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What Is Creative Problem-Solving & Why Is It Important?

Business team using creative problem-solving

  • 01 Feb 2022

One of the biggest hindrances to innovation is complacency—it can be more comfortable to do what you know than venture into the unknown. Business leaders can overcome this barrier by mobilizing creative team members and providing space to innovate.

There are several tools you can use to encourage creativity in the workplace. Creative problem-solving is one of them, which facilitates the development of innovative solutions to difficult problems.

Here’s an overview of creative problem-solving and why it’s important in business.

What Is Creative Problem-Solving?

Research is necessary when solving a problem. But there are situations where a problem’s specific cause is difficult to pinpoint. This can occur when there’s not enough time to narrow down the problem’s source or there are differing opinions about its root cause.

In such cases, you can use creative problem-solving , which allows you to explore potential solutions regardless of whether a problem has been defined.

Creative problem-solving is less structured than other innovation processes and encourages exploring open-ended solutions. It also focuses on developing new perspectives and fostering creativity in the workplace . Its benefits include:

  • Finding creative solutions to complex problems : User research can insufficiently illustrate a situation’s complexity. While other innovation processes rely on this information, creative problem-solving can yield solutions without it.
  • Adapting to change : Business is constantly changing, and business leaders need to adapt. Creative problem-solving helps overcome unforeseen challenges and find solutions to unconventional problems.
  • Fueling innovation and growth : In addition to solutions, creative problem-solving can spark innovative ideas that drive company growth. These ideas can lead to new product lines, services, or a modified operations structure that improves efficiency.

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

Creative problem-solving is traditionally based on the following key principles :

1. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Creative problem-solving uses two primary tools to find solutions: divergence and convergence. Divergence generates ideas in response to a problem, while convergence narrows them down to a shortlist. It balances these two practices and turns ideas into concrete solutions.

2. Reframe Problems as Questions

By framing problems as questions, you shift from focusing on obstacles to solutions. This provides the freedom to brainstorm potential ideas.

3. Defer Judgment of Ideas

When brainstorming, it can be natural to reject or accept ideas right away. Yet, immediate judgments interfere with the idea generation process. Even ideas that seem implausible can turn into outstanding innovations upon further exploration and development.

4. Focus on "Yes, And" Instead of "No, But"

Using negative words like "no" discourages creative thinking. Instead, use positive language to build and maintain an environment that fosters the development of creative and innovative ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking

Whereas creative problem-solving facilitates developing innovative ideas through a less structured workflow, design thinking takes a far more organized approach.

Design thinking is a human-centered, solutions-based process that fosters the ideation and development of solutions. In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-phase framework to explain design thinking.

The four stages are:

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

  • Clarify: The clarification stage allows you to empathize with the user and identify problems. Observations and insights are informed by thorough research. Findings are then reframed as problem statements or questions.
  • Ideate: Ideation is the process of coming up with innovative ideas. The divergence of ideas involved with creative problem-solving is a major focus.
  • Develop: In the development stage, ideas evolve into experiments and tests. Ideas converge and are explored through prototyping and open critique.
  • Implement: Implementation involves continuing to test and experiment to refine the solution and encourage its adoption.

Creative problem-solving primarily operates in the ideate phase of design thinking but can be applied to others. This is because design thinking is an iterative process that moves between the stages as ideas are generated and pursued. This is normal and encouraged, as innovation requires exploring multiple ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving Tools

While there are many useful tools in the creative problem-solving process, here are three you should know:

Creating a Problem Story

One way to innovate is by creating a story about a problem to understand how it affects users and what solutions best fit their needs. Here are the steps you need to take to use this tool properly.

1. Identify a UDP

Create a problem story to identify the undesired phenomena (UDP). For example, consider a company that produces printers that overheat. In this case, the UDP is "our printers overheat."

2. Move Forward in Time

To move forward in time, ask: “Why is this a problem?” For example, minor damage could be one result of the machines overheating. In more extreme cases, printers may catch fire. Don't be afraid to create multiple problem stories if you think of more than one UDP.

3. Move Backward in Time

To move backward in time, ask: “What caused this UDP?” If you can't identify the root problem, think about what typically causes the UDP to occur. For the overheating printers, overuse could be a cause.

Following the three-step framework above helps illustrate a clear problem story:

  • The printer is overused.
  • The printer overheats.
  • The printer breaks down.

You can extend the problem story in either direction if you think of additional cause-and-effect relationships.

4. Break the Chains

By this point, you’ll have multiple UDP storylines. Take two that are similar and focus on breaking the chains connecting them. This can be accomplished through inversion or neutralization.

  • Inversion: Inversion changes the relationship between two UDPs so the cause is the same but the effect is the opposite. For example, if the UDP is "the more X happens, the more likely Y is to happen," inversion changes the equation to "the more X happens, the less likely Y is to happen." Using the printer example, inversion would consider: "What if the more a printer is used, the less likely it’s going to overheat?" Innovation requires an open mind. Just because a solution initially seems unlikely doesn't mean it can't be pursued further or spark additional ideas.
  • Neutralization: Neutralization completely eliminates the cause-and-effect relationship between X and Y. This changes the above equation to "the more or less X happens has no effect on Y." In the case of the printers, neutralization would rephrase the relationship to "the more or less a printer is used has no effect on whether it overheats."

Even if creating a problem story doesn't provide a solution, it can offer useful context to users’ problems and additional ideas to be explored. Given that divergence is one of the fundamental practices of creative problem-solving, it’s a good idea to incorporate it into each tool you use.


Brainstorming is a tool that can be highly effective when guided by the iterative qualities of the design thinking process. It involves openly discussing and debating ideas and topics in a group setting. This facilitates idea generation and exploration as different team members consider the same concept from multiple perspectives.

Hosting brainstorming sessions can result in problems, such as groupthink or social loafing. To combat this, leverage a three-step brainstorming method involving divergence and convergence :

  • Have each group member come up with as many ideas as possible and write them down to ensure the brainstorming session is productive.
  • Continue the divergence of ideas by collectively sharing and exploring each idea as a group. The goal is to create a setting where new ideas are inspired by open discussion.
  • Begin the convergence of ideas by narrowing them down to a few explorable options. There’s no "right number of ideas." Don't be afraid to consider exploring all of them, as long as you have the resources to do so.

Alternate Worlds

The alternate worlds tool is an empathetic approach to creative problem-solving. It encourages you to consider how someone in another world would approach your situation.

