I also brainstorm regularly with diverse groups because other viewpoints fuel my creativity. And I maintain a record of ideas—even far-fetched ones—because you never know where innovations may lead. An eclectic approach helps me solve problems in novel yet practical ways.”

Here are some tips to help your creative problem-solving skills:

  • Practice active listening and observation: Pay attention to the details around you and actively listen to what others are saying.
  • Broaden your perspective: Seek out new experiences and information that can expand your thinking and help you approach problems from new angles.
  • Teamwork: Working with others can lead to diverse perspectives and help you generate more creative solutions.
  • Stay curious: Keep asking questions to maintain a curious and open-minded attitude.
  • Use visualization and mind mapping: These tools can help you see problems in a new light and think about potential solutions in a more organized manner.
  • Take care of mental health: Taking breaks and engaging in relaxing activities can help you stay refreshed and avoid burnout.
  • Embrace failure: Don’t be afraid to try new ways and experiment with different solutions, even if they don’t work out.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article has provided helpful creative problem solving examples and prepared you well to score points with the recruiters. If you want to improve your’s creative problem-solving skills, it’s important to embrace a growth mindset, accept failure, think creatively, and collaborate with others.

And don’t forget to be creative with AhaSlides public templates library !

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a good example of problem-solving for interview.

When you answer the interviewer’s question, make sure to use this approach: clearly defining the problem, gathering relevant data, analyzing causes, proposing a creative solution, tracking impacts, and quantifying the results.

What is a creative approach to problem solving?

Defer judgment. When brainstorming ideas, don’t immediately dismiss any suggestions no matter how strange they may seem. Wild ideas can sometimes lead to breakthrough solutions.

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26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)

By Biron Clark

Published: November 15, 2023

Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.

But how do they measure this?

They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.

Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”

Problem-Solving Defined

It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation. 

Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication , listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.

Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences. 

It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.

Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving

Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.

  • Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
  • Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
  • Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
  • Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
  • Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
  • Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
  • Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
  • Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
  • Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
  • Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
  • Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
  • Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
  • Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
  • Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
  • Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
  • Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
  • Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
  • Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area

Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers

  • Coordinating work between team members in a class project
  • Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
  • Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
  • Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
  • Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
  • Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
  • Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
  • Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first

You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.

Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”

Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.

Example Answer 1:

At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.

Example Answer 2:

In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.

Example Answer 3:

In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.

Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method

When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.

STAR stands for:

It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.

Finally, describe a positive result you got.

Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.

Example answer:

Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way.   We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online.  Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.

What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?

Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.

Below are good outcomes of problem solving:

  • Saving the company time or money
  • Making the company money
  • Pleasing/keeping a customer
  • Obtaining new customers
  • Solving a safety issue
  • Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
  • Solving a logistical issue
  • Solving a company hiring issue
  • Solving a technical/software issue
  • Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
  • Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
  • Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
  • Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients

Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.

Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.

Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.

Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.

You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.

If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.

Related interview questions & answers:

  • How do you handle stress?
  • How do you handle conflict?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed

Biron Clark

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39 Best Problem-Solving Examples

problem-solving examples and definition, explained below

Problem-solving is a process where you’re tasked with identifying an issue and coming up with the most practical and effective solution.

This indispensable skill is necessary in several aspects of life, from personal relationships to education to business decisions.

Problem-solving aptitude boosts rational thinking, creativity, and the ability to cooperate with others. It’s also considered essential in 21st Century workplaces.

If explaining your problem-solving skills in an interview, remember that the employer is trying to determine your ability to handle difficulties. Focus on explaining exactly how you solve problems, including by introducing your thoughts on some of the following frameworks and how you’ve applied them in the past.

Problem-Solving Examples

1. divergent thinking.

Divergent thinking refers to the process of coming up with multiple different answers to a single problem. It’s the opposite of convergent thinking, which would involve coming up with a singular answer .

The benefit of a divergent thinking approach is that it can help us achieve blue skies thinking – it lets us generate several possible solutions that we can then critique and analyze .

In the realm of problem-solving, divergent thinking acts as the initial spark. You’re working to create an array of potential solutions, even those that seem outwardly unrelated or unconventional, to get your brain turning and unlock out-of-the-box ideas.

This process paves the way for the decision-making stage, where the most promising ideas are selected and refined.

Go Deeper: Divervent Thinking Examples

2. Convergent Thinking

Next comes convergent thinking, the process of narrowing down multiple possibilities to arrive at a single solution.

This involves using your analytical skills to identify the best, most practical, or most economical solution from the pool of ideas that you generated in the divergent thinking stage.

In a way, convergent thinking shapes the “roadmap” to solve a problem after divergent thinking has supplied the “destinations.”

Have a think about which of these problem-solving skills you’re more adept at: divergent or convergent thinking?

Go Deeper: Convergent Thinking Examples

3. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a group activity designed to generate a multitude of ideas regarding a specific problem. It’s divergent thinking as a group , which helps unlock even more possibilities.

A typical brainstorming session involves uninhibited and spontaneous ideation, encouraging participants to voice any possible solutions, no matter how unconventional they might appear.

It’s important in a brainstorming session to suspend judgment and be as inclusive as possible, allowing all participants to get involved.

By widening the scope of potential solutions, brainstorming allows better problem definition, more creative solutions, and helps to avoid thinking “traps” that might limit your perspective.

Go Deeper: Brainstorming Examples

4. Thinking Outside the Box

The concept of “thinking outside the box” encourages a shift in perspective, urging you to approach problems from an entirely new angle.

Rather than sticking to traditional methods and processes, it involves breaking away from conventional norms to cultivate unique solutions.

In problem-solving, this mindset can bypass established hurdles and bring you to fresh ideas that might otherwise remain undiscovered.

Think of it as going off the beaten track when regular routes present roadblocks to effective resolution.

5. Case Study Analysis

Analyzing case studies involves a detailed examination of real-life situations that bear relevance to the current problem at hand.

For example, if you’re facing a problem, you could go to another environment that has faced a similar problem and examine how they solved it. You’d then bring the insights from that case study back to your own problem.

This approach provides a practical backdrop against which theories and assumptions can be tested, offering valuable insights into how similar problems have been approached and resolved in the past.

See a Broader Range of Analysis Examples Here

6. Action Research

Action research involves a repetitive process of identifying a problem, formulating a plan to address it, implementing the plan, and then analyzing the results. It’s common in educational research contexts.

The objective is to promote continuous learning and improvement through reflection and action. You conduct research into your problem, attempt to apply a solution, then assess how well the solution worked. This becomes an iterative process of continual improvement over time.

For problem-solving, this method offers a way to test solutions in real-time and allows for changes and refinements along the way, based on feedback or observed outcomes. It’s a form of active problem-solving that integrates lessons learned into the next cycle of action.

Go Deeper: Action Research Examples

7. Information Gathering

Fundamental to solving any problem is the process of information gathering.

This involves collecting relevant data , facts, and details about the issue at hand, significantly aiding in the understanding and conceptualization of the problem.

In problem-solving, information gathering underpins every decision you make.

This process ensures your actions are based on concrete information and evidence, allowing for an informed approach to tackle the problem effectively.

8. Seeking Advice

Seeking advice implies turning to knowledgeable and experienced individuals or entities to gain insights on problem-solving.

It could include mentors, industry experts, peers, or even specialized literature.

The value in this process lies in leveraging different perspectives and proven strategies when dealing with a problem. Moreover, it aids you in avoiding pitfalls, saving time, and learning from others’ experiences.

9. Creative Thinking

Creative thinking refers to the ability to perceive a problem in a new way, identify unconventional patterns, or produce original solutions.

It encourages innovation and uniqueness, often leading to the most effective results.

When applied to problem-solving, creative thinking can help you break free from traditional constraints, ideal for potentially complex or unusual problems.

Go Deeper: Creative Thinking Examples

10. Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is a strategy developed to resolve disagreements and arguments, often involving communication, negotiation, and compromise.

When employed as a problem-solving technique, it can diffuse tension, clear bottlenecks, and create a collaborative environment.

Effective conflict resolution ensures that differing views or disagreements do not become roadblocks in the process of problem-solving.

Go Deeper: Conflict Resolution Examples

11. Addressing Bottlenecks

Bottlenecks refer to obstacles or hindrances that slow down or even halt a process.

In problem-solving, addressing bottlenecks involves identifying these impediments and finding ways to eliminate them.

This effort not only smooths the path to resolution but also enhances the overall efficiency of the problem-solving process.

For example, if your workflow is not working well, you’d go to the bottleneck – that one point that is most time consuming – and focus on that. Once you ‘break’ this bottleneck, the entire process will run more smoothly.

12. Market Research

Market research involves gathering and analyzing information about target markets, consumers, and competitors.

In sales and marketing, this is one of the most effective problem-solving methods. The research collected from your market (e.g. from consumer surveys) generates data that can help identify market trends, customer preferences, and competitor strategies.

In this sense, it allows a company to make informed decisions, solve existing problems, and even predict and prevent future ones.

13. Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis is a method used to identify the origin or the fundamental reason for a problem.

Once the root cause is determined, you can implement corrective actions to prevent the problem from recurring.

As a problem-solving procedure, root cause analysis helps you to tackle the problem at its source, rather than dealing with its surface symptoms.

Go Deeper: Root Cause Analysis Examples

14. Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a visual tool used to structure information, helping you better analyze, comprehend and generate new ideas.

By laying out your thoughts visually, it can lead you to solutions that might not have been apparent with linear thinking.

In problem-solving, mind mapping helps in organizing ideas and identifying connections between them, providing a holistic view of the situation and potential solutions.

15. Trial and Error

The trial and error method involves attempting various solutions until you find one that resolves the problem.

It’s an empirical technique that relies on practical actions instead of theories or rules.

In the context of problem-solving, trial and error allows you the flexibility to test different strategies in real situations, gaining insights about what works and what doesn’t.

16. SWOT Analysis

SWOT is an acronym standing for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

It’s an analytic framework used to evaluate these aspects in relation to a particular objective or problem.

In problem-solving, SWOT Analysis helps you to identify favorable and unfavorable internal and external factors. It helps to craft strategies that make best use of your strengths and opportunities, whilst addressing weaknesses and threats.

Go Deeper: SWOT Analysis Examples

17. Scenario Planning

Scenario planning is a strategic planning method used to make flexible long-term plans.

It involves imagining, and then planning for, multiple likely future scenarios.

By forecasting various directions a problem could take, scenario planning helps manage uncertainty and is an effective tool for problem-solving in volatile conditions.

18. Six Thinking Hats

The Six Thinking Hats is a concept devised by Edward de Bono that proposes six different directions or modes of thinking, symbolized by six different hat colors.

Each hat signifies a different perspective, encouraging you to switch ‘thinking modes’ as you switch hats. This method can help remove bias and broaden perspectives when dealing with a problem.

19. Decision Matrix Analysis

Decision Matrix Analysis is a technique that allows you to weigh different factors when faced with several possible solutions.

After listing down the options and determining the factors of importance, each option is scored based on each factor.

Revealing a clear winner that both serves your objectives and reflects your values, Decision Matrix Analysis grounds your problem-solving process in objectivity and comprehensiveness.

20. Pareto Analysis

Also known as the 80/20 rule, Pareto Analysis is a decision-making technique.

It’s based on the principle that 80% of problems are typically caused by 20% of the causes, making it a handy tool for identifying the most significant issues in a situation.

Using this analysis, you’re likely to direct your problem-solving efforts more effectively, tackling the root causes producing most of the problem’s impact.

21. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze facts to form a judgment objectively.

It involves logical, disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.

For problem-solving, critical thinking helps evaluate options and decide the most effective solution. It ensures your decisions are grounded in reason and facts, and not biased or irrational assumptions.

Go Deeper: Critical Thinking Examples

22. Hypothesis Testing

Hypothesis testing usually involves formulating a claim, testing it against actual data, and deciding whether to accept or reject the claim based on the results.

In problem-solving, hypotheses often represent potential solutions. Hypothesis testing provides verification, giving a statistical basis for decision-making and problem resolution.

Usually, this will require research methods and a scientific approach to see whether the hypothesis stands up or not.

Go Deeper: Types of Hypothesis Testing

23. Cost-Benefit Analysis

A cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is a systematic process of weighing the pros and cons of different solutions in terms of their potential costs and benefits.

It allows you to measure the positive effects against the negatives and informs your problem-solving strategy.

By using CBA, you can identify which solution offers the greatest benefit for the least cost, significantly improving efficacy and efficiency in your problem-solving process.

Go Deeper: Cost-Benefit Analysis Examples

24. Simulation and Modeling

Simulations and models allow you to create a simplified replica of real-world systems to test outcomes under controlled conditions.

In problem-solving, you can broadly understand potential repercussions of different solutions before implementation.

It offers a cost-effective way to predict the impacts of your decisions, minimizing potential risks associated with various solutions.

25. Delphi Method

The Delphi Method is a structured communication technique used to gather expert opinions.

The method involves a group of experts who respond to questionnaires about a problem. The responses are aggregated and shared with the group, and the process repeats until a consensus is reached.

This method of problem solving can provide a diverse range of insights and solutions, shaped by the wisdom of a collective expert group.

26. Cross-functional Team Collaboration

Cross-functional team collaboration involves individuals from different departments or areas of expertise coming together to solve a common problem or achieve a shared goal.

When you bring diverse skills, knowledge, and perspectives to a problem, it can lead to a more comprehensive and innovative solution.

In problem-solving, this promotes communal thinking and ensures that solutions are inclusive and holistic, with various aspects of the problem being addressed.

27. Benchmarking

Benchmarking involves comparing one’s business processes and performance metrics to the best practices from other companies or industries.

In problem-solving, it allows you to identify gaps in your own processes, determine how others have solved similar problems, and apply those solutions that have proven to be successful.

It also allows you to compare yourself to the best (the benchmark) and assess where you’re not as good.

28. Pros-Cons Lists

A pro-con analysis aids in problem-solving by weighing the advantages (pros) and disadvantages (cons) of various possible solutions.

This simple but powerful tool helps in making a balanced, informed decision.

When confronted with a problem, a pro-con analysis can guide you through the decision-making process, ensuring all possible outcomes and implications are scrutinized before arriving at the optimal solution. Thus, it helps to make the problem-solving process both methodical and comprehensive.

29. 5 Whys Analysis

The 5 Whys Analysis involves repeatedly asking the question ‘why’ (around five times) to peel away the layers of an issue and discover the root cause of a problem.

As a problem-solving technique, it enables you to delve into details that you might otherwise overlook and offers a simple, yet powerful, approach to uncover the origin of a problem.

For example, if your task is to find out why a product isn’t selling your first answer might be: “because customers don’t want it”, then you ask why again – “they don’t want it because it doesn’t solve their problem”, then why again – “because the product is missing a certain feature” … and so on, until you get to the root “why”.

30. Gap Analysis

Gap analysis entails comparing current performance with potential or desired performance.

You’re identifying the ‘gaps’, or the differences, between where you are and where you want to be.

In terms of problem-solving, a Gap Analysis can help identify key areas for improvement and design a roadmap of how to get from the current state to the desired one.

31. Design Thinking

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves empathy, experimentation, and iteration.

The process focuses on understanding user needs, challenging assumptions , and redefining problems from a user-centric perspective.

In problem-solving, design thinking uncovers innovative solutions that may not have been initially apparent and ensures the solution is tailored to the needs of those affected by the issue.

32. Analogical Thinking

Analogical thinking involves the transfer of information from a particular subject (the analogue or source) to another particular subject (the target).

In problem-solving, you’re drawing parallels between similar situations and applying the problem-solving techniques used in one situation to the other.

Thus, it allows you to apply proven strategies to new, but related problems.

33. Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking requires looking at a situation or problem from a unique, sometimes abstract, often non-sequential viewpoint.

Unlike traditional logical thinking methods, lateral thinking encourages you to employ creative and out-of-the-box techniques.

In solving problems, this type of thinking boosts ingenuity and drives innovation, often leading to novel and effective solutions.

Go Deeper: Lateral Thinking Examples

34. Flowcharting

Flowcharting is the process of visually mapping a process or procedure.

This form of diagram can show every step of a system, process, or workflow, enabling an easy tracking of the progress.

As a problem-solving tool, flowcharts help identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies in a process, guiding improved strategies and providing clarity on task ownership and process outcomes.

35. Multivoting

Multivoting, or N/3 voting, is a method where participants reduce a large list of ideas to a prioritized shortlist by casting multiple votes.

This voting system elevates the most preferred options for further consideration and decision-making.

As a problem-solving technique, multivoting allows a group to narrow options and focus on the most promising solutions, ensuring more effective and democratic decision-making.

36. Force Field Analysis

Force Field Analysis is a decision-making technique that identifies the forces for and against change when contemplating a decision.

The ‘forces’ represent the differing factors that can drive or hinder change.

In problem-solving, Force Field Analysis allows you to understand the entirety of the context, favoring a balanced view over a one-sided perspective. A comprehensive view of all the forces at play can lead to better-informed problem-solving decisions.

TRIZ, which stands for “The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving,” is a problem-solving, analysis, and forecasting methodology.

It focuses on finding contradictions inherent in a scenario. Then, you work toward eliminating the contraditions through finding innovative solutions.

So, when you’re tackling a problem, TRIZ provides a disciplined, systematic approach that aims for ideal solutions and not just acceptable ones. Using TRIZ, you can leverage patterns of problem-solving that have proven effective in different cases, pivoting them to solve the problem at hand.

38. A3 Problem Solving

A3 Problem Solving, derived from Lean Management, is a structured method that uses a single sheet of A3-sized paper to document knowledge from a problem-solving process.

Named after the international paper size standard of A3 (or 11-inch by 17-inch paper), it succinctly records all key details of the problem-solving process from problem description to the root cause and corrective actions.

Used in problem-solving, this provides a straightforward and logical structure for addressing the problem, facilitating communication between team members, ensuring all critical details are included, and providing a record of decisions made.

39. Scenario Analysis

Scenario Analysis is all about predicting different possible future events depending upon your decision.

To do this, you look at each course of action and try to identify the most likely outcomes or scenarios down the track if you take that course of action.

This technique helps forecast the impacts of various strategies, playing each out to their (logical or potential) end. It’s a good strategy for project managers who need to keep a firm eye on the horizon at all times.

When solving problems, Scenario Analysis assists in preparing for uncertainties, making sure your solution remains viable, regardless of changes in circumstances.

How to Answer “Demonstrate Problem-Solving Skills” in an Interview

When asked to demonstrate your problem-solving skills in an interview, the STAR method often proves useful. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

Situation: Begin by describing a specific circumstance or challenge you encountered. Make sure to provide enough detail to allow the interviewer a clear understanding. You should select an event that adequately showcases your problem-solving abilities.