For example, if you’re concerned that the printers you produce overheat and catch fire, consider how a different industry would approach the problem. How would an automotive expert solve it? How would a firefighter?

Be creative as you consider and research alternate worlds. The purpose is not to nail down a solution right away but to continue the ideation process through diverging and exploring ideas.

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

Continue Developing Your Skills

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or business leader, learning the ropes of design thinking can be an effective way to build your skills and foster creativity and innovation in any setting.

If you're ready to develop your design thinking and creative problem-solving skills, 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.

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26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)

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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.  

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

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Biron Clark

Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.

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Creative Problem Solving Examples | 8 Best Interview Questions & Answers You Need

Creative Problem Solving Examples | 8 Best Interview Questions & Answers You Need

Jane Ng • 06 Mar 2023 • 7 min read

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. 

During unexpected crises or challenging circumstances, individuals demonstrate their strong qualities, including problem-solving abilities. As a result, employers highly value candidates who possess a creative approach to problem solving. 

What Is Creative Problem Solving?

Benefits of having creative problem solving skills, 8 creative problem solving examples – interview questions and answers, 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? Let’s read more!

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.

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

example problem solving creativity

1/ How do you approach a new problem or challenge? 

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.”

2/ What radical new or different ways to approach a challenge?

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.”

3/ Can you give an example of a time when you came up with a creative solution to a problem?

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.”

example problem solving creativity

4/ Can you recall a time you successfully managed a crisis?

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.”

5/ Can you name three common barriers to creativity and how you overcome each of them?

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.”

example problem solving creativity

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?

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.”

7/ What do you do when it seems impossible to find the right solution to a problem?

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.”

8/ How do you know when to deal with the problem yourself or ask for help? 

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. “

example problem solving creativity

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.

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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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Article • 10 min read

Creative Problem Solving

Finding innovative solutions to challenges.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

example problem solving creativity

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!

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

example problem solving creativity

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 .

example problem solving creativity

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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Creativity & problem-solving.

The Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard (LISH) is conducting research and creating evidence-based approaches to problem-solving. Researchers at LISH are identifying the best way to approach a problem, starting with problem formulation, and experimenting with solvers on the best way to find solutions.

Key Questions


How does the nature of the problem to be solved impact the most optimal problem-solving approaches to be used?

How can problems be best formulated so that outsiders can help solve them, how does diversity in knowledge and skills impact problem-solving, can creativity be enhanced through teams and/or exposure to peers, these four research questions frame projects in this track, pushing the boundaries of medical imaging and computational biology through artificial intelligence and algorithm development, extensive crowdsourcing work with nasa and other federal agencies, and using data science to help create a history of the partition of british india. see below for more information on each of the individual projects in this research track., nasa tournament lab.

The NASA Tournament Lab was originally established in 2010 as a joint initiative between NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI), Harvard Business School, and the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, to design and field challenges and contests... Read more about NASA Tournament Lab

Computational Biology Algorithms

Drivers of medical imaging diagnoses, integrating crowds into academic labs, advanced analytics challenges.

With the digital transformation in business and academia, the demand for advanced data analytics is increasing. LISH partners with foundations, government agencies, and research labs to access data analytics solutions through the crowd.... Read more about Advanced Analytics Challenges

Crowdsourcing for Social Good

Crowdsourcing memories from the 1947 partition of british india.

Working with the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard University, this project aims to collect and analyze oral histories and memories of the 1947 Partition of British India with a focus on minority voices. Aspects of this project include gathering discrete historical data such as locations and descriptions of refugee camps; mapping geographical locations... Read more about Crowdsourcing Memories from the 1947 Partition of British India

Developing a Process to Foster Co-creation by Patients and Caretakers and our Research Communities

A joint project with Harvard Catalyst — Reactor , this initiative aims to pair patient- and caregiver-derived solutions with research labs at Boston-area medical schools to develop innovative tools to benefit the patients, their disease communities, and others with similar needs.... Read more about Developing a Process to Foster Co-creation by Patients and Caretakers and our Research Communities

City Challenges

LISH researchers are designing experiments wrapped around NYU GovLab’s City Challenges. The City Challenges program aims to use competitions and coaching to solve urban problems. See here for information on a prior challenge.

Related Publications

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) has become a critical part of the modern economy. There are tens of millions of FOSS projects, many of which are built into software and products we use every day. However, it is difficult to fully understand the health, economic value, and security of FOSS because it is produced in a decentralized and distributed manner. This distributed development approach makes it unclear how much FOSS, and precisely what FOSS projects, are most widely used. This lack of understanding is a critical problem faced by those who want to help enhance the security of FOSS (e.g., companies, governments, individuals), yet do not know what projects to start with. This problem has garnered widespread attention with the Heartbleed and log4shell vulnerabilities that resulted in the susceptibility of hundreds of millions of devices to exploitation.

This report, Census II, is the second investigation into the widespread use of FOSS and aggregates data from over half a million observations of FOSS libraries used in production applications at thousands of companies, which aims to shed light on the most commonly used FOSS packages at the application library level. This effort builds on the Census I report that focused on the lower level critical operating system libraries and utilities, improving our understanding of the FOSS packages that software applications rely on. Such insights will help to identify critical FOSS packages to allow for resource prioritization to address security issues in this widely used software.

The Census II effort utilizes data from partner Software Composition Analysis (SCA) companies including Snyk, the Synopsys Cybersecurity Research Center (CyRC), and FOSSA, which partnered with Harvard to advance the state of open source research. Our goal is to not only identify the most widely used FOSS, but to also provide an example of how the distributed nature of FOSS requires a multi-party effort to fully understand the value and security of the FOSS ecosystem. Only through data-sharing, coordination, and investment will the value of this critical component of the digital economy be preserved for generations to come.

In addition to the detailed results on FOSS usage provided in the report, we identified five high-level findings: 1) the need for a standardized naming schema for software components, 2) the complexities associated with package versions, 3) much of the most widely used FOSS is developed by only a handful of contributors, 4) the increasing importance of individual developer account security, and 5) the persistence of legacy software in the open source space.