For instance, “In my previous role as a project manager, we faced a significant issue when our key supplier abruptly went out of business.”

Task: Explain what your responsibilities were in that situation. This serves to provide context, allowing the interviewer to understand your role and the expectations placed upon you.

For instance, “It was my task to ensure the project remained on track despite this setback. Alternative suppliers needed to be found without sacrificing quality or significantly increasing costs.”

Action: Describe the steps you took to manage the problem. Highlight your problem-solving process. Mention any creative approaches or techniques that you used.

For instance, “I conducted thorough research to identify potential new suppliers. After creating a shortlist, I initiated contact, negotiated terms, assessed samples for quality and made a selection. I also worked closely with the team to re-adjust the project timeline.”

Result: Share the outcomes of your actions. How did the situation end? Did your actions lead to success? It’s particularly effective if you can quantify these results.

For instance, “As a result of my active problem solving, we were able to secure a new supplier whose costs were actually 10% cheaper and whose quality was comparable. We adjusted the project plan and managed to complete the project just two weeks later than originally planned, despite the major vendor setback.”

Remember, when you’re explaining your problem-solving skills to an interviewer, what they’re really interested in is your approach to handling difficulties, your creativity and persistence in seeking a resolution, and your ability to carry your solution through to fruition. Tailoring your story to highlight these aspects will help exemplify your problem-solving prowess.

Go Deeper: STAR Interview Method Examples

Benefits of Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is beneficial for the following reasons (among others):

  • It can help you to overcome challenges, roadblocks, and bottlenecks in your life.
  • It can save a company money.
  • It can help you to achieve clarity in your thinking.
  • It can make procedures more efficient and save time.
  • It can strengthen your decision-making capacities.
  • It can lead to better risk management.

Whether for a job interview or school, problem-solving helps you to become a better thinking, solve your problems more effectively, and achieve your goals. Build up your problem-solving frameworks (I presented over 40 in this piece for you!) and work on applying them in real-life situations.


Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 13 Social Institutions Examples (According to Sociology)
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 71 Best Education Dissertation Topic Ideas
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 11 Primary Data Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 10 Secondary Data Sources

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creative problem solving examples in real life

Creative Problem-Solving Approach: Skills, Framework, 3 Real-life Examples

What is creative problem-solving, creative problem-solving framework, 3 real-life examples of creative problem solving:, skills to develop for creative problem-solving.

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creative problem-solving framework

  • Clarify and Identify the Problem:  The first step is clearly defining and understanding the problem you are trying to solve. Ask questions to determine the root cause of the problem and identify any underlying issues that may be contributing to it.
  • Generate Ideas:  In this step, you must generate as many ideas as possible without constraints or judgment. Brainstorming is a valuable technique to use here. Encourage everyone to contribute ideas and build on each other’s ideas.
  • Evaluate Ideas:  Once you have generated a list of ideas, it’s time to evaluate them. Look for the most promising ideas with the most significant potential to solve the problem. Evaluate the ideas against criteria such as feasibility, impact, and cost.
  • Develop Solutions:  Now, it’s time to develop solutions based on the best ideas. Combine, refine, or modify the ideas to create a solution that meets the criteria identified in the previous step. Test the solution with a small group to see how it works.
  • Implement and Evaluate:  The final step is implementing the solution and evaluating its effectiveness. Monitor the solution to ensure it works as intended and make any necessary adjustments.
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  • Netflix:  The company revolutionized how we watch TV shows and movies. However, when the company started, it faced a big challenge – getting people to watch their content when they were not a well-known brand. Instead of relying on traditional advertising, Netflix used creative problem-solving to develop a unique solution. They created an algorithm recommending TV shows and movies based on a user’s viewing history, leading to a highly personalized viewing experience. This recommendation engine became a critical factor in the company’s success, helping them attract and retain customers.
  • NASA:  NASA had to devise an instant solution to save the Apollo 13 mission and their team. Their spacecraft was damaged, and they needed a solution to bring their astronauts safely back to Earth. The team fitted a square CO2 filter into a round hole using available materials on the spacecraft; the team used creative problem-solving to develop this approach. This innovative solution allowed the astronauts to return safely to Earth and set this incident as a classic creative solving example.
  • IKEA:  IKEA makes stylish and affordable furniture and is a well-versed company. However, they faced significant challenges entering the Japanese market. Japanese apartments are comparatively smaller than the rest of the world, so the regular product range was irrelevant to Japanese customers. So, IKEA used creative problem-solving to develop a solution appealing to the Japanese market. They launched a variety of products specially created for smaller spaces that are easy to assemble and disassemble—they also introduced a range of futons designed to look like beds, appealing to Japanese customers who prefer sleeping on the floor. This innovative and creative approach helped IKEA successfully enter the Japanese market.

creative problem solving examples in real life

  • Flexibility:  Being able to adapt to changing circumstances and consider multiple perspectives.
  • Open-mindedness:  Being open to new ideas and willing to challenge assumptions.
  • Curiosity:  Seek more information by questioning and better understanding the problem.
  • Persistence:  If a solution does not work, apply another solution, but continue until the problem is solved.
  • Divergent thinking:  Generating multiple ideas and exploring different possibilities.
  • Convergent thinking:  Evaluating and selecting the best ideas based on specific criteria.
  • Visualization:  Using mental imagery to explore solutions and ideas.
  • Collaboration:  Working with others to combine different perspectives and knowledge.
  • Risk-taking:  Being willing to take calculated risks and try new approaches.
  • Innovation:  Combining ideas and approaches in novel ways to create new solutions.

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creative problem solving examples in real life

October 31, 2022

Creative problem solving examples that solved real world problems, by jordan nottrodt.

Not all problems have simple, straightforward solutions. And the more we try to solve these problems with basic techniques, the worse the problems get. Real-world problems are messy and complicated, and they require a creative approach to problem solving. In this post, we’ll share a range of real-world creative problem solving examples from the human-centred design work of Overlap Associates.

When there isn’t a straightforward answer, it’s time for another approach—one that puts all of the people involved at the forefront of decision making.

What is Creative Problem Solving?

Creative problem solving applies human-centred design principles, practices, and tools to complex problems, enabling individuals, teams, and organizations to unlock innovation and navigate uncertainty in a rapidly changing world. It’s all about tapping into the unknown to uncover brand new solutions—ones you’ve never thought of before or didn’t know were possible.

The more complex a problem is , the more nuanced and layered the solution needs to be. Creative problem solving requires that you separate divergent thinking ( idea generation and brainstorming ) from convergent thinking (idea evaluation and decision making) as opposed to trying to do both at once. 

Creative problem solving involves gathering observations, asking questions, and considering a wide range of perspectives.

Let’s discuss complex, real-world problems that were solved using creative problem solving and human-centred design techniques. 

Creative Problem Solving Examples

Example #1: adapting customer service to evolving customer expectations and needs.

The Complex Problem:

Customer service always has room for improvement, and the insurance industry is no exception. Tensions run high when receiving claims, and it is critical that customers feel both comfortable and satisfied with the claims experience. Gore Mutual was at a standstill with a 97% customer satisfaction rating, but the company wanted to do more. As customer expectations and needs continue to evolve, how can customer service continue to improve?

Creative Problem Solving Methods:

In order to improve customer satisfaction, Gore Mutual first needed to understand the experiences of all relevant stakeholders in the claims process, which included customers, brokers, and service providers. Acknowledging the role of each group in the overall claims experience would create a clear customer journey.

Overlap led a series of engagement sessions and gathered feedback from all groups involved in the customer journey to better understand where the journey could be improved. Methods of information gathering included in-person interviews, interactive Stakeholder Lab workshops, and observational research of spaces, such as dispatch centres, digital platforms, contractors’ shops, and customer meetings. 

This thorough approach went beyond simple satisfaction surveys to paint a detailed picture of the entire customer journey. A Journey Map , a design tool for capturing new ways of looking at someone’s experience, was used to guide research collection. 

In the end, a nuanced insights report was created to outline the current and ideal future state of navigating the claims process. With this ideal claims journey in mind, Gore Mutual established ClaimCare, a new approach to claims processing, which included improvements such as a Concierge for inquiries, a Mobile Response Team, and a Mobile Response Centre for catastrophes.

Learn more about the Service Design Project

Gore Mutual Insurance .

Example #2: Developing Inclusive Online Facilitation in the Midst of a Pandemic

The Complex Problem: 

The beginning of the pandemic left businesses scrambling to find inventive ways to hold in-person meetings and events. How do you create engaging facilitation without experiencing the intangible moments that come with face-to-face, in-person connection? How do you develop online facilitation that’s engaging and accessible to everyone in the midst of overwhelming Zoom fatigue? How do you implement technology in order to be effective while also not alienating those who are unfamiliar or struggle with new technology? 

Like many businesses, The Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA) was caught in the dramatic shift to online methods that occurred in the early days of the pandemic. They knew they needed to adopt new technology in order to thrive—or even survive—but they didn’t want engagement to suffer or for those less technologically inclined to be left behind. 

Using the lens of creative problem solving and human-centred design techniques, RIA was able to translate all they previously knew about facilitation into an adaptive and inclusive online approach. It was essential to find tools and solutions that were simple to navigate and accessible to everyone on the RIA team, as well as those RIA works with. 

Overlap provided these tools and the training required to implement online facilitation quickly and effectively while sharing insight into how to spot unconscious bias, how to lead an accessible session, and how to apply diversity, equity, and inclusion across all online communication. Keeping human-centred design principles top-of-mind ensured all voices were heard, and no one was left behind in the transition. 

Learn more about Developing New Training for Great Online Facilitation .

Example #3: Improving the Experiences of Aging Adults

Aging is a deeply personal and challenging experience. How can caregivers better understand the experiences of older adults? Instead of grouping every senior together, how can care be designed to meet the needs of all subgroups of aging adults? For example, newcomers, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and people with dementia may require or prefer different methods of service.

To solve this complex problem, Overlap deployed design teams to complete high-touch, day-long ethnography as well as low-touch, three-minute surveys to gather a wealth of data that could inform decision making. Overlap used the findings and insights to develop a thorough and wide-ranging set of design principles for serving older adults.

A comprehensive toolkit was designed to help service providers co-design alongside older adults. The toolkit included practical, creative problem solving techniques and guided design thinking practices to ensure everyone affected was involved in the process. In addition to the toolkit, training was provided directly to caregivers to ensure all gaps in service and understanding were bridged.

Directly involving aging adults from all walks of life, their loved ones, and their caregivers meant the decision making process was thoroughly informed, which enabled care to be adapted to meet the needs of all individuals. 

Learn more about the Aging By Design Project in New York State .

Learning More About the Creative Problem Solving Process

Overlap’s Creative Problem Solving School has a suite of courses that have been carefully designed to bring design thinking training to anyone ready to learn. We share tools and strategies that will help you and your team make better decisions. 

Our wide range of courses include practical and engaging materials that will help you work better together, understand your customers, and navigate complex challenges. 

The Exploring Complex Problems (201) course focuses on how to solve complex, real world problems using creative problem solving methods. It’s a deep dive into the Define and Research phases of the human-centred design cycle and demonstrates why remaining in the problem space and iterating between these two phases creates a strong foundation for ideation. 

Learn more: Why Every Team Needs Human-Centred Design Training .

If you want to continue developing your creative problem solving skills, follow us on social media and sign up for our monthly newsletter to stay informed about our latest training schedule, new courses, and free resources!

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Article • 10 min read

Creative Problem Solving

Finding innovative solutions to challenges.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

creative problem solving examples in real life

Imagine that you're vacuuming your house in a hurry because you've got friends coming over. Frustratingly, you're working hard but you're not getting very far. You kneel down, open up the vacuum cleaner, and pull out the bag. In a cloud of dust, you realize that it's full... again. Coughing, you empty it and wonder why vacuum cleaners with bags still exist!

James Dyson, inventor and founder of Dyson® vacuum cleaners, had exactly the same problem, and he used creative problem solving to find the answer. While many companies focused on developing a better vacuum cleaner filter, he realized that he had to think differently and find a more creative solution. So, he devised a revolutionary way to separate the dirt from the air, and invented the world's first bagless vacuum cleaner. [1]

Creative problem solving (CPS) is a way of solving problems or identifying opportunities when conventional thinking has failed. It encourages you to find fresh perspectives and come up with innovative solutions, so that you can formulate a plan to overcome obstacles and reach your goals.

In this article, we'll explore what CPS is, and we'll look at its key principles. We'll also provide a model that you can use to generate creative solutions.

About Creative Problem Solving

Alex Osborn, founder of the Creative Education Foundation, first developed creative problem solving in the 1940s, along with the term "brainstorming." And, together with Sid Parnes, he developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process. Despite its age, this model remains a valuable approach to problem solving. [2]

The early Osborn-Parnes model inspired a number of other tools. One of these is the 2011 CPS Learner's Model, also from the Creative Education Foundation, developed by Dr Gerard J. Puccio, Marie Mance, and co-workers. In this article, we'll use this modern four-step model to explore how you can use CPS to generate innovative, effective solutions.

Why Use Creative Problem Solving?

Dealing with obstacles and challenges is a regular part of working life, and overcoming them isn't always easy. To improve your products, services, communications, and interpersonal skills, and for you and your organization to excel, you need to encourage creative thinking and find innovative solutions that work.

CPS asks you to separate your "divergent" and "convergent" thinking as a way to do this. Divergent thinking is the process of generating lots of potential solutions and possibilities, otherwise known as brainstorming. And convergent thinking involves evaluating those options and choosing the most promising one. Often, we use a combination of the two to develop new ideas or solutions. However, using them simultaneously can result in unbalanced or biased decisions, and can stifle idea generation.

For more on divergent and convergent thinking, and for a useful diagram, see the book "Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making." [3]

Core Principles of Creative Problem Solving

CPS has four core principles. Let's explore each one in more detail:

  • Divergent and convergent thinking must be balanced. The key to creativity is learning how to identify and balance divergent and convergent thinking (done separately), and knowing when to practice each one.
  • Ask problems as questions. When you rephrase problems and challenges as open-ended questions with multiple possibilities, it's easier to come up with solutions. Asking these types of questions generates lots of rich information, while asking closed questions tends to elicit short answers, such as confirmations or disagreements. Problem statements tend to generate limited responses, or none at all.
  • Defer or suspend judgment. As Alex Osborn learned from his work on brainstorming, judging solutions early on tends to shut down idea generation. Instead, there's an appropriate and necessary time to judge ideas during the convergence stage.
  • Focus on "Yes, and," rather than "No, but." Language matters when you're generating information and ideas. "Yes, and" encourages people to expand their thoughts, which is necessary during certain stages of CPS. Using the word "but" – preceded by "yes" or "no" – ends conversation, and often negates what's come before it.

How to Use the Tool

Let's explore how you can use each of the four steps of the CPS Learner's Model (shown in figure 1, below) to generate innovative ideas and solutions.

Figure 1 – CPS Learner's Model

creative problem solving examples in real life

Explore the Vision

Identify your goal, desire or challenge. This is a crucial first step because it's easy to assume, incorrectly, that you know what the problem is. However, you may have missed something or have failed to understand the issue fully, and defining your objective can provide clarity. Read our article, 5 Whys , for more on getting to the root of a problem quickly.

Gather Data

Once you've identified and understood the problem, you can collect information about it and develop a clear understanding of it. Make a note of details such as who and what is involved, all the relevant facts, and everyone's feelings and opinions.

Formulate Questions

When you've increased your awareness of the challenge or problem you've identified, ask questions that will generate solutions. Think about the obstacles you might face and the opportunities they could present.

Explore Ideas

Generate ideas that answer the challenge questions you identified in step 1. It can be tempting to consider solutions that you've tried before, as our minds tend to return to habitual thinking patterns that stop us from producing new ideas. However, this is a chance to use your creativity .

Brainstorming and Mind Maps are great ways to explore ideas during this divergent stage of CPS. And our articles, Encouraging Team Creativity , Problem Solving , Rolestorming , Hurson's Productive Thinking Model , and The Four-Step Innovation Process , can also help boost your creativity.

See our Brainstorming resources within our Creativity section for more on this.

Formulate Solutions

This is the convergent stage of CPS, where you begin to focus on evaluating all of your possible options and come up with solutions. Analyze whether potential solutions meet your needs and criteria, and decide whether you can implement them successfully. Next, consider how you can strengthen them and determine which ones are the best "fit." Our articles, Critical Thinking and ORAPAPA , are useful here.

4. Implement

Formulate a plan.

Once you've chosen the best solution, it's time to develop a plan of action. Start by identifying resources and actions that will allow you to implement your chosen solution. Next, communicate your plan and make sure that everyone involved understands and accepts it.

There have been many adaptations of CPS since its inception, because nobody owns the idea.

For example, Scott Isaksen and Donald Treffinger formed The Creative Problem Solving Group Inc . and the Center for Creative Learning , and their model has evolved over many versions. Blair Miller, Jonathan Vehar and Roger L. Firestien also created their own version, and Dr Gerard J. Puccio, Mary C. Murdock, and Marie Mance developed CPS: The Thinking Skills Model. [4] Tim Hurson created The Productive Thinking Model , and Paul Reali developed CPS: Competencies Model. [5]

Sid Parnes continued to adapt the CPS model by adding concepts such as imagery and visualization , and he founded the Creative Studies Project to teach CPS. For more information on the evolution and development of the CPS process, see Creative Problem Solving Version 6.1 by Donald J. Treffinger, Scott G. Isaksen, and K. Brian Dorval. [6]

Creative Problem Solving (CPS) Infographic

See our infographic on Creative Problem Solving .

creative problem solving examples in real life

Creative problem solving (CPS) is a way of using your creativity to develop new ideas and solutions to problems. The process is based on separating divergent and convergent thinking styles, so that you can focus your mind on creating at the first stage, and then evaluating at the second stage.

There have been many adaptations of the original Osborn-Parnes model, but they all involve a clear structure of identifying the problem, generating new ideas, evaluating the options, and then formulating a plan for successful implementation.

[1] Entrepreneur (2012). James Dyson on Using Failure to Drive Success [online]. Available here . [Accessed May 27, 2022.]

[2] Creative Education Foundation (2015). The CPS Process [online]. Available here . [Accessed May 26, 2022.]

[3] Kaner, S. et al. (2014). 'Facilitator′s Guide to Participatory Decision–Making,' San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[4] Puccio, G., Mance, M., and Murdock, M. (2011). 'Creative Leadership: Skils That Drive Change' (2nd Ed.), Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

[5] OmniSkills (2013). Creative Problem Solving [online]. Available here . [Accessed May 26, 2022].