Karim R. Lakhani, Anne-Laure Fayard, Manos Gkeredakis, and Jin Hyun Paik . 10/5/2020. “ OpenIDEO (B) ”. Publisher's Version Abstract In the midst of 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic was unfolding, OpenIDEO - an online open innovation platform focused on design-driven solutions to social issues - rapidly launched a new challenge to improve access to health information, empower communities to stay safe during the COVID-19 crisis, and inspire global leaders to communicate effectively. OpenIDEO was particularly suited to challenges which required cross-system or sector-wide collaboration due to its focus on social impact and ecosystem design, but its leadership pondered how they could continue to improve virtual collaboration and to share their insights from nearly a decade of running online challenges. Conceived as an exercise of disruptive digital innovation, OpenIDEO successfully created a strong open innovation community, but how could they sustain - or even improve - their support to community members and increase the social impact of their online challenges in the coming years?

This paper presents NASA’s experience using a Center of Excellence (CoE) to scale and sustain an open innovation program as an effective problem-solving tool and includes strategic management recommendations for other organizations based on lessons learned.

This paper defines four phases of implementing an open innovation program: Learn, Pilot, Scale and Sustain. It provides guidance on the time required for each phase and recommendations for how to utilize a CoE to succeed. Recommendations are based upon the experience of NASA’s Human Health and Performance Directorate, and experience at the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard running hundreds of challenges with research and development organizations.

Lessons learned include the importance of grounding innovation initiatives in the business strategy, assessing the portfolio of work to select problems most amenable to solving via crowdsourcing methodology, framing problems that external parties can solve, thinking strategically about early wins, selecting the right platforms, developing criteria for evaluation, and advancing a culture of innovation. Establishing a CoE provides an effective infrastructure to address both technical and cultural issues.

The NASA experience spanned more than seven years from initial learnings about open innovation concepts to the successful scaling and sustaining of an open innovation program; this paper provides recommendations on how to decrease this timeline to three years.

Tomohiro Ishibashi (Bashi), chief executive officer for B to S, and Julia Foote LeStage, chief innovation officer of Weathernews Inc., were addressing a panel at the HBS Digital Summit on creative uses of big data. They told the summit attendees about how the Sakura (cherry blossoms) Project, where the company asked users in Japan to report about how cherry blossoms were blooming near them day by day, had opened up opportunities for the company's consumer business in Japan. The project ultimately garnered positive publicity and became a foothold to building the company's crowdsourcing weather-forecasting service in Japan. It changed the face of weather forecasting in Japan. Bashi and LeStage wondered whether the experience could be applied to the U.S. market.

BACKGROUND: The association of differing genotypes with disease-related phenotypic traits offers great potential to both help identify new therapeutic targets and support stratification of patients who would gain the greatest benefit from specific drug classes. Development of low-cost genotyping and sequencing has made collecting large-scale genotyping data routine in population and therapeutic intervention studies. In addition, a range of new technologies is being used to capture numerous new and complex phenotypic descriptors. As a result, genotype and phenotype datasets have grown exponentially. Genome-wide association studies associate genotypes and phenotypes using methods such as logistic regression. As existing tools for association analysis limit the efficiency by which value can be extracted from increasing volumes of data, there is a pressing need for new software tools that can accelerate association analyses on large genotype-phenotype datasets.

RESULTS: Using open innovation (OI) and contest-based crowdsourcing, the logistic regression analysis in a leading, community-standard genetics software package (PLINK 1.07) was substantially accelerated. OI allowed us to do this in <6 months by providing rapid access to highly skilled programmers with specialized, difficult-to-find skill sets. Through a crowd-based contest a combination of computational, numeric, and algorithmic approaches was identified that accelerated the logistic regression in PLINK 1.07 by 18- to 45-fold. Combining contest-derived logistic regression code with coarse-grained parallelization, multithreading, and associated changes to data initialization code further developed through distributed innovation, we achieved an end-to-end speedup of 591-fold for a data set size of 6678 subjects by 645 863 variants, compared to PLINK 1.07's logistic regression. This represents a reduction in run time from 4.8 hours to 29 seconds. Accelerated logistic regression code developed in this project has been incorporated into the PLINK2 project.

CONCLUSIONS: Using iterative competition-based OI, we have developed a new, faster implementation of logistic regression for genome-wide association studies analysis. We present lessons learned and recommendations on running a successful OI process for bioinformatics.

Most United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent documents contain drawing pages which describe inventions graphically. By convention and by rule, these drawings contain figures and parts that are annotated with numbered labels but not with text. As a result, readers must scan the document to find the description of a given part label. To make progress toward automatic creation of ‘tool-tips’ and hyperlinks from part labels to their associated descriptions, the USPTO hosted a monthlong online competition in which participants developed algorithms to detect figures and diagram part labels. The challenge drew 232 teams of two, of which 70 teams (30 %) submitted solutions. An unusual feature was that each patent was represented by a 300-dpi page scan along with an HTML file containing patent text, allowing integration of text processing and graphics recognition in participant algorithms. The design and performance of the top-5 systems are presented along with a system developed after the competition, illustrating that the winning teams produced near state-of-the-art results under strict time and computation constraints. The first place system used the provided HTML text, obtaining a harmonic mean of recall and precision (F-measure) of 88.57 % for figure region detection, 78.81 % for figure regions with correctly recognized figure titles, and 70.98 % for part label detection and recognition. Data and source code for the top-5 systems are available through the online UCI Machine Learning Repository to support follow-on work by others in the document recognition community.


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Six Examples of Creativity at Work

Examples of Creativity at Work

The verdict is in: creativity is extremely important to business.  From greater revenue to dealing with change, the benefits of creativity are better understood every day. Along with posts extolling the virtues of creativity are numerous guidelines to employing the creative process.  

So, it’s a good thing, and it’s a practice anyone can learn and utilize—but is your workplace a creative one ? What kinds of examples of creativity can be found at work?

Example 1: Creativity in Leadership.

It’s smart to start high on the chain of command when looking for examples of creativity at work.

As Scott Cook says, “If there is a bottleneck in organizational creativity, might it be at the top of the bottle?” When business leaders behave creatively, they promote creative thinking in employees—and when they oppose it, they are that proverbial bottleneck.

A creative leader takes novel approaches to interactions and work. A good example might be to open meetings with a personal or otherwise novel touch. A leader might go around the meeting and ask for a personal detail as well as a business-related development.  

In doing so, they send the message that they care about the employee in a broader sense than a purely revenue-related one. This, in turn, increases the employee’s sense of value, loyalty, and drive to succeed. It’s a way of “ making appreciation easy and contagious ,” and it works.

Example 2: Creativity in Marketing.

Think of an ad campaign that seeks to sell a new model of car. A non-creative approach to marketing might produce a print or banner ad. Maybe it has a laundry list of features and a stock photo of the vehicle. This kind of campaign is common and not overly effective.

A creative example of automobile marketing might involve an exciting short video. It could make the car the ‘main character’ of a miniature action movie. A marketer might take the motion picture idea even further. They could work to place their vehicle in a soon-to-be-released feature film.

Why are these approaches more creative, and almost certainly more effective? The cinematic approach might be costly. But both it and the video use the creative idea of making a product into something more—a story element. Instead of an inanimate object, video and film allow for the car to be shown from multiple angles, while moving, with a driver.  

It’s a fuller image of the product, and it also contains a personal touch.  Associating the vehicle with its driver makes it a human tool, a part of life; it adds relatability and humanity to the advertisement.

Example 3: Creative Problem Solving

What might a creative approach to problem-solving in the workplace look like?

The next example of creativity at work involves an alternative method of approaching issues. The creative will:

  • examine a problem,
  • consider possible solutions,
  • take some time away from the problem to allow other ideas to reenergize her brain.  

When she returns to the problem, she’ll have renewed clarity and be able to zero in on the best solution. Finally, getting others’ verification of the solution’s strengths will ensure that only good ideas will be chosen.

A creative problem-solver will use a different kind of thinking to develop different kinds of solutions. They break with convention while remaining collaborative in verifying and implementing change.

Example 4: Creativity in Sales

Now, let’s consider a sales example.

Just like in the leadership example of creativity at work, personal attention is a major factor in creative sales efforts. It can surprise and delight clients to know that a salesperson remembers their birthday or other significant personal date.  

Other methods of showing a personal connection lead to similar feelings of value: if a contact has indicated a strong interest in baseball, asking about their take on a recent game will likely put a smile on their face.

The more a prospective or current customer describes their interactions with your sales team as personable and conversational , the more likely they are to continue pursuing those interactions and patronizing your business.

Example 5: Project Management Can Benefit from Creativity

Creativity in project management can also transform your company’s ability to promptly complete quality projects.

In project management, creativity tends to manifest as big-picture thinking and humanistic handling of interpersonal issues.

In terms of big-picture thinking, a creative project manager thinks differently about the project than other team members. Instead of focusing on immediate concerns alone, the creative project manager thinks about the end product of the project before it’s completed.  

There’s a balancing act involved in big-picture thinking. Immediate concerns need to be resolved, but not at an expense of time or money that will negatively affect the final project’s completion. And the big picture must remain in mind, but not to the detriment of work on individual project components.

Example 6: Creativity When Handling Interpersonal Issues

In handling interpersonal issues, the creative personal touch can be a great tool for the project manager.

Whether dealing with internal or external interpersonal communication, a personal touch can grant a sense of value and appreciation, as well as help diffuse any potentially contentious interactions.  

If a project manager must tell a client their project will not be ready by its deadline, she’ll almost certainly do better with an honest and empathetic approach.  

Try a phrase like “We’ve had a very difficult week, and I’m sorry about this delay. I understand that your deadline was important to you and your business, and we take that very seriously.” It’s a lot more likely to cut through client frustration than an impersonal, dismissive phrase like “We’re sorry, it’s going to be late.”

Finally, consider what a creative approach to production might involve.  Production would seem to be an arena in which creativity wouldn’t fit well—after all, Henry Ford’s approach to production didn’t leave much room for alternative thinking, and his model is still commonly used in many industries.

Other Ways to Bring Creativity into Project Management

There are other ways to be creative in production, though, even if they’re not directed toward assembly-line practices themselves. An example of this might be to encourage a healthy amount of experimentation on the assembly line, if and when employees have time.  Imagine the production floor of a small pottery manufacturer, where potters are allowed to use some clay and a machine a few times a week.  Or imagine an assembly line where employees have a say in which machinery is used .

This gives employees more of a connection to their work, as they interact with the machinery in a more personal way, and shows them that they’re trusted by their employers.  That trust will be reciprocated, and with it might come some fantastic designs that could be used in the company’s product line.  Creativity promotes a sense of personal worth in production employees, and might even promote innovation in production itself.

It Comes Down to Personal Connection and Empathy

In these six examples of creativity in business—leadership, marketing, problem-solving, sales, project management, and production—the recurring theme is the personal touch. No matter where it’s deployed, creative thinking allows for greater interpersonal connection and tends to lead to higher loyalty, productivity, and even innovation.

Your employees, clients, and stakeholders want to see that you value them and their input, and that you’re focused on bringing new and non-traditional ideas to the table. These concepts will pay off at every level of your business.

How can you start promoting creative, interpersonally sensitive practices in your company?

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20 Problem Solving Activities to Improve Creativity


Creative problem solving requires creative problem solving activities. Even if you know all of the problem solving steps , it’s important to know exercises to actually execute each phase.  These exercises are techniques on how to improve problem solving skills and the art of problem solving.

Listed below are 20 interactive exercises that will help you through each step of the problem solving process.

Problem Solving Activities

Note: For the sake of demonstration, we use the same example for each exercise, in this case, the difficult problem of opening a jar of peanut butter (to make a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich of course).

Step 1: Define the Problem

Problem solving activities that help you phrase and understand the problem you are trying to solve:

#1. Newspaper Headline – Try writing your problem as if it were a headline in a newspaper. You can write it as if the problem still exists, or as if the problem were already solved. Try Tabloid headlines for even more creative ideas.

Example: “Local man attempts to provide joy to the world by opening a jar of peanut butter.”

#2. Future Party – Imagine it’s one year from today; what did you solve in the last year? How is the world different based on the solution? What were the steps you took to solve the problem?

Example:  “I can’t believe it’s been a year since we ate all the peanut butter from that crazy tight jar.”

#3. 40-20-10-5 – Explain your problem in up to 40 words. Then cut it down to 20 words; then to 10, then finally to only 5 words. These 5 words are the root of your problem (and likely the root of your solution as well).

Example:  (Starting at 10 words) “I want to open up this jar of peanut butter.” -> “Open this peanut butter jar.”

#4. Explain Life I’m Five – Explain your problem as if you were talking to a 5-year old kid. Use basic language and simple metaphors if necessary. Inspired by the subreddit ELI5 .

Example:  “There’s yummy-ness in this jar that I want to get out.”

Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas

Problem solving activities that help you generate a list of possible solutions that will solve your problem*:

#5. Ad Game – Have people mill about the room. When someone offers up an idea, everyone emphatically says “Yes!” and then the group continues to generate ideas, often building off the last idea that was just offered.