[6] Treffinger, G., Isaksen, S., and Dorval, B. (2010). Creative Problem Solving (CPS Version 6.1). Center for Creative Learning, Inc. & Creative Problem Solving Group, Inc. Available here .

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creative problem solving examples in real life

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How to Be a More Creative Problem-Solver at Work: 8 Tips

Business professionals using creative problem-solving at work

  • 01 Mar 2022

The importance of creativity in the workplace—particularly when problem-solving—is undeniable. Business leaders can’t approach new problems with old solutions and expect the same result.

This is where innovation-based processes need to guide problem-solving. Here’s an overview of what creative problem-solving is, along with tips on how to use it in conjunction with design thinking.

What Is Creative Problem-Solving?

Encountering problems with no clear cause can be frustrating. This occurs when there’s disagreement around a defined problem or research yields unclear results. In such situations, creative problem-solving helps develop solutions, despite a lack of clarity.

While creative problem-solving is less structured than other forms of innovation, it encourages exploring open-ended ideas and shifting perspectives—thereby fostering innovation and easier adaptation in the workplace. It also works best when paired with other innovation-based processes, such as design thinking .

Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking

Design thinking is a solutions-based mentality that encourages innovation and problem-solving. It’s guided by an iterative process that Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar outlines in four stages in the online course Design Thinking and Innovation :

The four stages of design thinking: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement

  • Clarify: This stage involves researching a problem through empathic observation and insights.
  • Ideate: This stage focuses on generating ideas and asking open-ended questions based on observations made during the clarification stage.
  • Develop: The development stage involves exploring possible solutions based on the ideas you generate. Experimentation and prototyping are both encouraged.
  • Implement: The final stage is a culmination of the previous three. It involves finalizing a solution’s development and communicating its value to stakeholders.

Although user research is an essential first step in the design thinking process, there are times when it can’t identify a problem’s root cause. Creative problem-solving addresses this challenge by promoting the development of new perspectives.

Leveraging tools like design thinking and creativity at work can further your problem-solving abilities. Here are eight tips for doing so.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

8 Creative Problem-Solving Tips

1. empathize with your audience.

A fundamental practice of design thinking’s clarify stage is empathy. Understanding your target audience can help you find creative and relevant solutions for their pain points through observing them and asking questions.

Practice empathy by paying attention to others’ needs and avoiding personal comparisons. The more you understand your audience, the more effective your solutions will be.

2. Reframe Problems as Questions

If a problem is difficult to define, reframe it as a question rather than a statement. For example, instead of saying, "The problem is," try framing around a question like, "How might we?" Think creatively by shifting your focus from the problem to potential solutions.

Consider this hypothetical case study: You’re the owner of a local coffee shop trying to fill your tip jar. Approaching the situation with a problem-focused mindset frames this as: "We need to find a way to get customers to tip more." If you reframe this as a question, however, you can explore: "How might we make it easier for customers to tip?" When you shift your focus from the shop to the customer, you empathize with your audience. You can take this train of thought one step further and consider questions such as: "How might we provide a tipping method for customers who don't carry cash?"

Whether you work at a coffee shop, a startup, or a Fortune 500 company, reframing can help surface creative solutions to problems that are difficult to define.

3. Defer Judgment of Ideas

If you encounter an idea that seems outlandish or unreasonable, a natural response would be to reject it. This instant judgment impedes creativity. Even if ideas seem implausible, they can play a huge part in ideation. It's important to permit the exploration of original ideas.

While judgment can be perceived as negative, it’s crucial to avoid accepting ideas too quickly. If you love an idea, don’t immediately pursue it. Give equal consideration to each proposal and build on different concepts instead of acting on them immediately.

4. Overcome Cognitive Fixedness

Cognitive fixedness is a state of mind that prevents you from recognizing a situation’s alternative solutions or interpretations instead of considering every situation through the lens of past experiences.

Although it's efficient in the short-term, cognitive fixedness interferes with creative thinking because it prevents you from approaching situations unbiased. It's important to be aware of this tendency so you can avoid it.

5. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking

One of the key principles of creative problem-solving is the balance of divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the process of brainstorming multiple ideas without limitation; open-ended creativity is encouraged. It’s an effective tool for generating ideas, but not every idea can be explored. Divergent thinking eventually needs to be grounded in reality.

Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is the process of narrowing ideas down into a few options. While converging ideas too quickly stifles creativity, it’s an important step that bridges the gap between ideation and development. It's important to strike a healthy balance between both to allow for the ideation and exploration of creative ideas.

6. Use Creative Tools

Using creative tools is another way to foster innovation. Without a clear cause for a problem, such tools can help you avoid cognitive fixedness and abrupt decision-making. Here are several examples:

Problem Stories

Creating a problem story requires identifying undesired phenomena (UDP) and taking note of events that precede and result from them. The goal is to reframe the situations to visualize their cause and effect.

To start, identify a UDP. Then, discover what events led to it. Observe and ask questions of your consumer base to determine the UDP’s cause.

Next, identify why the UDP is a problem. What effect does the UDP have that necessitates changing the status quo? It's helpful to visualize each event in boxes adjacent to one another when answering such questions.

The problem story can be extended in either direction, as long as there are additional cause-and-effect relationships. Once complete, focus on breaking the chains connecting two subsequent events by disrupting the cause-and-effect relationship between them.

Alternate Worlds

The alternate worlds tool encourages you to consider how people from different backgrounds would approach similar situations. For instance, how would someone in hospitality versus manufacturing approach the same problem? This tool isn't intended to instantly solve problems but, rather, to encourage idea generation and creativity.

7. Use Positive Language

It's vital to maintain a positive mindset when problem-solving and avoid negative words that interfere with creativity. Positive language prevents quick judgments and overcomes cognitive fixedness. Instead of "no, but," use words like "yes, and."

Positive language makes others feel heard and valued rather than shut down. This practice doesn’t necessitate agreeing with every idea but instead approaching each from a positive perspective.

Using “yes, and” as a tool for further idea exploration is also effective. If someone presents an idea, build upon it using “yes, and.” What additional features could improve it? How could it benefit consumers beyond its intended purpose?

While it may not seem essential, this small adjustment can make a big difference in encouraging creativity.

8. Practice Design Thinking

Practicing design thinking can make you a more creative problem-solver. While commonly associated with the workplace, adopting a design thinking mentality can also improve your everyday life. Here are several ways you can practice design thinking:

  • Learn from others: There are many examples of design thinking in business . Review case studies to learn from others’ successes, research problems companies haven't addressed, and consider alternative solutions using the design thinking process.
  • Approach everyday problems with a design thinking mentality: One of the best ways to practice design thinking is to apply it to your daily life. Approach everyday problems using design thinking’s four-stage framework to uncover what solutions it yields.
  • Study design thinking: While learning design thinking independently is a great place to start, taking an online course can offer more insight and practical experience. The right course can teach you important skills , increase your marketability, and provide valuable networking opportunities.

Which HBS Online Entrepreneurship and Innovation Course is Right for You? | Download Your Free Flowchart

Ready to Become a Creative Problem-Solver?

Though creativity comes naturally to some, it's an acquired skill for many. Regardless of which category you're in, improving your ability to innovate is a valuable endeavor. Whether you want to bolster your creativity or expand your professional skill set, taking an innovation-based course can enhance your problem-solving.

If you're ready to become a more creative problem-solver, explore Design Thinking and Innovation , one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses . If you aren't sure which course is the right fit, download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.

creative problem solving examples in real life

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  • November 30, 2023 6:13 pm

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13 Verified Real Life Problem Solving Examples

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By Ariyan Ashraf

13 Verified Real Life Problem Solving Examples

Real Life: In our daily lives, we encounter various challenges that require us to think critically and come up with effective solutions. These real-life problem-solving examples are essential for personal and professional growth. This article will explore some practical instances of problem-solving, highlighting the importance of a problem-solving mindset and how it can lead to success in various aspects of life.

Identifying Real Life Problems

Before diving into examples, it’s crucial to understand how to identify real-life problems. These can be anything from simple inconveniences to complex challenges. Recognizing the issues that need attention is the first step towards finding solutions.

Problem-Solving Mindset

A problem-solving mindset involves approaching problems with a positive attitude and a belief that solutions are attainable. It requires a willingness to embrace challenges, view setbacks as learning opportunities, and persistently seek resolutions.

Analyzing the Root Cause

To solve any problem effectively, it is necessary to identify its root cause. This involves digging deep into the issue to understand its origins and factors contributing to its existence.

Creative Solutions

Thinking outside the box often leads to innovative and creative solutions. Real-life problem solving often involves combining different ideas, technologies, or approaches to address challenges uniquely.

Effective Decision Making

Decision-making is a critical part of problem-solving . It involves evaluating potential solutions, considering their pros and cons, and choosing the most suitable one.

Adapting to Changes

In a dynamic world, problems can change or evolve rapidly. Being adaptable and open to modifying strategies is essential to overcome unexpected obstacles.

Learning from Failures

Failure is a natural part of problem-solving. Instead of being discouraged, successful individuals use failures as stepping stones for improvement and future success.

Read Now: Top 10 Human Problems And Their Solutions

Collaborative Problem Solving

Teamwork and collaboration can often lead to better problem-solving outcomes. Collaborative problem-solving brings together diverse perspectives and expertise, fostering innovation.

Critical Thinking in Problem Solving

Critical thinking involves evaluating information objectively and making informed decisions. It plays a crucial role in effective problem-solving.

Overcoming Challenges

Real-life problem-solving examples often involve overcoming significant challenges. This section will explore some inspiring stories of individuals who faced adversity and triumphed through their resilience and problem-solving skills.

Problem Solving in Business

In the business world, problem-solving is a cornerstone of success. This section will examine how companies tackle complex issues, leading to growth and advancement.

Problem Solving in Personal Life

Problem-solving isn’t limited to professional settings. In our personal lives, we encounter various challenges, and how we handle them can significantly impact our well-being.

Case Studies of Successful Problem Solving

This section will delve into specific case studies of successful problem-solving initiatives, showcasing how individuals and organizations tackled intricate problems and achieved remarkable outcomes.

Real-life problem-solving is an indispensable skill that empowers individuals and organizations to navigate challenges effectively. By cultivating a problem-solving mindset, embracing creativity, and learning from failures, one can triumph over adversity and achieve success in various spheres of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is real-life problem solving? Real-life problem solving refers to the process of identifying and resolving challenges encountered in daily life or professional settings using critical thinking and creative solutions.
  • How can I improve my problem-solving skills? Improving problem-solving skills involves adopting a positive mindset, practicing critical thinking, being open to learning from failures, and seeking collaborative approaches.
  • Why is problem-solving important in business? Problem-solving is vital in business as it allows companies to overcome obstacles, adapt to changing market conditions, and innovate to stay competitive.
  • Can problem-solving be taught? While some aspects of problem-solving are innate, it is a skill that can be developed and honed through practice, experience, and learning from others.
  • What are some common challenges in problem-solving? Common challenges in problem-solving include identifying the root cause, dealing with uncertainty, and balancing short-term and long-term solutions.

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Hypothesis and theory article, real world problem-solving.

creative problem solving examples in real life

  • Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory, Department of Computer Science, Tufts University, Medford, MA, United States

Real world problem-solving (RWPS) is what we do every day. It requires flexibility, resilience, resourcefulness, and a certain degree of creativity. A crucial feature of RWPS is that it involves continuous interaction with the environment during the problem-solving process. In this process, the environment can be seen as not only a source of inspiration for new ideas but also as a tool to facilitate creative thinking. The cognitive neuroscience literature in creativity and problem-solving is extensive, but it has largely focused on neural networks that are active when subjects are not focused on the outside world, i.e., not using their environment. In this paper, I attempt to combine the relevant literature on creativity and problem-solving with the scattered and nascent work in perceptually-driven learning from the environment. I present my synthesis as a potential new theory for real world problem-solving and map out its hypothesized neural basis. I outline some testable predictions made by the model and provide some considerations and ideas for experimental paradigms that could be used to evaluate the model more thoroughly.

1. Introduction

In the Apollo 13 space mission, astronauts together with ground control had to overcome several challenges to bring the team safely back to Earth ( Lovell and Kluger, 2006 ). One of these challenges was controlling carbon dioxide levels onboard the space craft: “For 2 days straight [they] had worked on how to jury-rig the Odysseys canisters to the Aquarius's life support system. Now, using materials known to be available onboard the spacecraft—a sock, a plastic bag, the cover of a flight manual, lots of duct tape, and so on—the crew assembled a strange contraption and taped it into place. Carbon dioxide levels immediately began to fall into the safe range” ( Team, 1970 ; Cass, 2005 ).

The success of Apollo 13's recovery from failure is often cited as a glowing example of human resourcefulness and inventiveness alongside more well-known inventions and innovations over the course of human history. However, this sort of inventive capability is not restricted to a few creative geniuses, but an ability present in all of us, and exemplified in the following mundane example. Consider a situation when your only suit is covered in lint and you do not own a lint remover. You see a roll of duct tape, and being resourceful you reason that it might be a good substitute. You then solve the problem of lint removal by peeling a full turn's worth of tape and re-attaching it backwards onto the roll to expose the sticky side all around the roll. By rolling it over your suit, you can now pick up all the lint.

In both these examples (historic as well as everyday), we see evidence for our innate ability to problem-solve in the real world. Solving real world problems in real time given constraints posed by one's environment are crucial for survival. At the core of this skill is our mental capability to get out of “sticky situations” or impasses, i.e., difficulties that appear unexpectedly as impassable roadblocks to solving the problem at hand. But, what are the cognitive processes that enable a problem solver to overcome such impasses and arrive at a solution, or at least a set of promising next steps?

A central aspect of this type of real world problem solving, is the role played by the solver's surrounding environment during the problem-solving process. Is it possible that interaction with one's environment can facilitate creative thinking? The answer to this question seems somewhat obvious when one considers the most famous anecdotal account of creative problem solving, namely that of Archimedes of Syracuse. During a bath, he found a novel way to check if the King's crown contained non-gold impurities. The story has traditionally been associated with the so-called “Eureka moment,” the sudden affective experience when a solution to a particularly thorny problem emerges. In this paper, I want to temporarily turn our attention away from the specific “aha!” experience itself and take particular note that Archimedes made this discovery, not with his eyes closed at a desk, but in a real-world context of a bath 1 . The bath was not only a passive, relaxing environment for Archimedes, but also a specific source of inspiration. Indeed it was his noticing the displacement of water that gave him a specific methodology for measuring the purity of the crown; by comparing how much water a solid gold bar of the same weight would displace as compared with the crown. This sort of continuous environmental interaction was present when the Apollo 13 engineers discovered their life-saving solution, and when you solved the suit-lint-removal problem with duct tape.

The neural mechanisms underlying problem-solving have been extensively studied in the literature, and there is general agreement about the key functional networks and nodes involved in various stages of problem-solving. In addition, there has been a great deal of work in studying the neural basis for creativity and insight problem solving, which is associated with the sudden emergence of solutions. However, in the context of problem-solving, creativity, and insight have been researched as largely an internal process without much interaction with and influence from the external environment ( Wegbreit et al., 2012 ; Abraham, 2013 ; Kounios and Beeman, 2014 ) 2 . Thus, there are open questions of what role the environment plays during real world problem-solving (RWPS) and how the brain enables the assimilation of novel items during these external interactions.

In this paper, I synthesize the literature on problem-solving, creativity and insight, and particularly focus on how the environment can inform RWPS. I explore three environmentally-informed mechanisms that could play a critical role: (1) partial-cue driven context-shifting, (2) heuristic prototyping and learning novel associations, and (3) learning novel physical inferences. I begin first with some intuitions about real world problem solving, that might help ground this discussion and providing some key distinctions from more traditional problem solving research. Then, I turn to a review of the relevant literature on problem-solving, creativity, and insight first, before discussing the three above-mentioned environmentally-driven mechanisms. I conclude with a potential new model and map out its hypothesized neural basis.

2. Problem Solving, Creativity, and Insight

2.1. what is real world problem-solving.

Archimedes was embodied in the real world when he found his solution. In fact, the real world helped him solve the problem. Whether or not these sorts of historic accounts of creative inspiration are accurate 3 , they do correlate with some of our own key intuitions about how problem solving occurs “in the wild.” Real world problem solving (RWPS) is different from those that occur in a classroom or in a laboratory during an experiment. They are often dynamic and discontinuous, accompanied by many starts and stops. Solvers are never working on just one problem. Instead, they are simultaneously juggling several problems of varying difficulties and alternating their attention between them. Real world problems are typically ill-defined, and even when they are well-defined, often have open-ended solutions. Coupled with that is the added aspect of uncertainty associated with the solver's problem solving strategies. As introduced earlier, an important dimension of RWPS is the continuous interaction between the solver and their environment. During these interactions, the solver might be inspired or arrive at an “aha!” moment. However, more often than not, the solver experiences dozens of minor discovery events— “hmmm, interesting…” or “wait, what?…” moments. Like discovery events, there's typically never one singular impasse or distraction event. The solver must iterate through the problem solving process experiencing and managing these sorts of intervening events (including impasses and discoveries). In summary, RWPS is quite messy and involves a tight interplay between problem solving, creativity, and insight. Next, I explore each of these processes in more detail and explicate a possible role of memory, attention, conflict management and perception.

2.2. Analytical Problem-Solving

In psychology and neuroscience, problem-solving broadly refers to the inferential steps taken by an agent 4 that leads from a given state of affairs to a desired goal state ( Barbey and Barsalou, 2009 ). The agent does not immediately know how this goal can be reached and must perform some mental operations (i.e., thinking) to determine a solution ( Duncker, 1945 ).

The problem solving literature divides problems based on clarity (well-defined vs. ill-defined) or on the underlying cognitive processes (analytical, memory retrieval, and insight) ( Sprugnoli et al., 2017 ). While memory retrieval is an important process, I consider it as a sub-process to problem solving more generally. I first focus on analytical problem-solving process, which typically involves problem-representation and encoding, and the process of forming and executing a solution plan ( Robertson, 2016 ).