Example:   “We should use a tool to open this jar.” “Yes!” “And it should not hurt our hands.” “Yes!” “And it’ll be nearly effortless.” “Yes!”

#6. Dumbest Idea First – Hold a contest to get the dumbest idea out first. Encourage everyone to think of the absolute dumbest possible solutions to the problem. After you have a long list, go back through and see which ones may not be all that dumb.

Example: “Let’s open it using C4 explosives.”

#7. What Would X Do – Pretend you’re someone famous (or someone you admire) and ask yourself how they would solve the problem, what options would they consider?

Example:  (as Gandhi) “I will go on a hunger strike until the jar is ready to be open.”

#8. 10x10x10 Matrix – Generate a list of 10 ideas for solving the problem. Pick one of those ideas and generate 10 variations of that idea. Pick one idea from the new list and generate 10 more variations.

Example: (with just 5 ideas): –Round 1 (based on tools)–Dynamite, Power Drill, Vise grip, Scissors, Hammer. –Round 2 (based on vise grip)–Metal clamp, Pliers, Glue, Cement, Sticky Glove. –Round 3 (based on sticky glove)–Lots of tapping, Rubbing the seal, Punching, Soft caresses, Really strong hand.

*Note: Some of the exercises may not produce the perfect solution, but they can get you thinking differently.

Step 3: Decide on a Solution

Problem solving activities that help you narrow your list of possible solutions down to the best solution.

#9. Futures Wheel – Pick a possible solution and write it in the center of a piece of paper. List possible direct results/consequences of the solution around the center idea. List possible indirect results/consequences based on the direct results/consequences. Find more info here .

Example: Really strong hand leads to: ability to open other types of jars as well, big forearms, possible blisters, …

#10. Thiagi’s 35 – Use a point system to determine the preferred solution among your team, turning a possibly subjective discussion into an objective group decision. You can find a more detailed explanation on Thiagi’s site .

Example: Really strong hand – 7pts. Punching the jar – 3pts. A soft caress – 1pts.

#11. Idea Trial – When you can’t get agreement on which solution to choose, have the proponents of each idea represent them in “court.” Go through opening arguments, call witnesses and allow closing statements. Have the project board choose the winner.

Example: “Really strong hand, is it true you could also be used for terrible things, such as opening a can of sardines?”

#12. Coin-Flip – When deciding between two equally good solutions, flip a coin. When the coin is in the air, take note of what you secretly hope the result is and go with that (if you really can’t decide between the two, then go with the actual result of the coin-flip). Inspired by this poster.

Example: Heads is strong hands, tails is a soft cares. *Toss.* (I really don’t want to have to caress this jar of peanut butter…) Strong hands it is!

Step 4: Implement the Solution

Problem solving activities that help you implement the solution you have chosen:

#13. End in Mind – To create your plan, start with the end in mind and work backwards.  Establish key milestones and dates in reverse order, starting with the end-of-project celebration and ending with today.

Example: Eat delicious PB&J sandwich (5pm), Make delicious PB&J sandwich (4:58pm), Open Peanut Butter Jar (4:57pm), Build up grip strength (4:47), …

#14. Idea Mock-ups – Create a mock-up of the solution. You can a create physical mock-up using the various supplies in your office or a virtual mock-up using images from around the web.

Example: Tell me you wouldn’t buy this incredible product .

#15. Gamification – Turn the completion of your project into a game. Establish rules for how you earn points, create badges to celebrate milestones and track game progress. Learn more about gamification .

Example: For each squeeze of the PB Gripper, you get 1 point. 100 points earns you the Gripper Badge, 500 points earns you a pudding cup. After 1,000 points you should be able to open the Peanut Butter jar.

#16. Be a Character – Add some fun to your work by executing your plan as if you were a fictional character. Think about how they would operate and get into character.

Example: (as the Incredible Hulk): HULK SMASH!

Step 5: Review the Results

Problem solving activities that help you review the results you achieved and the way you achieved them:

#17. Apply McLuhan – Answer McLuhan’s tetrad of questions in context of your solution: 1) What does your solution enhance? 2) What does it make obsolete? 3) What does it bring back that was once obsolete and 4) What does it flip into when taken to the extreme?

Example: Using a strong grip to open the jar: 1) The ability to get peanut butter, 2) Other tools for opening jars, 3) The joy of cooking my own food, 4) Only eating peanut butter and nothing else.

#18. Word on the Street – Conduct “word-on-the-street” type interviews with members of your team, asking them how they felt about the project and the solution.

Example: “Sir, what’s your opinion on this new development on the ability to consume delicious peanut butter?”

#19. Stop-Start-Continue – Review the way you completed your project and pick activities you should stop (things you did on this project that you don’t think are necessary for future projects), start (things you didn’t do on this project but that you should do on future projects) and continue (things you did on the project that you should do on future projects).

Example: STOP doing every single exercise for one solution. START finding snacks to eat while waiting to get to the solution. CONTINUE eating peanut butter.

#20. Find the Funny – Write a monologue or stand-up set that covers some of the funny moments or ideas from the project. Share it with your team.

Example: What’s the deal with airline peanut butter?

Creative Problem Solving

The purpose of the above problem solving activities is to get you to think about the problem in a different way and have some fun while solving it–both of which will enhance your creativity in finding and implementing a solution. And as Einstein ( probably ) said:”The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

Note: The example used may be a bit facetious but these exercises do work for tougher problems. I wanted to include an example to facilitate understanding and it happened to be around snack time.


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9 thoughts on “20 Problem Solving Activities to Improve Creativity”

example problem solving creativity

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example problem solving creativity

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Creativity encompasses the ability to discover new and original ideas, connections, and solutions to problems. It’s a part of our drive as humans—fostering resilience , sparking joy, and providing opportunities for self-actualization.

An act of creativity can be grand and inspiring, such as crafting a beautiful painting or designing an innovative company. But an idea need not be artistic or world-changing to count as creative. Life requires daily acts of ingenuity and novel workarounds; in this sense, almost everyone possesses some amount of creativity.

  • Sources of Creativity
  • How to Be More Creative
  • Creativity and the Brain
  • Creativity and Mental Illness
  • Dark Creativity

example problem solving creativity

There are many pieces to the puzzle of creativity, including a balance between controlled, deliberate thought and spontaneous play and imagination . Personality plays a role, as well as biology and life experience.

But everyone possesses some measure of creativity, even if they don’t realize it. Life is full of small moments that require new ideas or surprising solutions. A choice that you don’t think twice about—how you cook a fried egg or the route you take to work—someone else might find delightfully original.

Creative people embody complexity; they show tendencies of thought and action that are segregated in others, according to the pioneering creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. They balance intense energy with quiet rest, playfulness with discipline, fantasy with reality, and passion for their work with objectivity.

Neuroscience research seems to support this idea. Creative people may better engage the three brain systems —the default mode network , the salience network, and the executive control network—that collectively produce creative thought.

The trait of Openness to Experience correlates with creativity, encompassing a receptivity to new ideas and experiences. People who are low in openness prefer routines and familiarity, while those who are high in openness revel in novelty, whether that is meeting new people, processing different emotions, or traveling to exotic destinations. Accumulating these experiences and perspectives can help the brain forge creative new connections. Other characteristics that are linked to creativity include curiosity, positivity, energy, persistence, and intrinsic motivation.

When we think of creativity, we often think of Mozart, Picasso, Einstein—people with a seemingly fated convergence of talent and opportunity. It's too narrow a set of references, because all sorts of people, possessing various levels of intelligence and natural ability, are capable of engaging in fulfilling creative processes. And buying into a limited definition of creativity prevents many from appreciating their own potential.

Everyday creativity is a framework originally developed by Ruth Richards, Dennis Kinney, and colleagues at Harvard Medical School defined as expressions of originality and meaningfulness. This could encompass daily errands, personal hobbies, or work. Making wacky recipes or dying your hair an unusual color would qualify, as would working on a scrapbook of memories for a friend.

People sometimes refer to “little-c” or “Big-C” to discuss different degrees of creativity. This framework was expanded into a theory called The Four C Model of Creativity by researchers James Kaufman, Ronald Beghetto. Mini-c refers to creativity that arises in any learning process and little-c refers to consistent everyday creativity. Pro-c is the progression to professional expertise in a given domain, while Big-C is reserved for monumental and historic contributions to society.


Many people feel that they have no or very limited creative ability—even some who work in creative fields—and it's true that certain individuals are more creative than others. Fortunately, however, creativity can be acquired and honed at any age or experience level.

Innovation is not some divine gift; it’s actually the skilled application of knowledge in new and exciting ways. It requires changing up your normal routine, stepping outside of typical comfort zones, and paying attention to the present moment.

When learning new information, taking a break—either by sleeping or simply enjoying a distraction—is another way of allowing the unconscious mind to process the data in novel and surprising ways. This often lays the groundwork for a creative insight or breakthrough.

Various lines of research have converged around common insights that provide steps to be more creative:

1. Aim for output: Creative geniuses often produce their best works at their times of greatest output. Some pieces may miss the mark, but the quantity of output makes it likely that other pieces will yield great creativity.

2. Be willing to go deep: In the realm of artistic creativity, pioneers often spend time in solitude, feel emotions and sensations deeply, and aren’t afraid to self-reflect.

3. Be open and playful: The personality trait most tied to creativity is Openness to Experience—whether that be intellectual, aesthetic, or emotional.

4. Capture your ideas: Remember to record thoughts as they arise so they aren't forgotten.

5. Adopt or hire outside perspectives: It can be difficult to innovate if you become trapped in the rules and language of your domain of expertise.

6. Feel free to procrastinate : If you are motivated to solve a problem, procrastinating, exercising, or sleeping on it can lead to divergent thinking and more possibilities.

Most of the time, ideas develop from the steady percolation and evaluation of thoughts and feelings. But every so often, a blockbuster notion breaks through in a flash of insight that’s as unexpected as it is blazingly clear. So-called “aha moments” can generate the brilliant idea for a tech startup, the theme of a musical composition, or the answer to an engineering quandary.

Improving the odds of having a “eureka moment” involves toggling between two modes of thinking: conscious, methodological, concerted problem solving and the restful, spontaneous, unplanned connections of the default mode network, the brain’s resting state. In this way, the default mode network can inspire new solutions when all of the puzzle pieces are in place.

Studies show that training can lead both children and adults to hone creative skills. Sessions may focus on identifying problems to solve, exploring different possibilities, and enhancing emotional intelligence . In one training, for example, instead of making art immediately, children were asked to play with materials—feel their textures, try them out, arrange and rearrange them. Children were encouraged to use emotion -laden memories to explore ideas for art portraying different emotional themes—what colors or textures could be associated with anger?

Several strategies can help build your creative muscle. One is to find a problem that needs solving, and another is to be open to new opportunities, such as trying new foods or using a new approach to complete a task at work. Another is to change your perspective, such as by imagining what somebody else or somebody in a different time period might think. Yet another is to simply create—creativity requires risk-taking and critical feedback, but persisting through discomfort can lead to an innovative and daring outcome.

Creativity may offer some surprising psychological benefits. It can contribute to the ability to make meaning—such as finding ways to successfully cope with past experiences such as trauma , regret, or nostalgia, helping to manage moods, relationships, and problem-solving, and establishing one’s professional and personal legacy for the future. Well-being, in turn, may facilitate creative thinking, such as by practicing mindfulness , research suggests.

example problem solving creativity

Creative thinking involves making new connections between different ideas, which is accomplished by cultivating divergent thinking skills and deliberately exposing yourself to new experiences and to learning. While research psychologists are interested in tapping innovative thinking, clinical psychologists sometimes encourage patients to use artistic expression as a way to confront difficult feelings.

Three key networks operate as a team to spark creativity in the brain, research suggests. The default mode network helps generate ideas, the executive control network evaluates them and propels them forward, and the salience network identifies which ideas are relevant and important. These networks may also influence one another via other feedback loops; for instance, the executive control network might tune the way the salience network scans internally, depending on the task at hand.

The default mode network is the pattern of brain activity that occurs when people are not focused on the outside world. It’s the network that becomes active when the mind turns inward, as people daydream, rest, and reflect on the past or imagine the future. The default mode network can spark connections between different ideas, contributing to creative thought.

The salience network is a large system within the brain that helps to detect and filter important information from the environment , and then determine how to respond to that information. It scans for relevant signals, whether they contain sensory, cognitive, or emotional information. The salience network is rooted in the anterior insula and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, but it contains nodes in other regions as well.