2.2.1. Problem Definition and Representation

An important initial phase of problem-solving involves defining the problem and forming a representation in the working memory. During this phase, components of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), default mode network (DMN), and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) have been found to be activated. If the problem is familiar and well-structured, top-down executive control mechanisms are engaged and the left prefrontal cortex including the frontopolar, dorso-lateral (dlPFC), and ventro-lateral (vlPFC) are activated ( Barbey and Barsalou, 2009 ). The DMN along with the various structures in the medial temporal lobe (MTL) including the hippocampus (HF), parahippocampal cortex, perirhinal and entorhinal cortices are also believed to have limited involvement, especially in episodic memory retrieval activities during this phase ( Beaty et al., 2016 ). The problem representation requires encoding problem information for which certain visual and parietal areas are also involved, although the extent of their involvement is less clear ( Anderson and Fincham, 2014 ; Anderson et al., 2014 ). Working memory

An important aspect of problem representation is the engagement and use of working memory (WM). The WM allows for the maintenance of relevant problem information and description in the mind ( Gazzaley and Nobre, 2012 ). Research has shown that WM tasks consistently recruit the dlPFC and left inferior frontal cortex (IC) for encoding an manipulating information; dACC for error detection and performance adjustment; and vlPFC and the anterior insula (AI) for retrieving, selecting information and inhibitory control ( Chung and Weyandt, 2014 ; Fang et al., 2016 ). Representation

While we generally have a sense for the brain regions that are functionally influential in problem definition, less is known about how exactly events are represented within these regions. One theory for how events are represented in the PFC is the structured event complex theory (SEC), in which components of the event knowledge are represented by increasingly higher-order convergence zones localized within the PFC, akin to the convergence zones (from posterior to anterior) that integrate sensory information in the brain ( Barbey et al., 2009 ). Under this theory, different zones in the PFC (left vs. right, anterior vs. posterior, lateral vs. medial, and dorsal vs. ventral) represent different aspects of the information contained in the events (e.g., number of events to be integrated together, the complexity of the event, whether planning, and action is needed). Other studies have also suggested the CEN's role in tasks requiring cognitive flexibility, and functions to switch thinking modes, levels of abstraction of thought and consider multiple concepts simultaneously ( Miyake et al., 2000 ).

Thus, when the problem is well-structured, problem representation is largely an executive control activity coordinated by the PFC in which problem information from memory populates WM in a potentially structured representation. Once the problem is defined and encoded, planning and execution of a solution can begin.

2.2.2. Planning

The central executive network (CEN), particularly the PFC, is largely involved in plan formation and in plan execution. Planning is the process of generating a strategy to advance from the current state to a goal state. This in turn involves retrieving a suitable solution strategy from memory and then coordinating its execution. Plan formation

The dlPFC supports sequential planning and plan formation, which includes the generation of hypothesis and construction of plan steps ( Barbey and Barsalou, 2009 ). Interestingly, the vlPFC and the angular gyrus (AG), implicated in a variety of functions including memory retrieval, are also involved in plan formation ( Anderson et al., 2014 ). Indeed, the AG together with the regions in the MTL (including the HF) and several other regions form a what is known as the “core” network. The core network is believed to be activated when recalling past experiences, imagining fictitious, and future events and navigating large-scale spaces ( Summerfield et al., 2010 ), all key functions for generating plan hypotheses. A recent study suggests that the AG is critical to both episodic simulation, representation, and episodic memory ( Thakral et al., 2017 ). One possibility for how plans are formulated could involve a dynamic process of retrieving an optimal strategy from memory. Research has shown significant interaction between striatal and frontal regions ( Scimeca and Badre, 2012 ; Horner et al., 2015 ). The striatum is believed to play a key role in declarative memory retrieval, and specifically helping retrieve optimal (or previously rewarded) memories ( Scimeca and Badre, 2012 ). Relevant to planning and plan formation, Scimeca & Badre have suggested that the striatum plays two important roles: (1) in mapping acquired value/utility to action selection, and thereby helping plan formation, and (2) modulation and re-encoding of actions and other plan parameters. Different types of problems require different sets of specialized knowledge. For example, the knowledge needed to solve mathematical problems might be quite different (albeit overlapping) from the knowledge needed to select appropriate tools in the environment.

Thus far, I have discussed planning and problem representation as being domain-independent, which has allowed me to outline key areas of the PFC, MTL, and other regions relevant to all problem-solving. However, some types of problems require domain-specific knowledge for which other regions might need to be recruited. For example, when planning for tool-use, the superior parietal lobe (SPL), supramarginal gyrus (SMG), anterior inferior parietal lobe (AIPL), and certain portions of the temporal and occipital lobe involved in visual and spatial integration have been found to be recruited ( Brandi et al., 2014 ). It is believed that domain-specific information stored in these regions is recovered and used for planning. Plan execution

Once a solution plan has been recruited from memory and suitably tuned for the problem on hand, the left-rostral PFC, caudate nucleus (CN), and bilateral posterior parietal cortices (PPC) are responsible for translating the plan into executable form ( Stocco et al., 2012 ). The PPC stores and maintains “mental template” of the executable form. Hemispherical division of labor is particularly relevant in planning where it was shown that when planning to solve a Tower of Hanoi (block moving) problem, the right PFC is involved in plan construction whereas the left PFC is involved in controlling processes necessary to supervise the execution of the plan ( Newman and Green, 2015 ). On a separate note and not the focus of this paper, plan execution and problem-solving can require the recruitment of affective and motivational processing in order to supply the agent with the resolve to solve problems, and the vmPFC has been found to be involved in coordinating this process ( Barbey and Barsalou, 2009 ).

2.3. Creativity

During the gestalt movement in the 1930s, Maier noted that “most instances of “real” problem solving involves creative thinking” ( Maier, 1930 ). Maier performed several experiments to study mental fixation and insight problem solving. This close tie between insight and creativity continues to be a recurring theme, one that will be central to the current discussion. If creativity and insight are linked to RWPS as noted by Maier, then it is reasonable to turn to the creativity and insight literature for understanding the role played by the environment. A large portion of the creativity literature has focused on viewing creativity as an internal process, one in which the solvers attention is directed inwards, and toward internal stimuli, to facilitate the generation of novel ideas and associations in memory ( Beaty et al., 2016 ). Focusing on imagination, a number of researchers have looked at blinking, eye fixation, closing eyes, and looking nowhere behavior and suggested that there is a shift of attention from external to internal stimuli during creative problem solving ( Salvi and Bowden, 2016 ). The idea is that shutting down external stimuli reduces cognitive load and focuses attention internally. Other experiments studying sleep behavior have also noted the beneficial role of internal stimuli in problem solving. The notion of ideas popping into ones consciousness, suddenly, during a shower is highly intuitive for many and researchers have attempted to study this phenomena through the lens of incubation, and unconscious thought that is internally-driven. There have been several theories and counter-theories proposed to account specifically for the cognitive processes underlying incubation ( Ritter and Dijksterhuis, 2014 ; Gilhooly, 2016 ), but none of these theories specifically address the role of the external environment.

The neuroscience of creativity has also been extensively studied and I do not focus on an exhaustive literature review in this paper (a nice review can be found in Sawyer, 2011 ). From a problem-solving perspective, it has been found that unlike well-structured problems, ill-structured problems activate the right dlPFC. Most of the past work on creativity and creative problem-solving has focused on exploring memory structures and performing internally-directed searches. Creative idea generation has primarily been viewed as internally directed attention ( Jauk et al., 2012 ; Benedek et al., 2016 ) and a primary mechanism involved is divergent thinking , which is the ability to produce a variety of responses in a given situation ( Guilford, 1962 ). Divergent thinking is generally thought to involve interactions between the DMN, CEN, and the salience network ( Yoruk and Runco, 2014 ; Heinonen et al., 2016 ). One psychological model of creative cognition is the Geneplore model that considers two major phases of generation (memory retrieval and mental synthesis) and exploration (conceptual interpretation and functional inference) ( Finke et al., 1992 ; Boccia et al., 2015 ). It has been suggested that the associative mode of processing to generate new creative association is supported by the DMN, which includes the medial PFC, posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), tempororparietal juntion (TPJ), MTL, and IPC ( Beaty et al., 2014 , 2016 ).

That said, the creativity literature is not completely devoid of acknowledging the role of the environment. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Researchers have looked closely at the role played by externally provided hints from the time of the early gestalt psychologists and through to present day studies ( Öllinger et al., 2017 ). In addition to studying how hints can help problem solving, researchers have also looked at how directed action can influence subsequent problem solving—e.g., swinging arms prior to solving the two-string puzzle, which requires swinging the string ( Thomas and Lleras, 2009 ). There have also been numerous studies looking at how certain external perceptual cues are correlated with creativity measures. Vohs et al. suggested that untidiness in the environment and the increased number of potential distractions helps with creativity ( Vohs et al., 2013 ). Certain colors such as blue have been shown to help with creativity and attention to detail ( Mehta and Zhu, 2009 ). Even environmental illumination, or lack thereof, have been shown to promote creativity ( Steidle and Werth, 2013 ). However, it is important to note that while these and the substantial body of similar literature show the relationship of the environment to creative problem solving, they do not specifically account for the cognitive processes underlying the RWPS when external stimuli are received.

2.4. Insight Problem Solving

Analytical problem solving is believed to involve deliberate and conscious processing that advances step by step, allowing solvers to be able to explain exactly how they solved it. Inability to solve these problems is often associated with lack of required prior knowledge, which if provided, immediately makes the solution tractable. Insight, on the other hand, is believed to involve a sudden and unexpected emergence of an obvious solution or strategy sometimes accompanied by an affective aha! experience. Solvers find it difficult to consciously explain how they generated a solution in a sequential manner. That said, research has shown that having an aha! moment is neither necessary nor sufficient to insight and vice versa ( Danek et al., 2016 ). Generally, it is believed that insight solvers acquire a full and deep understanding of the problem when they have solved it ( Chu and Macgregor, 2011 ). There has been an active debate in the problem solving community about whether insight is something special. Some have argued that it is not, and that there are no special or spontaneous processes, but simply a good old-fashioned search of a large problem space ( Kaplan and Simon, 1990 ; MacGregor et al., 2001 ; Ash and Wiley, 2006 ; Fleck, 2008 ). Others have argued that insight is special and suggested that it is likely a different process ( Duncker, 1945 ; Metcalfe, 1986 ; Kounios and Beeman, 2014 ). This debate lead to two theories for insight problem solving. MacGregor et al. proposed the Criterion for Satisfactory Progress Theory (CSPT), which is based on Newell and Simons original notion of problem solving as being a heuristic search through the problem space ( MacGregor et al., 2001 ). The key aspect of CSPT is that the solver is continually monitoring their progress with some set of criteria. Impasses arise when there is a criterion failure, at which point the solver tries non-maximal but promising states. The representational change theory (RCT) proposed by Ohlsson et al., on the other hand, suggests that impasses occur when the goal state is not reachable from an initial problem representation (which may have been generated through unconscious spreading activation) ( Ohlsson, 1992 ). In order to overcome an impasse, the solver needs to restructure the problem representation, which they can do by (1) elaboration (noticing new features of a problem), (2) re-encoding fixing mistaken or incomplete representations of the problem, and by (3) changing constraints. Changing constraints is believed to involve two sub-processes of constraint relaxation and chunk-decomposition.

The current position is that these two theories do not compete with each other, but instead complement each other by addressing different stages of problem solving: pre- and post-impasse. Along these lines, Ollinger et al. proposed an extended RCT (eRCT) in which revising the search space and using heuristics was suggested as being a dynamic and iterative and recursive process that involves repeated instances of search, impasse and representational change ( Öllinger et al., 2014 , 2017 ). Under this theory, a solver first forms a problem representation and begins searching for solutions, presumably using analytical problem solving processes as described earlier. When a solution cannot be found, the solver encounters an impasse, at which point the solver must restructure or change the problem representation and once again search for a solution. The model combines both analytical problem solving (through heuristic searches, hill climbing and progress monitoring), and creative mechanisms of constraint relaxation and chunk decomposition to enable restructuring.

Ollingers model appears to comprehensively account for both analytical and insight problem solving and, therefore, could be a strong candidate to model RWPS. However, while compelling, it is nevertheless an insufficient model of RWPS for many reasons, of which two are particularly significant for the current paper. First, the model does explicitly address mechanisms by which external stimuli might be assimilated. Second, the model is not sufficiently flexible to account for other events (beyond impasse) occurring during problem solving, such as distraction, mind-wandering and the like.

So, where does this leave us? I have shown the interplay between problem solving, creativity and insight. In particular, using Ollinger's proposal, I have suggested (maybe not quite explicitly up until now) that RWPS involves some degree of analytical problem solving as well as the post-impasse more creative modes of problem restructuring. I have also suggested that this model might need to be extended for RWPS along two dimensions. First, events such as impasses might just be an instance of a larger class of events that intervene during problem solving. Thus, there needs to be an accounting of the cognitive mechanisms that are potentially influenced by impasses and these other intervening events. It is possible that these sorts of events are crucial and trigger a switch in attentional focus, which in turn facilitates switching between different problem solving modes. Second, we need to consider when and how externally-triggered stimuli from the solver's environment can influence the problem solving process. I detail three different mechanisms by which external knowledge might influence problem solving. I address each of these ideas in more detail in the next two sections.

3. Event-Triggered Mode Switching During Problem-Solving

3.1. impasse.

When solving certain types of problems, the agent might encounter an impasse, i.e., some block in its ability to solve the problem ( Sprugnoli et al., 2017 ). The impasse may arise because the problem may have been ill-defined to begin with causing incomplete and unduly constrained representations to have been formed. Alternatively, impasses can occur when suitable solution strategies cannot be retrieved from memory or fail on execution. In certain instances, the solution strategies may not exist and may need to be generated from scratch. Regardless of the reason, an impasse is an interruption in the problem solving process; one that was running conflict-free up until the point when a seemingly unresolvable issue or an error in the predicted solution path was encountered. Seen as a conflict encountered in the problem-solving process it activates the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). It is believed that the ACC not only helps detect the conflict, but also switch modes from one of “exploitation” (planning) to “exploration” (search) ( Quilodran et al., 2008 ; Tang et al., 2012 ), and monitors progress during resolution ( Chu and Macgregor, 2011 ). Some mode switching duties are also found to be shared with the AI (the ACC's partner in the salience network), however, it is unclear exactly the extent of this function-sharing.

Even though it is debatable if impasses are a necessary component of insight, they are still important as they provide a starting point for the creativity ( Sprugnoli et al., 2017 ). Indeed, it is possible that around the moment of impasse, the AI and ACC together, as part of the salience network play a crucial role in switching thought modes from analytical planning mode to creative search and discovery mode. In the latter mode, various creative mechanisms might be activated allowing for a solution plan to emerge. Sowden et al. and many others have suggested that the salience network is potentially a candidate neurobiological mechanism for shifting between thinking processes, more generally ( Sowden et al., 2015 ). When discussing various dual-process models as they relate to creative cognition, Sowden et al. have even noted that the ACC activation could be useful marker to identify shifting as participants work creative problems.

3.2. Defocused Attention

As noted earlier, in the presence of an impasse there is a shift from an exploitative (analytical) thinking mode to an exploratory (creative) thinking mode. This shift impacts several networks including, for example, the attention network. It is believed attention can switch between a focused mode and a defocused mode. Focused attention facilitates analytic thought by constraining activation such that items are considered in a compact form that is amenable to complex mental operations. In the defocused mode, agents expand their attention allowing new associations to be considered. Sowden et al. (2015) note that the mechanism responsible for adjustments in cognitive control may be linked to the mechanisms responsible for attentional focus. The generally agreed position is that during generative thinking, unconscious cognitive processes activated through defocused attention are more prevalent, whereas during exploratory thinking, controlled cognition activated by focused attention becomes more prevalent ( Kaufman, 2011 ; Sowden et al., 2015 ).

Defocused attention allows agents to not only process different aspects of a situation, but to also activate additional neural structures in long term memory and find new associations ( Mendelsohn, 1976 ; Yoruk and Runco, 2014 ). It is believed that cognitive material attended to and cued by positive affective state results in defocused attention, allowing for more complex cognitive contexts and therefore a greater range of interpretation and integration of information ( Isen et al., 1987 ). High attentional levels are commonly considered a typical feature of highly creative subjects ( Sprugnoli et al., 2017 ).

4. Role of the Environment

In much of the past work the focus has been on treating creativity as largely an internal process engaging the DMN to assist in making novel connections in memory. The suggestion has been that “individual needs to suppress external stimuli and concentrate on the inner creative process during idea generation” ( Heinonen et al., 2016 ). These ideas can then function as seeds for testing and problem-solving. While true of many creative acts, this characterization does not capture how creative ideas arise in many real-world creative problems. In these types of problems, the agent is functioning and interacting with its environment before, during and after problem-solving. It is natural then to expect that stimuli from the environment might play a role in problem-solving. More specifically, it can be expected that through passive and active involvement with the environment, the agent is (1) able to trigger an unrelated, but potentially useful memory relevant for problem-solving, (2) make novel connections between two events in memory with the environmental cue serving as the missing link, and (3) incorporate a completely novel information from events occuring in the environment directly into the problem-solving process. I explore potential neural mechanisms for these three types of environmentally informed creative cognition, which I hypothesize are enabled by defocused attention.

4.1. Partial Cues Trigger Relevant Memories Through Context-Shifting

I have previously discussed the interaction between the MTL and PFC in helping select task-relevant and critical memories for problem-solving. It is well-known that pattern completion is an important function of the MTL and one that enables memory retrieval. Complementary Learning Theory (CLS) and its recently updated version suggest that the MTL and related structures support initial storage as well as retrieval of item and context-specific information ( Kumaran et al., 2016 ). According to CLS theory, the dentate gyrus (DG) and the CA3 regions of the HF are critical to selecting neural activity patterns that correspond to particular experiences ( Kumaran et al., 2016 ). These patterns might be distinct even if experiences are similar and are stabilized through increases in connection strengths between the DG and CA3. Crucially, because of the connection strengths, reactivation of part of the pattern can activate the rest of it (i.e., pattern completion). Kumaran et al. have further noted that if consistent with existing knowledge, these new experiences can be quickly replayed and interleaved into structured representations that form part of the semantic memory.

Cues in the environment provided by these experiences hold partial information about past stimuli or events and this partial information converges in the MTL. CLS accounts for how these cues might serve to reactivate partial patterns, thereby triggering pattern completion. When attention is defocused I hypothesize that (1) previously unnoticed partial cues are considered, and (2) previously noticed partial cues are decomposed to produce previously unnoticed sub-cues, which in turn are considered. Zabelina et al. (2016) have shown that real-world creativity and creative achievement is associated with “leaky attention,” i.e., attention that allows for irrelevant information to be noticed. In two experiments they systematically explored the relationship between two notions of creativity— divergent thinking and real-world creative achievement—and the use of attention. They found that attentional use is associated in different ways for each of the two notions of creativity. While divergent thinking was associated with flexible attention, it does not appear to be leaky. Instead, selective focus and inhibition components of attention were likely facilitating successful performance on divergent thinking tasks. On the other hand, real-world creative achievement was linked to leaky attention. RWPS involves elements of both divergent thinking and of real-world creative achievement, thus I would expect some amount of attentional leaks to be part of the problem solving process.