The executive control network, or executive function, refers to the systems and processes that allow people to plan, monitor, and execute their goals . In the context of creativity, executive functioning monitors the observations, connections, and ideas that are generated, directs attention to particular ideas, and oversees decision-making in the context of a larger goal.

A hallmark of creativity, divergent thinking involves generating multiple ideas or solutions to a problem. It’s original and imaginative, exploring as many different connections as possible. By contrast, convergent thinking is converging onto a single, correct answer or solution, by analyzing the information available and judging which answer is best.

The belief that the left hemisphere completely controls logic and the right brain governs creativity is largely a myth. Creativity and imagination involve communication between networks throughout both hemispheres, research shows. Those networks work together and collectively manipulate ideas, images, and symbols.

example problem solving creativity

From Vincent van Gogh to Sylvia Plath and Winston Churchill, individuals with mental illness have unleashed intellectual and artistic genius throughout history. The connection has fascinated psychologists and everyday individuals alike. What biological theories might explain the overlap? And what evolutionary advantages might these individuals possess?

Psychotic spectrum disorders, including bipolar disorder , schizotypy, and schizophrenia, are disproportionately diagnosed in highly creative individuals (they've been most often measured in artists, musicians, and writers) or in their first-degree relatives. 

But this connection can be confounded by the degree of giftedness at play. While creative types are more mentally stable than are non-creatives, the correlation reverses in the presence of exceptional creativity. Extraordinarily creative individuals are more likely to exhibit psychopathology than are noncreative people, according to University of California at Davis psychologist Dean Keith Simonton. He dubs this concept the "Mad Genius Paradox."

An inability to filter out seemingly irrelevant information is a hallmark of both creative ideation and disordered thought. The state, known as reduced latent inhibition, allows more information to reach awareness, which can in turn foster associations between unrelated concepts. The barrage accounts for both the nonsensical ideas seen in psychosis and for novel thinking.

One hypothesis for the mystery between genius and mental illness is rooted in the diametric theory, an idea put forth by sociologist Christopher Badcock and evolutionary biologist Bernard Crespi to explain how autism and schizophrenia are poles on one cognitive continuum. (In this theory, paternal gene expression pushes towards mechanistic thinking—autism at its most extreme—and maternal genes produce mentalizing traits—psychosis at its most extreme.)

The theory makes a key prediction—that epoch-making minds, likely including John Nash's and Isaac Newton's, exhibit both hypermechanistic and hypermentalizing extremes. These men were both autistic and schizophrenic—double outliers. True genius in some realms, especially mathematics and science, could represent that unique overlap.

Some research has found that genetic variants that are more common in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are also more common in certain creative professions. However, it’s difficult to conduct reliable studies of the link between genetics and a broad trait like creativity. What we do know, however, is that many mental health conditions, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, have a genetic component, so the condition and potentially related traits are passed down from one generation to the next.

Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be debilitating illnesses, so scientists have wondered why these conditions have persisted over time. Some believe that schizophrenia and  bipolar disorder offer an evolutionary advantage, in that they predispose individuals to greater creativity, achievement, and success that can benefit both individuals and societies.

People with bipolar disorder can be deeply concerned that medication will strip away the creativity and productivity that accompany manic episodes . Therefore it’s important to address the topic in therapy .

Therapists should explain that manic energy can be confused for creative skill; mania often deludes individuals into believing they are greater than their skills. The pair can discuss the patient’s innate talents and skills to develop, and then devise a strategy to do so following mood stabilization, continuing to adapt to new circumstances or challenges as they arise.

example problem solving creativity

Creativity is typically seen as a socially beneficial trait. But some people use their imagination in pursuit of antisocial ends—what's sometimes termed “dark creativity” or “malevolent creativity.”

A scam artist who devises a novel or foolproof scheme for luring his victims is exercising creativity. But as it’s being deployed to harm others and enrich himself, most observers would find his scheme objectionable, no matter how imaginative.

In recent years, researchers have sought a greater understanding of how darkness and creativity interrelate. Some studies have found that creativity is associated with narcissism ; others have identified a link between higher creativity and reduced honesty and humility. In one study, dispositional creativity was found to predict unethical behavior.

Ultimately, creativity may be better conceived as neither inherently positive nor inherently negative. Instead, it may be best to assess motivations and outcomes when judging the value of any creative act.

One distinction between light and dark creativity involves who benefits and who stands to be harmed by the creative pursuit. Light creativity is associated with ways to benefit others in society, or at least not detract from their welfare, such as composing a moving symphony or founding a tech start-up. Dark creativity is primarily associated with harming others or helping oneself without caring about the potential for collateral damage—devising an elaborate plot to rob a store, for example.

Malevolent creativity has been linked to childhood experiences, such as neglect, and traits in the dark triad , such as narcissism. Another characteristic linked to dark creativity is aggression . In one study, premeditation (planning ahead of time) controlled an individual’s expression of malevolent creativity more than implicit aggression—in other words, being able to hold off on your impulses can make even those primed to be aggressive and darkly creative less harmful when provoked.

Some argue that creativity exists on a spectrum and creative pursuits can exist in the gray area between light and dark. For example, if someone comes up with a clever white lie to avoid meeting someone, that original and plausible idea might lean toward a darker use of creative thinking. The grayer areas of creativity arise when it’s not completely clear where the eventual benefit of the creative behavior lies. For example, is hacktivism bright creativity or dark?

example problem solving creativity

Personal Perspective: The study of literature has been under attack in schools and libraries. Are these isolated incidents or signs of a deeper crisis of cultural values?

example problem solving creativity

Most people have heard of the "Eureka!" moment, when Thomas Edison instantly and brilliantly invented the lightbulb. The problem? It never happened.

example problem solving creativity

As I worked through a project on art crime in Vietnam, I found I had to take some of my own advice and trust the process.

example problem solving creativity

Mindfulness is a state that can be achieved through a range of everyday activities.

example problem solving creativity

The riddles in this post can project you directly into the history of time, so to speak.

What an advantage that could be, to really believe you are ageless. What a wonder that would be.

example problem solving creativity

There is growing evidence suggesting that all humans are born with a basic ability for intuitive thinking.

example problem solving creativity

Not only was Georgia O'Keeffe a great artist, but her work can also help you increase happiness in your life and your relationships. Here is a quick meditation.

example problem solving creativity

Cognitive diversity (CD) refers to differences in the way team members think. We identified five primary dimensions of CD and described the tasks that CD supports.

Cover of Contes Grotesques, from a painting by Odilon Redon, published by Paul Ollendorff, 1882

Experts have pondered the ever-increasing toll of drinking in Edgar Allan Poe's life and the possibility that his symptoms may have resulted from other substances.

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Understanding the Psychology of Creativity

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

example problem solving creativity

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What Is Creativity?

When does creativity happen, types of creativity, what does it take to be creative, creativity and the big five, how to increase creativity, frequently asked questions.

What is creativity? Creativity involves the ability to develop new ideas or utilize objects or information in novel ways. It can involve large-scale ideas that have the potential to change the world, such as inventing tools that impact how people live, or smaller acts of creation such as figuring out a new way to accomplish a task in your daily life.

This article explores what creativity is and when it is most likely to happen. It also covers some of the steps that you can take to improve your own creativity.

Studying creativity can be a tricky process. Not only is creativity a complex topic in and of itself, but there is also no clear consensus on how exactly to define creativity. Many of the most common definitions suggest that creativity is the tendency to solve problems or create new things in novel ways.

Two of the primary components of creativity include:

  • Originality: The idea should be something new that is not simply an extension of something else that already exists.
  • Functionality: The idea needs to actually work or possess some degree of usefulness.

In his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention , psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggested that creativity can often be seen in a few different situations.  

  • People who seem stimulating, interesting, and have a variety of unusual thoughts.
  • People who perceive the world with a fresh perspective, have insightful ideas and make important personal discoveries. These individuals make creative discoveries that are generally known only to them.
  • People who make great creative achievements that become known to the entire world. Inventors and artists such as Thomas Edison and Pablo Picasso would fall into this category.

Experts also tend to distinguish between different types of creativity. The “four c” model of creativity suggests that there are four different types:

  • “Mini-c” creativity involves personally meaningful ideas and insights that are known only to the self.
  • “ Little-c” creativity involves mostly everyday thinking and problem-solving. This type of creativity helps people solve everyday problems they face and adapt to changing environments.
  • “Pro-C” creativity takes place among professionals who are skilled and creative in their respective fields. These individuals are creative in their vocation or profession but do not achieve eminence for their works.
  • “Big-C” creativity involves creating works and ideas that are considered great in a particular field. This type of creativity leads to eminence and acclaim and often leads to world-changing creations such as medical innovations, technological advances, and artistic achievements.

Csikszentmihalyi suggests that creative people tend to possess are ​a variety of traits that contribute to their innovative thinking. Some of these key traits include:

  • Energy: Creative people tend to possess a great deal of both physical and mental energy. However, they also tend to spend a great deal of time quietly thinking and reflecting.
  • Intelligence: Psychologists have long believed that intelligence plays a critical role in creativity. In Terman’s famous longitudinal study of gifted children, researchers found that while high IQ was necessary for great creativity, not all people with high IQs are creative. Csikszentmihalyi believes that creative people must be smart, but they must be capable of looking at things in fresh, even naïve, ways.
  • Discipline: Creative people do not just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. They ​are playful, yet they are also disciplined in the pursuit of their work and passions.

Certain personality traits are also connected to creativity. According to the big five theory of personality , human personality is made up of five broad dimensions:

  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

Each dimension represents a continuum, so for each trait, people can be either high, low, or somewhere between the two. 

Openness to experience is a big five trait that is correlated with creativity. People who are high on this trait are more open to new experiences and ideas. They tend to seek novelty and enjoy trying new things, meeting new people, and considering different perspectives. 

However, other personality traits and characteristics can also play a role in creativity. For example, intrinsic motivation , curiosity, and persistence can all determine how much people tend to pursue new ideas and look for novel solutions.

While some people seem to come by creativity naturally, there are things that you can do to increase your own creativity .

Some strategies that can be helpful for improving creativity include: 

  • Being open to new ideas : Openness to experience is the personality trait that is most closely correlated with creativity. Focus on being willing to try new things and explore new ideas.
  • Be persistent : Creativity is not just about sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike. Creative people spend time working to produce new things. Their efforts don't always work out, but continued practice builds skills that contribute to creativity.
  • Make time for creativity : In addition to being persistent, you also need to devote time specifically toward creative efforts. This might mean setting aside a little time each day or each week specifically to brainstorm, practice, learn, or create.

Csikszentmihalyi has noted that creativity requires both a fresh perspective combined with discipline. As Thomas Edison famously suggested, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

A Word From Verywell

Creativity is a complex subject and researchers are still working to understand exactly what factors contribute to the ability to think creatively. While some people seem to come by creativity naturally, there are also things you can do to build and strengthen this ability.

The late Maya Angelou also suggested that thinking creativity helps foster even greater creativity, "The important thing is to use it. You can’t use up creativity. The more you use it, the more you have," she suggested.

Creativity does not reside in one single area of the brain; many areas are actually involved. The frontal cortex of the brain is responsible for many of the functions that play a part in creativity.

However, other parts of the brain impact creativity as well, including the hippocampus (which is important to memory) and the basal ganglia (which is essential in the memory of how to perform tasks). The white matter of the brain, which keeps the various parts of the brain connected, is also essential for creative thinking.

Research suggests that people can train their brains to be more creative. Engaging in cognitively stimulating tasks, going on a walk, finding sources of inspiration, and meditating are a few strategies that may help boost creative thinking abilities. 

The "big five" are the broad categories of traits that make up personality. The five dimensions are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Each trait involves a range between two extremes, and people can be either at each end or somewhere in the middle.

American Psychological Association. The science of creativity .

Csikszentmihalyi M. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention .   New York: HarperCollins; 2013.

Kaufman J, Beghetto R. Beyond big and little: The four C model of creativity .  Review of General Psychology . 2009;13(1):1-12. doi:10.1037/a0013688

Kaufman SB, Quilty LC, Grazioplene RG, et al. Openness to experience and intellect differentially predict creative achievement in the arts and sciences .  J Pers . 2016;84(2):248-258. doi:10.1111/jopy.12156

Elliot J.  Conversations With Maya Angelou . Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi; 1998.

Cavdarbasha D, Kurczek J. Connecting the dots: your brain and creativity . Front Young Minds . 2017;5:19. doi:10.3389/frym.2017.00019

Sun J, Chen Q, Zhang Q, Li Y, Li H, Wei D, Yang W, Qiu J.  Training your brain to be more creative: brain functional and structural changes induced by divergent thinking training .  Hum Brain Mapp . 2016;37(10):3375-87. doi:10.1002/hbm.23246

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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example problem solving creativity

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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