Thus, it might be the case that a new set of cues or sub-cues “leak” in and activate memories that may not have been previously considered. These cues serve to reactivate a diverse set of patterns that then enable accessing a wide range of memories. Some of these memories are extra-contextual, in that they consider the newly noticed cues in several contexts. For example, when unable to find a screwdriver, we might consider using a coin. It is possible that defocused attention allows us to consider the coin's edge as being a potentially relevant cue that triggers uses for the thin edge outside of its current context in a coin. The new cues (or contexts) may allow new associations to emerge with cues stored in memory, which can occur during incubation. Objects and contexts are integrated into memory automatically into a blended representation and changing contexts disrupts this recognition ( Hayes et al., 2007 ; Gabora, 2016 ). Cue-triggered context shifting allows an agent to break-apart a memory representation, which can then facilitate problem-solving in new ways.

4.2. Heuristic Prototyping Facilitates Novel Associations

It has long been the case that many scientific innovations have been inspired by events in nature and the surrounding environment. As noted earlier, Archimedes realized the relationship between the volume of an irregularly shaped object and the volume of water it displaced. This is an example of heuristic prototyping where the problem-solver notices an event in the environment, which then triggers the automatic activation of a heuristic prototype and the formation of novel associations (between the function of the prototype and the problem) which they can then use to solve the problem ( Luo et al., 2013 ). Although still in its relative infancy, there has been some recent research into the neural basis for heuristic prototyping. Heuristic prototype has generally been defined as an enlightening prototype event with a similar element to the current problem and is often composed of a feature and a function ( Hao et al., 2013 ). For example, in designing a faster and more efficient submarine hull, a heuristic prototype might be a shark's skin, while an unrelated prototype might be a fisheye camera ( Dandan et al., 2013 ).

Research has shown that activating the feature function of the right heuristic prototype and linking it by way of semantic similarity to the required function of the problem was the key mechanism people used to solve several scienitific insight problems ( Yang et al., 2016 ). A key region activated during heuristic prototyping is the dlPFC and it is believed to be generally responsible for encoding the events into memory and may play an important role in selecting and retrieving the matched unsolved technical problem from memory ( Dandan et al., 2013 ). It is also believed that the precuneus plays a role in automatic retrieval of heuristic information allowing the heuristic prototype and the problem to combine ( Luo et al., 2013 ). In addition to semantic processing, certain aspects of visual imagery have also been implicated in heuristic prototyping leading to the suggestion of the involvement of Broadman's area BA 19 in the occipital cortex.

There is some degree of overlap between the notions of heuristic prototyping and analogical transfer (the mapping of relations from one domain to another). Analogical transfer is believed to activate regions in the left medial fronto-parietal system (dlPFC and the PPC) ( Barbey and Barsalou, 2009 ). I suggest here that analogical reasoning is largely an internally-guided process that is aided by heuristic prototyping which is an externally-guided process. One possible way this could work is if heuristic prototyping mechanisms help locate the relevant memory with which to then subsequently analogize.

4.3. Making Physical Inferences to Acquire Novel Information

The agent might also be able to learn novel facts about their environment through passive observation as well as active experimentation. There has been some research into the neural basis for causal reasoning ( Barbey and Barsalou, 2009 ; Operskalski and Barbey, 2016 ), but beyond its generally distributed nature, we do not know too much more. Beyond abstract causal reasoning, some studies looked into the cortical regions that are activated when people watch and predict physical events unfolding in real-time and in the real-world ( Fischer et al., 2016 ). It was found that certain regions were associated with representing types of physical concepts, with the left intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and left middle frontal gyrus (MFG) shown to play a role in attributing causality when viewing colliding objects ( Mason and Just, 2013 ). The parahippocampus (PHC) was associated with linking causal theory to observed data and the TPJ was involved in visualizing movement of objects and actions in space ( Mason and Just, 2013 ).

5. Proposed Theory

I noted earlier that Ollinger's model for insight problem solving, while serving as a good candidate for RWPS, requires extension. In this section, I propose a candidate model that includes some necessary extensions to Ollinger's framework. I begin by laying out some preliminary notions that underlie the proposed model.

5.1. Dual Attentional Modes

I propose that the attention-switching mechanism described earlier is at the heart of RWPS and enables two modes of operation: focused and defocused mode. In the focused mode, the problem representation is more or less fixed, and problem solving proceeds in a focused and goal directed manner through search, planning, and execution mechanisms. In the defocused mode, problem solving is not necessarily goal directed, but attempts to generate ideas, driven by both internal and external items.

At first glance, these modes might seem similar to convergent and divergent thinking modes postulated by numerous others to account for creative problem solving. Divergent thinking allows for the generation of new ideas and convergent thinking allows for verification and selection of generated ideas. So, it might seem that focused mode and convergent thinking are similar and likewise divergent and defocused mode. They are, however, quite different. The modes relate less to idea generation and verification, and more to the specific mechanisms that are operating with regard to a particular problem at a particular moment in time. Convergent and divergent processes may be occurring during both defocused and focused modes. Some degree of divergent processes may be used to search and identify specific solution strategies in focused mode. Also, there might be some degree of convergent idea verification occuring in defocused mode as candidate items are evaluated for their fit with the problem and goal. Thus, convergent and divergent thinking are one amongst many mechanisms that are utilized in focused and defocused mode. Each of these two modes has to do with degree of attention placed on a particular problem.

There have been numerous dual-process and dual-systems models of cognition proposed over the years. To address criticisms raised against these models and to unify some of the terminology, Evans & Stanovich proposed a dual-process model comprising Type 1 and Type 2 thought ( Evans and Stanovich, 2013 ; Sowden et al., 2015 ). Type 1 processes are those that are believed to be autonomous and do not require working memory. Type 2 processes, on the other hand, are believed to require working memory and are cognitively decoupled to prevent real-world representations from becoming confused with mental simulations ( Sowden et al., 2015 ). While acknowledging various other attributes that are often used to describe dual process models (e.g., fast/slow, associative/rule-based, automatic/controlled), Evans & Stanovich note that these attributes are merely frequent correlates and not defining characteristics of Type 1 or Type 2 processes. The proposed dual attentional modes share some similarities with the Evans & Stanovich Type 1 and 2 models. Specifically, Type 2 processes might occur in focused attentional mode in the proposed model as they typically involve the working memory and certain amount of analytical thought and planning. Similarly, Type 1 processes are likely engaged in defocused attentional mode as there are notions of associative and generative thinking that might be facilitated when attention has been defocused. The crucial difference between the proposed model and other dual-process models is that the dividing line between focused and defocused attentional modes is the degree of openness to internal and external stimuli (by various networks and functional units in the brain) when problem solving. Many dual process models were designed to classify the “type” of thinking process or a form of cognitive processing. In some sense, the “processes” in dual process theories are characterized by the type of mechanism of operation or the type of output they produced. Here, I instead characterize and differentiate the modes of thinking by the receptivity of different functional units in the brain to input during problem solving.

This, however, raises a different question of the relationship between these attentional modes and conscious vs. unconscious thinking. It is clear that both the conscious and unconscious are involved in problem solving, as well as in RWPS. Here, I claim that a problem being handled is, at any given point in time, in either a focused mode or in a defocused mode. When in the focused mode, problem solving primarily proceeds in a manner that is available for conscious deliberation. More specifically, problem space elements and representations are tightly managed and plans and strategies are available in the working memory and consciously accessible. There are, however, secondary unconscious operations in the focused modes that includes targeted memory retrieval and heuristic-based searches. In the defocused mode, the problem is primarily managed in an unconscious way. The problem space elements are broken apart and loosely managed by various mechanisms that do not allow for conscious deliberation. That said, it is possible that some problem parameters remain accessible. For example, it is possible that certain goal information is still maintained consciously. It is also possible that indexes to all the problems being considered by the solver are maintained and available to conscious awareness.

5.2. RWPS Model

Returning to Ollinger's model for insight problem solving, it now becomes readily apparent how this model can be modified to incorporate environmental effects as well as generalizing the notion of intervening events beyond that of impasses. I propose a theory for RWPS that begins with standard analytical problem-solving process (See Figures 1 , 2 ).


Figure 1 . Summary of neural activations during focused problem-solving (Left) and defocused problem-solving (Right) . During defocused problem-solving, the salience network (insula and ACC) coordinates the switching of several networks into a defocused attention mode that permits the reception of a more varied set of stimuli and interpretations via both the internally-guided networks (default mode network DMN) and externally guided networks (Attention). PFC, prefrontal cortex; ACC, anterior cingulate cortex; PCC, posterior cingulate cortex; IPC, inferior parietal cortex; PPC, posterior parietal cortex; IPS, intra-parietal sulcus; TPJ, temporoparietal junction; MTL, medial temporal lobe; FEF, frontal eye field.


Figure 2 . Proposed Model for Real World Problem Solving (RWPS). The corresponding neural correlates are shown in italics. During problem-solving, an initial problem representation is formed based on prior knowledge and available perceptual information. The problem-solving then proceeds in a focused, goal-directed mode until the goal is achieved or a defocusing event (e.g., impasse or distraction) occurs. During focused mode operation, the solver interacts with the environment in directed manner, executing focused plans, and allowing for predicted items to be activated by the environment. When a defocusing event occurs, the problem-solving then switches into a defocused mode until a focusing event (e.g., discovery) occurs. In defocused mode, the solver performs actions unrelated to the problem (or is inactive) and is receptive to a set of environmental triggers that activate novel aspects using the three mechanisms discussed in this paper. When a focusing event occurs, the diffused problem elements cohere into a restructured representation and problem-solving returns into a focused mode.

5.2.1. Focused Problem Solving Mode

Initially, both prior knowledge and perceptual entities help guide the creation of problem representations in working memory. Prior optimal or rewarding solution strategies are obtained from LTM and encoded in the working memory as well. This process is largely analytical and the solver interacts with their environment through focused plan or idea execution, targeted observation of prescribed entities, and estimating prediction error of these known entities. More specifically, when a problem is presented, the problem representations are activated and populated into working memory in the PFC, possibly in structured representations along convergence zones. The PFC along with the Striatum and the MTL together attempt at retrieving an optimal or previously rewarded solution strategy from long term memory. If successfully retrieved, the solution strategy is encoded into the PPC as a mental template, which then guides relevant motor control regions to execute the plan.

5.2.2. Defocusing Event-Triggered Mode Switching

The search and solve strategy then proceeds analytically until a “defocusing event” is encountered. The salience network (AI and ACC) monitor for conflicts and attempt to detect any such events in the problem-solving process. As long as no conflicts are detected, the salience network focuses on recruiting networks to achieve goals and suppresses the DMN ( Beaty et al., 2016 ). If the plan execution or retrieval of the solution strategy fails, then a defocusing event is detected and the salience network performs mode switching. The salience network dynamically switches from the focused problem-solving mode to a defocused problem-solving mode ( Menon, 2015 ). Ollinger's current model does not account for other defocusing events beyond an impasse, but it is not inconceivable that there could be other such events triggered by external stimuli (e.g., distraction or an affective event) or by internal stimuli (e.g., mind wandering).

5.2.3. Defocused Problem Solving Mode

In defocused mode, the problem is operated on by mechanisms that allow for the generation and testing of novel ideas. Several large-scale brain networks are recruited to explore and generate new ideas. The search for novel ideas is facilitated by generally defocused attention, which in turn allows for creative idea generation from both internal as well as external sources. The salience network switches operations from defocused event detection to focused event or discovery detection, whereby for example, environmental events or ideas that are deemed interesting can be detected. During this idea exploration phase, internally, the DMN is no longer suppressed and attempts to generate new ideas for problem-solving. It is known that the IPC is involved in the generation of new ideas ( Benedek et al., 2014 ) and together with the PPC in coupling different information together ( Simone Sandkühler, 2008 ; Stocco et al., 2012 ). Beaty et al. (2016) have proposed that even this internal idea-generation process can be goal directed, thereby allowing for a closer working relationship between the CEN and the DMN. They point to neuroimaging evidence that support the possibility that the executive control network (comprising the lateral prefrontal and inferior parietal regions) can constrain and direct the DMN in its process of generating ideas to meet task-specific goals via top down monitoring and executive control ( Beaty et al., 2016 ). The control network is believed to maintain an “internal train of thought” by keeping the task goal activated, thereby allowing for strategic and goal-congruent searches for ideas. Moreover, they suggest that the extent of CEN involvement in the DMN idea-generation may depend on the extent to which the creative task is constrained. In the RWPS setting, I would suspect that the internal search for creative solutions is not entirely unconstrained, even in the defocused mode. Instead, the solver is working on a specified problem and thus, must maintain the problem-thread while searching for solutions. Moreover, self-generated ideas must be evaluated against the problem parameters and thereby might need some top-down processing. This would suggest that in such circumstances, we would expect to see an increased involvement of the CEN in constraining the DMN.

On the external front, several mechanisms are operating in this defocused mode. Of particular note are the dorsal attention network, composed of the visual cortex (V), IPS and the frontal eye field (FEF) along with the precuneus and the caudate nucleus allow for partial cues to be considered. The MTL receives synthesized cue and contextual information and populates the WM in the PFC with a potentially expanded set of information that might be relevant for problem-solving. The precuneus, dlPFC and PPC together trigger the activation and use of a heuristic prototype based on an event in the environment. The caudate nucleus facilitates information routing between the PFC and PPC and is involved in learning and skill acquisition.

5.2.4. Focusing Event-Triggered Mode Switching

The problem's life in this defocused mode continues until a focusing event occurs, which could be triggered by either external (e.g., notification of impending deadline, discovery of a novel property in the environment) or internal items (e.g., goal completion, discovery of novel association or updated relevancy of a previously irrelevant item). As noted earlier, an internal train of thought may be maintained that facilitates top-down evaluation of ideas and tracking of these triggers ( Beaty et al., 2016 ). The salience network switches various networks back to the focused problem-solving mode, but not without the potential for problem restructuring. As noted earlier, problem space elements are maintained somewhat loosely in the defocused mode. Thus, upon a focusing event, a set or subset of these elements cohere into a tight (restructured) representation suitable for focused mode problem solving. The process then repeats itself until the goal has been achieved.

5.3. Model Predictions

5.3.1. single-mode operation.

The proposed RWPS model provides several interesting hypotheses, which I discuss next. First, the model assumes that any given problem being worked on is in one mode or another, but not both. Thus, the model predicts that there cannot be focused plan execution on a problem that is in defocused mode. The corollary prediction is that novel perceptual cues (as those discussed in section 4) cannot help the solver when in focused mode. The corollary prediction, presumably has some support from the inattentional blindness literature. Inattentional blindness is when perceptual cues are not noticed during a task (e.g., counting the number of basketball passes between several people, but not noticing a gorilla in the scene) ( Simons and Chabris, 1999 ). It is possible that during focused problem solving, that external and internally generated novel ideas are simply not considered for problem solving. I am not claiming that these perceptual cues are always ignored, but that they are not considered within the problem. Sometimes external cues (like distracting occurrences) can serve as defocusing events, but the model predicts that the actual content of these cues are not themselves useful for solving the specific problem at hand.

When comparing dual-process models Sowden et al. (2015) discuss shifting from one type of thinking to another and explore how this shift relates to creativity. In this regard, they weigh the pros and cons of serial vs. parallel shifts. In dual-process models that suggest serial shifts, it is necessary to disengage one type of thought prior to engaging the other or to shift along a continuum. Whereas, in models that suggest parallel shifts, each of the thinking types can operate in parallel. Per this construction, the proposed RWPS model is serial, however, not quite in the same sense. As noted earlier, the RWPS model is not a dual-process model in the same sense as other dual process model. Instead, here, the thrust is on when the brain is receptive or not receptive to certain kinds of internal and external stimuli that can influence problem solving. Thus, while the modes may be serial with respect to a certain problem, it does not preclude the possibility of serial and parallel thinking processes that might be involved within these modes.

5.3.2. Event-Driven Transitions

The model requires an event (defocusing or focusing) to transition from one mode to another. After all why else would a problem that is successfully being resolved in the focused mode (toward completion) need to necessarily be transferred to defocused mode? These events are interpreted as conflicts in the brain and therefore the mode-switching is enabled by the saliency network and the ACC. Thus, the model predicts that there can be no transition from one mode to another without an event. This is a bit circular, as an event is really what triggers the transition in the first place. But, here I am suggesting that an external or internal cue triggered event is what drives the transition, and that transitions cannot happen organically without such an event. In some sense, the argument is that the transition is discontinuous, rather than a smooth one. Mind-wandering is good example of when we might drift into defocused mode, which I suggest is an example of an internally driven event caused by an alternative thought that takes attention away from the problem.

A model assumption underlying RWPS is that events such as impasses have a similar effect to other events such as distraction or mind wandering. Thus, it is crucial to be able to establish that there exists of class of such events and they have a shared effect on RWPS, which is to switch attentional modes.

5.3.3. Focused Mode Completion

The model also predicts that problems cannot be solved (i.e., completed) within the defocused mode. A problem can be considered solved when a goal is reached. However, if a goal is reached and a problem is completed in the defocused mode, then there must have not been any converging event or coherence of problem elements. While it is possible that the solver arbitrarily arrived at the goal in a diffused problem space and without conscious awareness of completing the task or even any converging event or problem recompiling, it appears somewhat unlikely. It is true that there are many tasks that we complete without actively thinking about it. We do not think about what foot to place in front of another while walking, but this is not an instance of problem solving. Instead, this is an instance of unconscious task completion.

5.3.4. Restructuring Required

The model predicts that a problem cannot return to a focused mode without some amount of restructuring. That is, once defocused, the problem is essentially never the same again. The problem elements begin interacting with other internally and externally-generated items, which in turn become absorbed into the problem representation. This prediction can potentially be tested by establishing some preliminary knowledge, and then showing one group of subjects the same knowledge as before, while showing the another group of subjects different stimuli. If the model's predictions hold, the problem representation will be restructured in some way for both groups.

There are numerous other such predictions, which are beyond the scope of this paper. One of the biggest challenges then becomes evaluating the model to set up suitable experiments aimed at testing the predictions and falsifying the theory, which I address next.

6. Experimental Challenges and Paradigms

One of challenges in evaluating the RWPS is that real world factors cannot realistically be accounted for and sufficiently controlled within a laboratory environment. So, how can one controllably test the various predictions and model assumptions of “real world” problem solving, especially given that by definition RWPS involves the external environment and unconscious processing? At the expense of ecological validity, much of insight problem solving research has employed an experimental paradigm that involves providing participants single instances of suitably difficult problems as stimuli and observing various physiological, neurological and behavioral measures. In addition, through verbal protocols, experimenters have been able to capture subjective accounts and problem solving processes that are available to the participants' conscious. These experiments have been made more sophisticated through the use of timed-hints and/or distractions. One challenge with this paradigm has been the selection of a suitable set of appropriately difficult problems. The classic insight problems (e.g., Nine-dot, eight-coin) can be quite difficult, requiring complicated problem solving processes, and also might not generalize to other problems or real world problems. Some in the insight research community have moved in the direction of verbal tasks (e.g., riddles, anagrams, matchstick rebus, remote associates tasks, and compound remote associates tasks). Unfortunately, these puzzles, while providing a great degree of controllability and repeatability, are even less realistic. These problems are not entirely congruent with the kinds of problems that humans are solving every day.

The other challenge with insight experiments is the selection of appropriate performance and process tracking measures. Most commonly, insight researchers use measures such as time to solution, probability of finding solution, and the like for performance measures. For process tracking, verbal protocols, coded solution attempts, and eye tracking are increasingly common. In neuroscientific studies of insight various neurological measures using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEGs), transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (tMS) are popular and allow for spatially and temporally localizing an insight event.

Thus, the challenge for RWPS is two-fold: (1) selection of stimuli (real world problems) that are generalizable, and (2) selection of measures (or a set of measures) that can capture key aspects of the problem solving process. Unfortunately, these two challenges are somewhat at odds with each other. While fMRI and various neuroscientific measures can capture the problem solving process in real time, it is practically difficult to provide participants a realistic scenario while they are laying flat on their back in an fMRI machine and allowed to move nothing more than a finger. To begin addressing this conundrum, I suggest returning to object manipulation problems (not all that different from those originally introduced by Maier and Duncker nearly a century ago), but using modern computing and user-interface technologies.

One pseudo-realistic approach is to generate challenging object manipulation problems in Virtual Reality (VR). VR has been used to describe 3-D environment displays that allows participants to interact with artificially projected, but experientially realistic scenarios. It has been suggested that virtual environments (VE) invoke the same cognitive modules as real equivalent environmental experience ( Foreman, 2010 ). Crucially, since VE's can be scaled and designed as desired, they provide a unique opportunity to study pseudo-RWPS. However, a VR-based research approach has its limitations, one of which is that it is nearly impossible to track participant progress through a virtual problem using popular neuroscientific measures such as fMRI because of the limited mobility of connected participants.

Most of the studies cited in this paper utilized an fMRI-based approach in conjunction with a verbal or visual task involving problem-solving or creative thinking. Very few, if any, studies involved the use physical manipulation, and those physical manipulations were restricted to limited finger movements. Thus, another pseudo-realistic approach is allowing subjects to teleoperate robotic arms and legs from inside the fMRI machine. This paradigm has seen limited usage in psychology and robotics, in studies focused on Human-Robot interaction ( Loth et al., 2015 ). It could be an invaluable tool in studying real-time dynamic problem-solving through the control of a robotic arm. In this paradigm a problem solving task involving physical manipulation is presented to the subject via the cameras of a robot. The subject (in an fMRI) can push buttons to operate the robot and interact with its environment. While the subjects are not themselves moving, they can still manipulate objects in the real world. What makes this paradigm all the more interesting is that the subject's manipulation-capabilities can be systematically controlled. Thus, for a particular problem, different robotic perceptual and manipulation capabilities can be exposed, allowing researchers to study solver-problem dynamics in a new way. For example, even simple manipulation problems (e.g., re-arranging and stacking blocks on a table) can be turned into challenging problems when the robotic movements are restricted. Here, the problem space restrictions are imposed not necessarily on the underlying problem, but on the solver's own capabilities. Problems of this nature, given their simple structure, may enable studying everyday practical creativity without the burden of devising complex creative puzzles. Crucial to note, both these pseudo-realistic paradigms proposed demonstrate a tight interplay between the solver's own capabilities and their environment.

7. Conclusion

While the neural basis for problem-solving, creativity and insight have been studied extensively in the past, there is still a lack of understanding of the role of the environment in informing the problem-solving process. Current research has primarily focused on internally-guided mental processes for idea generation and evaluation. However, the type of real world problem-solving (RWPS) that is often considered a hallmark of human intelligence has involved both a dynamic interaction with the environment and the ability to handle intervening and interrupting events. In this paper, I have attempted to synthesize the literature into a unified theory of RWPS, with a specific focus on ways in which the environment can help problem-solve and the key neural networks involved in processing and utilizing relevant and useful environmental information. Understanding the neural basis for RWPS will allow us to be better situated to solve difficult problems. Moreover, for researchers in computer science and artificial intelligence, clues into the neural underpinnings of the computations taking place during creative RWPS, can inform the design the next generation of helper and exploration robots which need these capabilities in order to be resourceful and resilient in the open-world.

Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and approved it for publication.

The research for this Hypothesis/Theory Article was funded by the authors private means. Publication costs will be covered by my institution: Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


I am indebted to Professor Matthias Scheutz, Professor Elizabeth Race, Professor Ayanna Thomas, and Professor. Shaun Patel for providing guidance with the research and the manuscript. I am also grateful for the facilities provided by Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA.

1. ^ My intention is not to ignore the benefits of a concentrated internal thought process which likely occurred as well, but merely to acknowledge the possibility that the environment might have also helped.

2. ^ The research in insight does extensively use “hints” which are, arguably, a form of external influence. But these hints are highly targeted and might not be available in this explicit form when solving problems in the real world.

3. ^ The accuracy of these accounts has been placed in doubt. They often are recounted years later, with inaccuracies, and embellished for dramatic effect.

4. ^ I use the term “agent” to refer to the problem-solver. The term agent is more general than “creature” or “person” or “you" and is intentionally selected to broadly reference humans, animals as well as artificial agents. I also selectively use the term “solver.”

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Keywords: creativity, problem-solving, insight, attention network, salience network, default mode network

Citation: Sarathy V (2018) Real World Problem-Solving. Front. Hum. Neurosci . 12:261. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

Received: 03 August 2017; Accepted: 06 June 2018; Published: 26 June 2018.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2018 Sarathy. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Vasanth Sarathy, [email protected]

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Creative problem solving: basics, techniques, activities

Why is creative problem solving so important.

Problem-solving is a part of almost every person's daily life at home and in the workplace. Creative problem solving helps us understand our environment, identify the things we want or need to change, and find a solution to improve the environment's performance.

Creative problem solving is essential for individuals and organizations because it helps us control what's happening in our environment.

Humans have learned to observe the environment and identify risks that may lead to specific outcomes in the future. Anticipating is helpful not only for fixing broken things but also for influencing the performance of items.

Creative problem solving is not just about fixing broken things; it's about innovating and creating something new. Observing and analyzing the environment, we identify opportunities for new ideas that will improve our environment in the future.

The 7-step creative problem-solving process

The creative problem-solving process usually consists of seven steps.

1. Define the problem.

The very first step in the CPS process is understanding the problem itself. You may think that it's the most natural step, but sometimes what we consider a problem is not a problem. We are very often mistaken about the real issue and misunderstood them. You need to analyze the situation. Otherwise, the wrong question will bring your CPS process in the wrong direction. Take the time to understand the problem and clear up any doubts or confusion.

2. Research the problem.

Once you identify the problem, you need to gather all possible data to find the best workable solution. Use various data sources for research. Start with collecting data from search engines, but don't forget about traditional sources like libraries. You can also ask your friends or colleagues who can share additional thoughts on your issue. Asking questions on forums is a good option, too.

3. Make challenge questions.

After you've researched the problem and collected all the necessary details about it, formulate challenge questions. They should encourage you to generate ideas and be short and focused only on one issue. You may start your challenge questions with "How might I…?" or "In what way could I…?" Then try to answer them.

4. Generate ideas.

Now you are ready to brainstorm ideas. Here it is the stage where the creativity starts. You must note each idea you brainstorm, even if it seems crazy, not inefficient from your first point of view. You can fix your thoughts on a sheet of paper or use any up-to-date tools developed for these needs.

5. Test and review the ideas.

Then you need to evaluate your ideas and choose the one you believe is the perfect solution. Think whether the possible solutions are workable and implementing them will solve the problem. If the result doesn't fix the issue, test the next idea. Repeat your tests until the best solution is found.

6. Create an action plan.

Once you've found the perfect solution, you need to work out the implementation steps. Think about what you need to implement the solution and how it will take.

7. Implement the plan.

Now it's time to implement your solution and resolve the issue.

Top 5 Easy creative thinking techniques to use at work

1. brainstorming.

Brainstorming is one of the most glaring CPS techniques, and it's beneficial. You can practice it in a group or individually.

Define the problem you need to resolve and take notes of every idea you generate. Don't judge your thoughts, even if you think they are strange. After you create a list of ideas, let your colleagues vote for the best idea.

2. Drawing techniques

It's very convenient to visualize concepts and ideas by drawing techniques such as mind mapping or creating concept maps. They are used for organizing thoughts and building connections between ideas. These techniques have a lot in common, but still, they have some differences.

When starting a mind map, you need to put the key concept in the center and add new connections. You can discover as many joints as you can.

Concept maps represent the structure of knowledge stored in our minds about a particular topic. One of the key characteristics of a concept map is its hierarchical structure, which means placing specific concepts under more general ones.

3. SWOT Analysis

The SWOT technique is used during the strategic planning stage before the actual brainstorming of ideas. It helps you identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your project, idea, or business. Once you analyze these characteristics, you are ready to generate possible solutions to your problem.

4. Random words

This technique is one of the simplest to use for generating ideas. It's often applied by people who need to create a new product, for example. You need to prepare a list of random words, expressions, or stories and put them on the desk or board or write them down on a large sheet of paper.

Once you have a list of random words, you should think of associations with them and analyze how they work with the problem. Since our brain is good at making connections, the associations will stimulate brainstorming of new ideas.

5. Storyboarding

This CPS method is popular because it tells a story visually. This technique is based on a step-creation process. Follow this instruction to see the storyboarding process in progress:

  • Set a problem and write down the steps you need to reach your goal.
  • Put the actions in the right order.
  • Make sub-steps for some steps if necessary. This will help you see the process in detail.
  • Evaluate your moves and try to identify problems in it. It's necessary for predicting possible negative scenarios.

7 Ways to improve your creative problem-solving skills

1. play brain games.

It's considered that brain games are an excellent way to stimulate human brain function. They develop a lot of thinking skills that are crucial for creative problem-solving.

You can solve puzzles or play math games, for example. These activities will bring you many benefits, including strong logical, critical, and analytical thinking skills.

If you are keen on playing fun math games and solving complicated logic tasks, try LogicLike online.

We created 3500+ puzzles, mathematical games, and brain exercises. Our website and mobile app, developed for adults and kids, help to make pastime more productive just in one place.

2. Practice asking questions

Reasoning stimulates you to generate new ideas and solutions. To make the CPS process more accessible, ask questions about different things. By developing curiosity, you get more information that broadens your background. The more you know about a specific topic, the more solutions you will be able to generate. Make it your useful habit to ask questions. You can research on your own. Alternatively, you can ask someone who is an expert in the field. Anyway, this will help you improve your CPS skills.

3. Challenge yourself with new opportunities

After you've gained a certain level of creativity, you shouldn't stop developing your skills. Try something new, and don't be afraid of challenging yourself with more complicated methods and techniques. Don't use the same tools and solutions for similar problems. Learn from your experience and make another step to move to the next level.

4. Master your expertise

If you want to keep on generating creative ideas, you need to master your skills in the industry you are working in. The better you understand your industry vertical, the more comfortable you identify problems, find connections between them, and create actionable solutions.

Once you are satisfied with your professional life, you shouldn't stop learning new things and get additional knowledge in your field. It's vital if you want to be creative both in professional and daily life. Broaden your background to brainstorm more innovative solutions.

5. Develop persistence

If you understand why you go through this CPS challenge and why you need to come up with a resolution to your problem, you are more motivated to go through the obstacles you face. By doing this, you develop persistence that enables you to move forward toward a goal.

Practice persistence in daily routine or at work. For example, you can minimize the time you need to implement your action plan. Alternatively, some problems require a long-term period to accomplish a goal. That's why you need to follow the steps or try different solutions until you find what works for solving your problem. Don't forget about the reason why you need to find a solution to motivate yourself to be persistent.

6. Improve emotional intelligence

Empathy is a critical element of emotional intelligence. It means that you can view the issues from the perspective of other people. By practicing compassion, you can understand your colleagues that work on the project together with you. Understanding will help you implement the solutions that are beneficial for you and others.

7. Use a thinking strategy

You are mistaken if you think that creative thinking is an unstructured process. Any thinking process is a multi-step procedure, and creative thinking isn't an exclusion. Always follow a particular strategy framework while finding a solution. It will make your thinking activity more efficient and result-oriented.

Develop your logic and mathematical skills. 3500+ fun math problems and brain games with answers and explanations.

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Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

creative problem solving examples in real life

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

creative problem solving examples in real life

  • Identify the Problem
  • Define the Problem
  • Form a Strategy
  • Organize Information
  • Allocate Resources
  • Monitor Progress
  • Evaluate the Results

Frequently Asked Questions

Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue.

The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.

It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.

In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Researchers sometimes refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.

The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.

1. Identifying the Problem

While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

Some strategies that you might use to figure out the source of a problem include :

  • Asking questions about the problem
  • Breaking the problem down into smaller pieces
  • Looking at the problem from different perspectives
  • Conducting research to figure out what relationships exist between different variables

2. Defining the Problem

After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved. You can define a problem by operationally defining each aspect of the problem and setting goals for what aspects of the problem you will address

At this point, you should focus on figuring out which aspects of the problems are facts and which are opinions. State the problem clearly and identify the scope of the solution.

3. Forming a Strategy

After the problem has been identified, it is time to start brainstorming potential solutions. This step usually involves generating as many ideas as possible without judging their quality. Once several possibilities have been generated, they can be evaluated and narrowed down.

The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual's unique preferences. Common problem-solving strategies include heuristics and algorithms.

  • Heuristics are mental shortcuts that are often based on solutions that have worked in the past. They can work well if the problem is similar to something you have encountered before and are often the best choice if you need a fast solution.
  • Algorithms are step-by-step strategies that are guaranteed to produce a correct result. While this approach is great for accuracy, it can also consume time and resources.

Heuristics are often best used when time is of the essence, while algorithms are a better choice when a decision needs to be as accurate as possible.

4. Organizing Information

Before coming up with a solution, you need to first organize the available information. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? The more information that is available the better prepared you will be to come up with an accurate solution.

When approaching a problem, it is important to make sure that you have all the data you need. Making a decision without adequate information can lead to biased or inaccurate results.

5. Allocating Resources

Of course, we don't always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is.

If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources on coming up with a solution.

At this stage, it is important to consider all of the factors that might affect the problem at hand. This includes looking at the available resources, deadlines that need to be met, and any possible risks involved in each solution. After careful evaluation, a decision can be made about which solution to pursue.

6. Monitoring Progress

After selecting a problem-solving strategy, it is time to put the plan into action and see if it works. This step might involve trying out different solutions to see which one is the most effective.

It is also important to monitor the situation after implementing a solution to ensure that the problem has been solved and that no new problems have arisen as a result of the proposed solution.

Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies .

7. Evaluating the Results

After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.

Once a problem has been solved, it is important to take some time to reflect on the process that was used and evaluate the results. This will help you to improve your problem-solving skills and become more efficient at solving future problems.

A Word From Verywell​

It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps, and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.

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You can become a better problem solving by:

  • Practicing brainstorming and coming up with multiple potential solutions to problems
  • Being open-minded and considering all possible options before making a decision
  • Breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Researching different problem-solving techniques and trying out new ones
  • Learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities to grow

It's important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what's going on. Try to see things from their perspective as well as your own. Work together to find a resolution that works for both of you. Be willing to compromise and accept that there may not be a perfect solution.

Take breaks if things are getting too heated, and come back to the problem when you feel calm and collected. Don't try to fix every problem on your own—consider asking a therapist or counselor for help and insight.

If you've tried everything and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix the problem, you may have to learn to accept it. This can be difficult, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember that every situation is temporary. Don't dwell on what's going wrong—instead, think about what's going right. Find support by talking to friends or family. Seek professional help if you're having trouble coping.

Davidson JE, Sternberg RJ, editors.  The Psychology of Problem Solving .  Cambridge University Press; 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Practical Guide: Solving Problems Examples in Real-World Scenarios

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In today’s fast-paced world, problem-solving is an essential skill that can help individuals navigate various challenges. However, merely possessing this skill is not enough. It is crucial to have practical examples of problem-solving techniques and strategies that can be applied to real-life scenarios.

This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of problem-solving skills and techniques that can be implemented in different contexts. It explores various problem-solving strategies, including brainstorming, root cause analysis, decision-making frameworks, and creative problem-solving methods.

Furthermore, this guide showcases practical examples of problem-solving in business and personal settings. It features in-depth case studies of real-life scenarios, highlighting the challenges faced, the strategies employed, and the outcomes achieved.

creative problem solving examples in real life

By the end of this guide, readers will have a deeper understanding of problem-solving techniques and strategies. They will also have the knowledge and tools to apply these skills effectively in different scenarios, both in personal and professional life.

Understanding Different Problem-Solving Techniques

The ability to solve problems is a critical skill in both personal and professional life. It involves identifying and analyzing an issue, generating possible solutions, and selecting the best course of action. There are several problem-solving techniques that can be applied to different situations, including:

creative problem solving examples in real life


Brainstorming involves generating ideas in a group setting without criticism or judgment. This technique encourages creativity and diversity of thought, allowing individuals to approach a problem from different angles.

Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis involves identifying the underlying cause of a problem. This technique involves asking “why” multiple times to determine the primary reason for the issue. By addressing the root cause, individuals can develop more effective solutions.

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Decision-Making Frameworks

Decision-making frameworks involve using a set of criteria to evaluate different options and make an informed decision. These frameworks can be simple or complex and involve weighing the pros and cons of each alternative.

Creative Problem-Solving Methods

Creative problem-solving methods involve using non-traditional approaches to generate innovative solutions. These techniques can include mind mapping, lateral thinking, or the use of analogies.

creative problem solving examples in real life

By understanding and using different problem-solving techniques, individuals can approach challenges with a more comprehensive and effective approach. These techniques can be applied in both personal and professional settings, enhancing critical thinking and decision-making skills.

Problem-Solving Examples in Business Settings

In today’s competitive business environment, companies face numerous challenges that require effective problem-solving skills. Successful businesses employ problem-solving strategies that help them overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Here are some real-life examples of companies that used problem-solving to overcome challenges:

creative problem solving examples in real life

Example 1: Improving Customer Service

A telecommunications company noticed a decline in customer satisfaction ratings. Through surveys and customer feedback, they discovered that customers were frustrated with the company’s long wait times and unresponsive customer service representatives. The company implemented a new customer service training program for their representatives, which included active listening, problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills. As a result, the company’s customer satisfaction ratings improved, and they gained a competitive advantage in the industry.

Example 2: Reducing Production Costs

A manufacturing company was struggling with high production costs due to inefficient processes and materials. The company conducted a thorough analysis of their production line and identified areas where they could cut costs. They implemented new production methods and materials that were more efficient and cost-effective. As a result, the company was able to reduce their production costs, increase their profit margins, and remain competitive in the market.

creative problem solving examples in real life

These examples demonstrate the importance of problem-solving skills in the business world. By identifying challenges, analyzing the root causes, and implementing effective solutions, companies can achieve their goals and remain competitive in their respective industries.

Problem-Solving Strategies in Personal Life

Effective problem-solving skills aren’t just essential in professional settings. They’re equally crucial in personal life too. Whether it’s making a tough decision, dealing with unexpected challenges, or resolving conflicts, problem-solving is critical to achieving desired outcomes. Here are some practical problem-solving strategies to apply in personal situations:

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1. Breakdown the problem:

When you encounter a problem, start by breaking it down into smaller parts. This approach will help you identify the root cause and develop a step-by-step plan to address the issue.

2. Evaluate your options:

Once you have a clear understanding of the problem, evaluate your options objectively. Consider the pros and cons of each alternative and analyze their potential outcomes.

creative problem solving examples in real life

3. Seek advice:

Don’t hesitate to ask for advice from those you trust and respect. Getting an outside perspective can help you gain a new insight into the problem at hand.

4. Use creative problem-solving techniques:

Applying creative problem-solving techniques like brainstorming, mind-mapping, and reverse-thinking can help you explore innovative solutions to complex problems. It’s essential to think outside the box.

creative problem solving examples in real life

5. Learn from failures:

Failure is a part of life, and it’s okay to make mistakes. The key is to learn from these experiences and use them as an opportunity to grow and develop your problem-solving skills further.

By applying these practical problem-solving strategies in your everyday life, you’ll develop a strong problem-solving mindset that enables you to tackle any challenge with confidence and ease.

creative problem solving examples in real life

Case Studies: Real-Life Problem-Solving Examples

In this section, we will explore real-life examples of problem-solving in different industries. These case studies showcase effective problem-solving strategies and provide insights into how challenges can be overcome using a structured approach.

Airbnb: Breaking Through Regulatory Barriers

When Airbnb was expanding into cities around the world, it faced regulatory barriers that threatened to derail its growth. In New York City, for example, hosts were required to register with the city and rent their apartments for a minimum of 30 days at a time.

creative problem solving examples in real life

To overcome these barriers, Airbnb worked with city officials to develop a new regulatory framework that allowed hosts to rent their homes for shorter periods of time. The company also implemented a host education program to ensure compliance with local laws.

Through this problem-solving approach, Airbnb was able to break through regulatory barriers and continue its expansion into new markets.

creative problem solving examples in real life

Toyota: Improving Quality Control

Toyota faced a massive recall of millions of vehicles due to safety concerns related to its accelerator pedals. In response, the company implemented a problem-solving strategy known as “5 Whys,” which involves asking why a problem occurred five times to identify the root cause.

Through this process, Toyota discovered that a faulty design led to the accelerator pedal becoming stuck, which led to the recall. The company then implemented a new quality control process to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future.

creative problem solving examples in real life

By using a structured problem-solving methodology, Toyota was able to identify the root cause of the issue and implement an effective solution to prevent future recalls.

Microsoft: Adapting to Changing Markets

Microsoft faced significant challenges in the early 2010s as the market shifted towards mobile devices and away from personal computers. The company responded by shifting its focus to cloud-based services and mobile devices.

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To do this, Microsoft implemented a problem-solving strategy known as “design thinking,” which involves empathizing with users and designing products that meet their needs. By focusing on the needs of its customers, Microsoft was able to adapt to the changing market and remain a leading player in the tech industry.

These case studies demonstrate the power of effective problem-solving strategies in real-world scenarios. By utilizing structured problem-solving methodologies and focusing on the needs of their customers, these companies were able to overcome challenges and achieve success.

creative problem solving examples in real life

Developing Problem-Solving Skills through Exercises

Problem-solving is a skill that can be developed and honed through practice. By engaging in specific exercises and activities, individuals can enhance their problem-solving abilities and become more effective in real-life scenarios.

Here are a few exercises and activities that can help individuals develop their problem-solving skills:

creative problem solving examples in real life

One of the most popular problem-solving techniques is brainstorming. This exercise involves generating multiple ideas in a short amount of time, without evaluating the quality of each idea. It can be used to solve both personal and professional problems. To conduct a brainstorming session, gather a group of individuals and pose a problem or challenge. Encourage everyone to share as many ideas as possible towards a potential solution.

Mock Scenarios

Mock scenarios are another effective way to practice problem-solving. This exercise involves creating a hypothetical scenario and asking individuals to solve it. The scenario can be related to personal or professional challenges and should require critical thinking and decision-making skills. By practicing in a risk-free environment, individuals can experiment with different problem-solving techniques and strategies, and evaluate the effectiveness of each approach.

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Gamification involves using game-like elements to engage individuals and motivate problem-solving efforts. This exercise can be particularly effective for younger individuals or those who prefer a more interactive approach. Gamification can involve using puzzles, quizzes, or other game formats to solve problems. These activities offer a fun and engaging way to develop problem-solving skills.

Remember that while exercises can be helpful, problem-solving is ultimately a skill that is developed through practice and experience in real-life scenarios. Continually seeking opportunities to engage in problem-solving can improve abilities and build confidence in making informed decisions.

creative problem solving examples in real life

Implementing Problem-Solving Methods in Real-Time

Problem-solving is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. It requires adaptability, critical thinking, and decision-making abilities to achieve desired outcomes. Here are some practical methods for implementing problem-solving in real-time situations:

Stay Focused on the Problem

When faced with a problem, it’s essential to stay focused on the issue at hand. Avoid getting sidetracked by unrelated details, emotions, or distractions. Keep a clear understanding of the problem and the desired outcome.

creative problem solving examples in real life

Brainstorm Possible Solutions

Engage in brainstorming sessions to generate possible solutions to the problem. Encourage everyone’s participation and have an open mind to new ideas. Use a whiteboard or sticky notes to collect and organize ideas for evaluation.

Prioritize Possible Solutions

After generating possible solutions, evaluate and prioritize them based on their potential impact, feasibility, and cost. Choose the most appropriate solution based on these factors, and consider the potential risks and drawbacks associated with it.

creative problem solving examples in real life

Monitor and Adjust the Solution

Implement the chosen solution and monitor its progress. Check if it’s being executed as planned and if it’s achieving the desired outcomes. Be open to making adjustments to the solution if necessary and continue to monitor its progress.

Document the Problem-Solving Process

Keep a record of the problem-solving process, including the problem, the chosen solution, the implementation process, and the results achieved. Use this information to evaluate the success of the problem-solving process, identify areas for improvement, and apply what you’ve learned to future challenges.

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Implementing problem-solving methods in real-time requires focus, creativity, and persistence. With the right approach and mindset, you can successfully overcome challenges and achieve your desired outcomes.

Strategies for Overcoming Common Problem-Solving Challenges

Problem-solving can be a challenging and complex process, and it’s not uncommon to encounter roadblocks along the way. Here are some strategies for overcoming common problem-solving challenges:

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Managing ambiguity

Often, problems can be vague and ill-defined, making it difficult to know exactly what to do. To overcome this challenge, it can be helpful to break down the problem into smaller, more manageable pieces. Identifying the root cause of the issue and defining clear objectives can also help reduce ambiguity and provide direction.

Dealing with complexity

Complex problems can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. To tackle complexity, it’s important to step back and take a broader view of the situation. Looking at all the relevant factors and considering different perspectives can help identify potential solutions.

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Approaching problems from different perspectives

It can be easy to get stuck in a rut and approach problems in the same way every time. To overcome this challenge, try approaching problems from different angles. Considering multiple perspectives can help uncover new solutions and shed light on potential blind spots.

Building resilience

Problem-solving can be a tough and sometimes frustrating process. It’s important to develop resilience and the ability to persist in the face of obstacles. Practicing mindfulness techniques, maintaining a positive attitude, and taking breaks when needed can all help build resilience.

creative problem solving examples in real life

Maintaining a positive problem-solving mindset

It can be easy to get discouraged when things don’t go as planned. To maintain a positive problem-solving mindset, focus on the progress made, rather than the setbacks encountered. Celebrating small wins along the way can help keep momentum going and boost motivation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Problem-Solving

In this section, we address some of the commonly asked questions related to problem-solving. These FAQ’s aim to provide guidance and clarify doubts on various aspects of problem-solving methods and techniques.

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What are the different problem-solving techniques?

There are several problem-solving techniques that individuals and businesses can apply to resolve any challenges they face. Popular strategies include brainstorming, root cause analysis, decision-making frameworks, and creative problem-solving methods.

How can problem-solving skills be developed?

Problem-solving skills can be honed by practicing exercises and activities designed to enhance critical thinking and decision-making processes. Continuous learning and development are also crucial for building effective problem-solving skills.

creative problem solving examples in real life

What are the essential qualities for effective problem-solving?

Effective problem-solving requires critical thinking, adaptability, decision-making skills, a positive mindset, and the ability to manage ambiguity and complexity. Communication and collaboration skills are also important, as problem-solving often involves working with others.

What are some common challenges encountered during problem-solving processes, and how can they be addressed?

Common challenges during problem-solving include managing ambiguity, dealing with complexity, and approaching problems from different perspectives. To overcome these challenges, it is essential to remain flexible, stay focused on the end goal, and break problems down into smaller, more manageable parts. Taking breaks and seeking feedback from others can also be beneficial.

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How can problem-solving methods be effectively applied in real-time situations?

Effective problem-solving in real-time situations requires critical thinking, analytical skills, and decision-making abilities. It is important to remain adaptable and flexible, consider multiple options, and prioritize actions based on their potential impact. Communication and collaboration with others can also aid in effective problem-solving.

What are some additional resources for learning about problem-solving?

There are several additional resources available for further learning about problem-solving. Books, online courses, and workshops can provide valuable insights and practical guidance for developing problem-solving skills. Networking with others in similar fields and seeking mentorship can also be beneficial for problem-solving growth and development.

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Tackling Workplace Challenges: How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills


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Tackling Workplace Challenges: How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

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Picture this: you’re in the middle of your workday, and suddenly, a problem arises. Maybe it’s a miscommunication between team members, a tight deadline that’s getting closer, or an unhappy customer you need to appease.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The thing is, facing challenges at work is pretty much inevitable. But what sets successful professionals apart is their knack for tackling these issues head-on with a problem-solving mindset.

You see, being a great problem solver is a game-changer in any work environment. It helps us navigate through obstacles, come up with creative solutions, and turn potential setbacks into opportunities for growth.

In this article, we will dive into some common workplace problems and explore real-life examples of problem-solving scenarios.

We’ll also share practical solutions and strategies that you can use to tackle these challenges, ultimately empowering you to become a more effective problem solver and team player.

Common Workplace Problems Businesses Experience

Common Workplace Problems Businesses Experience

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of problem-solving scenarios, let’s take a quick look at some of the most common workplace problems that almost every professional encounters at some point in their career.

By understanding these challenges, we’ll be better equipped to recognize and address them effectively.

Communication breakdowns

Miscommunications and misunderstandings can happen to the best of us. With team members working together, sometimes remotely or across different time zones, it’s not surprising that communication breakdowns can occur. These issues can lead to confusion, missed deadlines, and even strained relationships within the team if left unaddressed.

Some examples of communication breakdowns include:

  • Unclear instructions
  • Lack of updates on project progress
  • Messages lost in a sea of emails

Fostering open communication channels and utilizing collaboration tools can help teams stay connected and informed.

Conflicting priorities and resource allocation

With limited resources and multiple projects competing for attention, it can be challenging to determine which tasks should take precedence. Juggling conflicting priorities and allocating resources efficiently is a common workplace problem that can result in decreased productivity and increased stress if not managed properly.

For example, two high-priority projects might be scheduled simultaneously, leaving team members stretched thin and struggling to meet deadlines. Developing a clear project prioritization framework and regularly reviewing priorities can help teams stay focused and manage their resources effectively.

Employee performance issues

It’s not unusual for team members to face performance-related challenges occasionally. Employee performance issues can affect team productivity and morale, whether it’s due to a lack of skills, motivation, or other factors. Identifying and addressing these concerns early on is crucial for maintaining a high-performing and engaged team.

For instance, employees may struggle to keep up with their workload due to a skills gap or personal issues. Providing coaching, training, and support can help employees overcome performance challenges and contribute positively to the team’s success.

Customer satisfaction challenges

Meeting customer expectations and delivering exceptional service are goals for most organizations. However, addressing customer satisfaction challenges can be tricky, especially when dealing with diverse customer needs, tight deadlines, or limited resources.

Ensuring a customer-centric approach to problem-solving can help overcome these obstacles and keep your customers happy.

For example, a product might not meet customer expectations, resulting in negative feedback and returns. By actively listening to customer concerns, involving them in the solution process, and implementing improvements, organizations can turn customer dissatisfaction into opportunities for growth and enhanced customer loyalty.

Adapting to change

Change is inevitable in the modern workplace, whether due to new technology, evolving market conditions, or organizational restructuring. Adapting to change can be difficult for some team members, leading to resistance or fear of the unknown.

Embracing a flexible mindset and developing strategies to cope with change is essential for maintaining a productive and resilient work environment.

For instance, a company might introduce new software that requires employees to learn new skills, causing anxiety and frustration. By providing training, resources, and support, leaders can help team members adapt to change more effectively and even become champions of new initiatives.

How to Identify Workplace Problems

How to Identify Workplace Problems

A problem-free workplace doesn’t exist.

Even if you run a well-oiled machine with many happy employees, it’s still a good idea to proactively search for any problems.

The earlier you can get ahead of issues, the easier it will be to put things right and avoid any breakdowns in productivity. Here’s how you can go about that:

Recognizing the Signs of Potential Issues

Before diving into problem-solving strategies, it’s essential first to identify the workplace problems that need attention.

Look out for signs that could indicate potential issues, such as decreased productivity and efficiency, increased employee turnover or dissatisfaction, frequent miscommunications, and conflicts, or declining customer satisfaction and recurring complaints. These red flags might signal underlying problems that require your attention and resolution.

Proactive Problem Identification Strategies

To stay ahead of potential issues, it’s crucial to adopt a proactive approach to problem identification. Open communication channels with your team members and encourage them to share their concerns, ideas, and feedback.

Regular performance reviews and feedback sessions can also help identify areas for improvement or potential problems before they escalate.

Fostering a culture of transparency and trust within the organization makes it easier for employees to voice their concerns without fear of retribution. Additionally, utilizing data-driven analysis and performance metrics can help you spot trends or anomalies that may indicate underlying problems.

Seeking Input from Various Sources

When identifying workplace problems, gathering input from various sources is crucial to ensure you’re getting a comprehensive and accurate picture of the situation. Employee surveys and suggestion boxes can provide valuable insights into potential issues.

At the same time, team meetings and brainstorming sessions can stimulate open discussions and creative problem-solving.

Cross-departmental collaboration is another effective way to identify potential problems, enabling different teams to share their perspectives and experiences. In some cases, it might be helpful to seek external expert consultations or benchmark against industry standards to gain a broader understanding of potential issues and identify best practices for resolving them.

Problem-Solving Scenario Examples and Solutions

Problem-Solving Scenario Examples and Solutions

Let’s dive into some real-life problem-solving scenarios, exploring the challenges and their practical solutions. We’ll discuss communication issues, conflicting priorities, employee performance, customer satisfaction, and managing change.

Remember, every situation is unique; these examples are just a starting point to inspire your problem-solving process.

Scenario 1: Resolving communication issues within a team

  • Identifying the root causes: Let’s say your team has been missing deadlines and experiencing confusion due to poor communication. The first step is identifying the root causes, such as ineffective communication tools, unclear instructions, or a lack of regular updates.
  • Implementing effective communication strategies: Implement strategies to improve communication. For example, consider adopting collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams to streamline communication, establish clear channels for updates, and create guidelines for concise and transparent instructions.
  • Encouraging a culture of openness and feedback: Cultivate a team culture that values openness and feedback. Encourage team members to voice concerns, ask questions, and share ideas. Regularly hold check-ins and retrospectives to discuss communication challenges and opportunities for improvement.

Scenario 2: Balancing conflicting priorities and resource constraints

  • Evaluating project requirements and resources: In this scenario, you’re juggling two high-priority projects with limited resources. Start by evaluating each project’s requirements, resources, and potential impact on the organization.
  • Prioritization techniques and delegation: Use prioritization techniques like the Eisenhower Matrix or MoSCoW method to rank tasks and allocate resources accordingly. Delegate tasks efficiently by matching team members’ skills and expertise with project requirements.
  • Continuous monitoring and adjustment: Regularly monitor project progress and adjust priorities and resources as needed. Keep stakeholders informed about changes and maintain open lines of communication to ensure alignment and avoid surprises.

Scenario 3: Addressing employee performance concerns

  • Identifying performance gaps: When an employee’s performance is below expectations, identify the specific areas that need improvement. Is it a skills gap, lack of motivation, or external factors like personal issues?
  • Providing constructive feedback and support: Provide clear, constructive feedback to the employee, highlighting areas for improvement and offering support, such as training, coaching, or mentorship.
  • Developing performance improvement plans: Collaborate with the employee to develop a performance improvement plan, outlining specific goals, timelines, and resources. Regularly review progress and adjust the plan as needed.

Scenario 4: Improving customer satisfaction

  • Analyzing customer feedback and pain points: In this scenario, customers are dissatisfied with a product, resulting in negative feedback and returns. Analyze customer feedback to identify common pain points and areas for improvement.
  • Implementing customer-centric solutions: Work with your team to develop and implement solutions that address customer concerns, such as enhancing product features or improving customer support.
  • Monitoring progress and iterating for success: Regularly monitor customer satisfaction levels and gather feedback to assess the effectiveness of your solutions. Iterate and improve as needed to ensure continuous progress toward higher customer satisfaction.

Scenario 5: Managing change and uncertainty

  • Assessing the impact of change on the organization: When faced with change, such as the introduction of new software, assess the potential impact on the organization, including the benefits, challenges, and required resources.
  • Developing a change management plan: Create a comprehensive change management plan that includes communication strategies, training, and support resources to help team members adapt to the change.
  • Fostering resilience and adaptability among team members: Encourage a culture of resilience and adaptability by providing ongoing support, celebrating small wins, and recognizing the efforts of team members who embrace and champion the change.

Scenario 6: Navigating team conflicts

  • Identifying the sources of conflict: When conflicts arise within a team, it’s crucial to identify the underlying issues, such as personality clashes, competing interests, or poor communication.
  • Facilitating open discussions and mediation: Arrange a meeting with the involved parties to discuss the conflict openly and objectively. Consider using a neutral third party to mediate the conversation, ensuring everyone’s perspective is heard and understood.
  • Developing and implementing conflict resolution strategies: Work together to develop strategies for resolving the conflict, such as setting clear expectations, improving communication, or redefining roles and responsibilities. Monitor progress and adjust strategies as needed to ensure long-term resolution.

Scenario 7: Overcoming deadline pressure and time management challenges

  • Assessing project progress and priorities: If a team is struggling to meet deadlines, assess project progress and review priorities. Identify tasks that are behind schedule, and determine if any can be reprioritized or delegated.
  • Implementing time management techniques: Encourage the team to adopt effective time management techniques, such as the Pomodoro Technique or time blocking, to maximize productivity and stay focused on tasks.
  • Adjusting project scope and resources as needed: In some cases, it may be necessary to adjust the project scope or allocate additional resources to ensure successful completion. Communicate any changes to stakeholders and maintain transparency throughout the process.

Scenario 8: Tackling low employee morale and engagement

  • Identifying the causes of low morale: When faced with low employee morale, it’s essential to identify the contributing factors, such as lack of recognition, insufficient growth opportunities, or unrealistic expectations.
  • Implementing targeted initiatives to boost morale: Develop and implement initiatives to address these factors, such as offering regular feedback and recognition, providing professional development opportunities, or reassessing workload and expectations.
  • Monitoring and adjusting efforts to improve engagement: Regularly monitor employee morale and engagement through surveys or informal conversations. Adjust your initiatives to ensure continuous improvement and maintain a positive work environment.

Developing Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace

Developing Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace

As we’ve seen, problem-solving is a crucial skill for navigating the myriad challenges that can arise in the workplace. To become effective problem solvers, you must develop hard and soft skills that will allow you to tackle issues head-on and find the best solutions.

Let’s dive into these skills and discuss how to cultivate them in the workplace.

Soft Skills

Soft skills are non-technical, interpersonal abilities that help you interact effectively with others, navigate social situations, and perform well in the workplace. They are often referred to as “people skills” or “emotional intelligence” because they involve understanding and managing emotions and building relationships with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders.

Soft skills are typically learned through life experiences and personal development rather than formal education or training.

Examples of soft skills include:

  • Critical thinking: Critical thinking is the ability to analyze a situation objectively, considering all relevant information before making a decision. To develop this skill, practice asking open-ended questions, challenging assumptions, and considering multiple perspectives when approaching a problem.
  • Effective communication: Strong communication skills are vital for problem-solving, as they enable you to express your ideas clearly and listen actively to others. To improve your communication skills, focus on being concise, empathetic, and open to feedback. Remember that nonverbal communication, such as body language and tone, can be just as important as the words you choose.
  • Collaboration and teamwork: Problem-solving often requires collaboration, as multiple minds can bring diverse perspectives and fresh ideas to the table. Foster a sense of teamwork by being open to others’ input, sharing knowledge, and recognizing the contributions of your colleagues.
  • Emotional intelligence: The ability to recognize and manage your emotions, as well as empathize with others, can significantly impact your problem-solving abilities. To cultivate emotional intelligence, practice self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy when dealing with challenges or conflicts.
  • Adaptability and resilience: In a constantly changing work environment, the ability to adapt and bounce back from setbacks is essential. Develop your adaptability and resilience by embracing change, learning from failure, and maintaining a growth mindset.

Hard Skills

Hard skills, on the other hand, are specific, teachable abilities that can be acquired through formal education, training, or on-the-job experience. These skills are typically technical, industry-specific, or job-related and can be easily quantified and measured.

Hard skills are often necessary for performing specific tasks or operating specialized tools and equipment.

Examples of hard skills include:

  • Project management: Effective problem-solving often involves managing resources, timelines, and tasks. Improve your project management skills by learning popular methodologies (e.g., Agile, Scrum, or Waterfall), setting clear goals, and monitoring progress.
  • Data analysis and interpretation: Many problems require data analysis to identify trends, patterns, or insights that inform decision-making. Strengthen your data analysis skills by familiarizing yourself with relevant tools and software, such as Excel or Tableau, and practicing critical thinking when interpreting results.
  • Technical proficiency: Depending on your industry, various technical skills may be crucial for problem-solving. Stay current with your field’s latest tools, technologies, and best practices by participating in workshops, online courses, or industry events.
  • Decision-making: Strong decision-making skills are vital for problem-solving, as they enable you to evaluate options and choose the best course of action. Develop your decision-making abilities by learning about decision-making models (e.g., SWOT analysis, cost-benefit analysis, or decision trees) and applying them in real-life situations.

Both types of skills—soft and hard—play a crucial role in achieving success in the workplace, as they work together to create a well-rounded and highly effective employee. When combined, these skills enable individuals to excel in their roles and contribute significantly to their organization’s performance and productivity.

Boosting Your Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace

Boosting Your Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace

Boosting your problem-solving skills in the workplace is essential for success, personal growth, and increased productivity.

To effectively improve these skills, consider the following strategies:

  • Cultivate a growth mindset by embracing challenges as learning opportunities, being open to feedback, and believing in your ability to develop and improve.
  • Enhance critical thinking and creativity by objectively analyzing information, considering multiple perspectives, and brainstorming innovative solutions.
  • Develop effective communication skills, including active listening and clear articulation of your thoughts, to facilitate collaboration and problem-solving.
  • Foster empathy and emotional intelligence to understand others’ emotions, perspectives, and needs, which can help you devise better solutions.
  • Learn from experienced colleagues, study successful problem-solving strategies, and participate in professional development courses or workshops to gain new insights and techniques.
  • Adopt a systematic approach to problem-solving by defining the problem, gathering and analyzing relevant information, generating and evaluating potential solutions, and implementing the chosen solution while monitoring its effectiveness.
  • Stay organized and manage your time effectively by prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance and breaking complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts.
  • Embrace change, be resilient and adaptable, and learn from failures and setbacks to stay flexible and open to new ideas.

By dedicating time and effort to improving these aspects of your problem-solving skills, you can become a more effective problem-solver, contributing positively to your workplace and enhancing your career prospects.

Problems in the workplace will continuously develop and evolve over time if left unaddressed. Proactively dealing with these issues is the most effective method to ensure a positive and productive work environment.

By honing your problem-solving skills, embracing a growth mindset, and fostering open communication, you can tackle challenges head-on and prevent minor issues from escalating into significant obstacles.

Remember, staying proactive, adaptable, and continuously refining your problem-solving strategies is crucial for professional success and personal growth in the ever-changing world of work.

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16 Critical Thinking Examples in Real Life

What is critical thinking.

While making your academic assignments or thesis, you are required to do some research and analyze various things, or for making a career decision or any other decision you are required to think of all pros and cons of that decision. Well, the most important thing that helps us to effectively take these decisions is what we call critical thinking. Critical thinking is very important in both personal and professional life. The process of critical thinking involves the analysis of the various facts and figures in a particular situation before straightaway acting on that situation. Critical thinking demands keen observation, creativity, problem-solving skills, which helps the individual to thoroughly evaluate the gathered information and then use this available information as a guide to making accurate decisions. From doing academic works or regular activities to solving various large scale problems, critical thinking is required in everyday life. In this article, we will learn about some real-life examples where critical thinking plays an important role.

Critical Thinking Examples in Real Life

1. critical thinking in problem solving.

Suppose your manager asks you to find an effective solution to a problem that is affecting the business. What would be your first step? Like most people, you may also start looking for potential solutions to deal with that situation. Well, one requires the use of critical thinking here. Before looking for the solution one needs to take a step back and try to understand the cause of the problem first. One should ask for the opinions of the other people that how does this particular problem impact them and the overall business. If you arrive at a solution, you should not only just rely on one solution, instead, you should always have various backup plans in case the first solution does not work as expected. Most people feel that they are great at problem-solving, but if one is not following all these above discussed steps before making a final judgement, he/she is not a critical thinker. Critical thinking allows people to find the best possible solution to any problem. Critical thinking is an important factor of problem-solving skills, one needs to look at any situation from multiple perspectives because in some cases, your decisions not only impact you but also the people in your surrounding.

2. Critical Thinking in Analysing Risks

Risk assessment is another important factor, which requires the use of critical thinking. Risk assessment is required in various sectors, from children analysing the impact of eating junk food on their health to large businesses in analysing the impact of certain policies on the growth of the company. Let us understand the implication of critical thinking in analysing the risks with some examples.

3. Critical Thinking in Data Analysis

Whether analysing the performance of the children in the schools or analysing the business growth of a multi-national company, the skill of data analysis is very crucial. In today’s era, almost every sector demands experts that can accurately evaluate the available data or information and draw out effective conclusions from it. With the rise in technology, the various tasks of the data analysis such as finding profit and loss, creating balance sheets, and issuing invoices are done with the help of various software, but it does not mean that human skill is not required. Various kinds of software can just convert a large amount of data into some simpler and readable format, but it is the critical thinking of the humans that is required to effectively interpret the data and apply the obtained insight for the benefits. The data analysis can even help us to estimate the future trends and potential risks of taking any decisions.

4. Critical Thinking in Hiring Employees

The ability to objectively view any situation without getting influenced by your personal beliefs or thoughts is one of the important characteristics of critical thinking. In business, the hiring managers require critical thinking to evaluate a large number of resume’s to choose the suitable candidates for the required position. Critical thinking here enables the hiring managers not to hire a candidate on the basis of various factors like gender, age, religion or country, these factors may influence the hiring managers unconsciously. The hiring manager may tend to choose the candidate on his/her subjective beliefs if he/she does not use critical thinking. Hence, critical thinking can help HR’s to hire the best employees that may eventually lead to the growth of the company.

5. Promoting the Teamwork

In a team, every individual is unique and has his/her different ideas to tackle the proposed problem. It is the responsibility of the team leader to understand the perspective of each member and encourage them to work collectively to solve the common problem. You may find the opinion of the other members of your team as ineffective, but instead of straightway denying their opinions one should logically analyse their suggestions and try to put your point of view regarding the problem in an effective and calm manner. If the team leader does not use critical thinking, instead, he/she boost his/her opinions on others, the team is sure to collapse.

6. Critical Thinking in Self-Evaluation

Critical thinking plays a major role in self-evaluation. The knowledge of critical thinking skills allows you to accurately analyse your performance by controlling various subjective biases. People should always evaluate their reactions towards any situation and the way they think, this may help them to get a deep insight into their thought processes, hence improving their thinking abilities to take accurate decisions. Self-evaluation is very important in professional life too. Suppose your manager has set a new target for the company. Every employee is thus required to analyse his/her contribution to the company and try to accomplish the set target. If you know your contribution to the company, it will help you to analyse your performance, and you can try to improve your performance in the areas where you lag.

7. Critical Thinking in Choosing the Career

Almost all of us face various dilemmas in our lives such as choosing the stream, the type of job, choosing between the regular college degree or the online programme. Whatever you choose, every option has its pros and cons. However, critical thinking allows us to accurately weigh the positives and negatives of each option and choose the one that offers more benefits than drawbacks. The best way to do this is to make a list of the pros and the cons and then analyse. Well, this is not just limited to choosing the career path, it can be used in other situations also such as professionally, and financially. One can list the pros and cons of selecting to work in a specific company or choosing the right insurance plan. It is often seen that our choices are greatly influenced by the choices of our friends or known, but one should understand that every individual’s beliefs, desires, and ambitions are different so, if the particular carrear or job is best for the others it does not mean that it would be the best option for you also. Hence, to choose the right carrear path, one requires critical thinking.

8. Critical Thinking in Time Management

Time is the most valuable asset that we have, hence utilizing it appropriately is very crucial. Critical thinking in time management helps you to wisely plan your schedule according to the importance of the particular task or the activity. For example, if the task to which you devote most of your time, is not giving you much return then you need to reconsider your schedule and should devote more time to the tasks that give you high returns.

9. Critical Thinking in Analysing the Fake News

Suppose, one of your friends shares a piece of news with you. Do you bother to analyse that whether this piece of news is real or not? Many of us just believe in the news and shares this with others too without thinking that this can be fake news too. A study conducted by Stanford University showed that around 82 per cent of the teenagers failed to distinguish between the real news and the advertisement with the ‘sponsored content’ label. This problem arises because the standard education curriculum does not emphasise much on critical thinking skills much because of the assumption that critical thinking is inbuilt in every person. By introducing certain lessons or activities that may help to increase the knowledge or overall thinking skills, the critical thinking of the children can be improved. Well, it is also seen that not only children, but adults also fall for these fake news and articles that circulate on various social media platforms. Before believing any piece of information, one should think of various questions like the source of the publication, the intention of the article, the author of the article, and the agenda behind the article. Critical thinking helps us to precisely evaluate any information before straightway believing it.

10. Critical Thinking in Distinguishing between Right and Wrong

Most people, especially teenagers are very much conscious about what their friends or relatives think of their behaviour. You may have had been through the situation, wherein if your friends think that certain behaviour is cool then you start acting in that way to fit in your friend’s circle without even considering that what you are doing is good or bad, and is your actions are related to your beliefs or not? One should understand that if a certain behaviour seems cool to some people, it may also seem bad to some others. One should not change his/her actions depending upon the approval of certain people, rather one should look at the broader aspect and should deeply analyse that whether their actions are morally right or wrong.

11. Critical Thinking in Decoding Fashion Trends

Nowadays, some people are so crazy about following the latest fashion trends, they start following every trend that some popular actor, actress, or fashion influencer suggest. If you are a critical thinker you may have had thought of the questions like why the particular trend that was so popular a few years back seems foolish now? why does a particular trend that does not even look good is so popular? Do the particular fashion trend that suits the other person suits yourself or not? Critical thinking helps people from falling victim to the bandwagon fallacy; it is fallacy in which people starts believing a particular thing or idea as good or bad if the majority of the population thinks so. Fashion trends are a common example of bandwagon fallacy.

12. Critical Thinking in Choosing the Suitable Diet and Exercise

You must have heard of various types of diets such as the Keto diet, Whole 30 diet, Gluten-free diet, Vegan diet and so on. It seems complex to choose the diet that is best for you. What people usually do is that they search online, go through several videos and choose the diet that showed the best results to the person in the video. Well, this is not the right approach, choosing the best diet for yourself requires critical thinking. People who use critical thinking evaluate the pros and cons of the particular diet on their own body, they generally ask about the suitable diet from professional dieticians rather than just following the advice of a random person online. Like choosing a suitable diet, choosing a suitable exercise also demands critical thinking. For example, What are your goals? How can you achieve this? At what time you can do exercise? Do you have any injuries that may get affected by the particular exercise? People who use critical thinking tend to ask all these questions, and then by utilizing the knowledge they have and the following routine for a few weeks, and by analyzing the results they are getting from it, they finally plan a proper schedule for them.

13. Critical Thinking in Online Shopping

In today’s digital era, online shopping is preferred by most people. However, there are various tactics and psychological tricks such as the anchoring effect , Stroop effect , and Serial position effect that are used by the various e-commerce websites, which makes the customers buy more things or things that they don’t even need. Critical thinking can help people to smartly buy items without falling victim to all these effects or tactics. While making the purchase you should focus on the price that you are paying for the particular item rather than the discount you are getting on that item because the chances are that the price that you are paying for that item is not worth paying even after the discount.

14. Critical Thinking in Job Search

Critical thinking plays an important role in the Job search. If you are applying for a job, you may consider the following points to get the desired job.

Use of Keywords in Resume: One should always understand the job post and its requirements before straightaway applying for the job. It is important to update your resume according to the job and add some keywords (mentioned in the job requirements) into your resume to get the job. If you possess some critical thinking skills such as problem-solving, analytical, communication, or creativity skills, it is better to put that in your resume. However, one should always restrain from adding any random critical thinking skills that you do not possess.

Cover Letter: Hiring managers receive hundreds of resumes daily, hence the chances that they will read every resume are quite less. Well, you can make your resume different from others by adding a good cover letter. You can add some of the critical skills that you have to your resume, it is better to explain a little about the tasks or activities where you showed these skills in your previous jobs or work experiences rather than just simply writing the skill. This assures the recruiter that you are not randomly writing the skills and you possess these qualities.

Interviews: Nowadays, some interviewers present the interviewees with hypothetical stories to check their critical thinking skills. You may be asked to explain what you think of the given situation or your first reaction after looking at the given image. You are required to solve any random problem, and then you have to explain to the recruiter about your thought processes. The interviewer here is more focused on the way you reach the conclusion rather than the conclusion itself. Your thought process helps the interviewer to analyse and evaluate the way you approach various problems

15. Critical Thinking While Driving

Imagine you are driving on a busy road and your phone starts ringing. It’s an urgent call that you have to pick. What would you do? Would you pick up the call and risk yourself into an accident or stop your car on the roadside to take the call. Critical thinking helps you to make accurate decisions while driving, it includes finding the right place to park your car, analysing whether you can pass the car through that narrow street or not, or how to handle if any animal suddenly comes in front of your car. Hence, critical thinking is must require skill in driving.

16. Critical Thinking in Business

Critical thinking is one of the most important things that the owner of the business needs to possess. One has to make several important decisions, effectively communicate with the clients, hire suitable employees, take certain risks, and deal with several ups and downs in the business, and much more; all these things require critical thinking.

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Great post! I’ve been trying to apply critical thinking to my life, and these examples are a great way to start.

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critical thinking is what anyone of us should have in spoiled world

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