Companies are constantly striving for innovation and effective problem-solving strategies to maintain a competitive edge. However, they often find themselves trapped within the confines of their own corporate structures and routines, which is further compounded by the prevalence of groupthink. This phenomenon, first coined by social psychologist Irving Janis in 1972, occurs when the desire for harmony or conformity within a group leads to irrational or dysfunctional decision-making. As a result, unique ideas are frequently dismissed or overlooked, leading to stagnation and a lack of innovation. This underscores the critical need for a structured approach to fostering creative problem-solving.
It is not simply a matter of "thinking outside the box," but rather creating an environment that encourages diverse perspectives, promotes constructive critique, and nurtures an innovative spirit at all levels of the organization. My keynote speaker events aim to accomplish just that—providing individuals and teams with a structured approach to creative problem-solving. Through workshops, training sessions, and seminars, my goal is to equip professionals with the necessary tools and techniques to effectively tackle complex problems and generate innovative solutions. This structured approach combines elements from various problem-solving methodologies and references solid psychological, social, and organizational theories and practices.
The CREATE Tool: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creative Problem-Solving
The CREATE acronym/tool is a comprehensive guide designed to guide individuals or groups through a structured process of creative problem-solving. It offers a step-by-step approach that lays out the path towards effective and innovative solutions.
C—Construct and Clarify Objectives and Constraints
This initial stage is crucial as it sets the foundation for the problem-solving journey. It encourages the participants to take a step back and articulate the problem in clear, concise terms. Understanding the exact nature of the problem avoids confusion and misdirection further down the line. Additionally, identifying the constraints or limitations gives everyone a realistic framework within which they should operate. This can range from budget limits, timeframes, resources, or specific conditions that must be met.
R—Reference Other Industries and Environments
Once the problem and constraints are clearly defined, the next step is to seek inspiration from various sources. The tool suggests looking beyond one's immediate context or industry. This approach fosters lateral thinking and cross-pollination of ideas, leading to innovative solutions that may not have been discovered within the confines of a single industry or environment.
This is where the fun begins. At this stage, the tool promotes an open-minded, non-judgmental atmosphere where no idea is considered too "out there" or ridiculous. This encourages free-thinking and the birth of unconventional solutions. It reminds us that some of the world's most groundbreaking ideas may have seemed absurd at first.
A—Allow Time for Observation
Patience is a virtue in creative problem-solving. This stage underscores the importance of taking a pause to observe and reflect. This could mean studying the problem in different contexts, seeking feedback from different people, or simply allowing the mind to digest all the information and ideas that have been generated. This incubation period often leads to deeper insights and understanding of the problem.
T—Tinker, Test (function, logic, and story), Repeat
Problem-solving is rarely a linear process. This stage emphasizes the iterative nature of finding solutions. It encourages the audience to continuously tinker with their ideas, testing them for functionality, logic, and coherence. Each iteration should be seen as a step closer to the ideal solution, with every test providing valuable feedback that informs the next cycle of refinement.
E—Evaluate Without Ego and Emotion
The final stage of the CREATE tool calls for objectivity. It's easy to become emotionally attached to an idea, especially after investing time and effort into it. However, effective problem-solving requires one to separate themselves from their ideas during the evaluation phase. This allows for a fair assessment based on merit rather than personal attachment. By evaluating without ego or emotion, the best ideas rise to the top, ensuring the most effective solution is ultimately chosen.
Real-Life Examples and Success Stories
Walmart partners with its vendors not only to deliver industry-leading, cost-saving, and environmentally-friendly products, but it also will push vendors to develop entirely new products. These products often combine the function of two products so they can maximize their shelf space while increasing sales. The company I had founded, Perfect Fitness, had grown a strategic vendor relationship with Walmart. We had responsibility for eight feet of shelf space, and often partnered with our Walmart buyer to create new products just for Walmart.
The Walmart buyer responsible for the fitness division was facing challenges with a particular product line—the smartphone armband. With the rise in popularity of smartphones, a diverse range of shapes and sizes emerged, resulting in a vast collection of products tailored to accommodate these variations. The buyer aimed to streamline their assortment of armband products, consolidating the existing ten variations in shapes and sizes into a single option. None of the other vendors had succeeded in fulfilling his request, so he presented our team with a challenge to showcase our capabilities and creativity.
Ian MacColl, our team's design leader, leveraged his expertise in design thinking to spearhead the development of a highly successful smartphone armband product for Walmart. Ian is an exceptional industrial designer and professor who played a pivotal role in helping me create another simple tool during the project. I rely on this tool during my keynotes to guide audiences through the creative process and inspire them to innovate new solutions. CREATE was conceived as a response to the multitude of challenges presented by Walmart. It emerged out of necessity, driven by our determination to overcome these obstacles with innovative solutions. Here’s the finished product that we created by following the 5-step CREATE process (warning: you’ll need an industrial designer for hard goods!—a.k.a. consumer manufactured goods).
Our team found a simple solution that seamlessly accommodates the diverse range of shapes and sizes of smartphones. The product featured below quickly rose to become a bestseller at Walmart, opening numerous exciting creative avenues for us to explore. The CREATE process has been instrumental in generating all our products, which have garnered over 40 patents worldwide.
I use this as one of many examples (e.g., Perfect Pushup, Perfect Ab Carver, and Perfect Ab Roller) to highlight the effectiveness of the tool CREATE in my keynotes. While not all the keynotes I am hired to deliver revolve around innovation, each tool I create adheres to a proven approach that either I or my clients have used successfully. Delivering an impactful keynote relies on the power of simplicity. My primary objective is to help audiences retain and apply the knowledge shared. After all, if they can't remember it, they won't use it.
In my Leadership Keynotes, for example, I use the CARE, ICAN, CLEAR, LISTEN, INSPIRE tools, and more to deliver impactful presentations. These tools help me engage my audience and inspire positive change. For instance, in a CARE-ing team environment, I emphasize the importance of mastering change management. As a keynote speaker, I play a transformative role in leadership development by providing insights and strategies. Conflict resolution and effective communication skills are sharpened through LISTENing, and my goal is to inspire action and change in every presentation.
Interactive Exercise: Applying the CREATE Tool
Imagine you are part of a cross-functional team in your organization tasked with solving a complex problem or think of a challenge your team is currently facing. Use the CREATE tool to guide your team through the creative problem-solving process. Follow the steps outlined below:
C—Construct and Clarify Objectives and Constraints:
- Clearly define the problem your team is facing.
- Identify the key objectives you aim to achieve and any constraints or limitations.
R—Reference Other Industries and Environments:
- Explore and discuss examples from industries unrelated to your own.
- Identify insights or ideas that can be applied to your current problem.
- Brainstorm without judgment. List as many unconventional ideas as possible.
- Encourage team members to contribute even the most "out there" concepts.
A—Allow Time for Observation:
- Take a step back. Consider different perspectives or angles of approach.
- Seek feedback from colleagues outside the immediate team.
T—Tinker, Test (function, logic, and story), Repeat:
- Select one or two of the most promising ideas generated.
- Develop a prototype or plan to test these ideas.
- Iterate based on the feedback received, refining your solutions.
E—Evaluate Without Ego and Emotion:
- Objectively assess the effectiveness of each solution.
- Set aside personal attachments to ideas during the evaluation.
- Choose the solution that best aligns with the objectives and constraints.
- Share your team's experience with applying the CREATE tool.
- Discuss any challenges faced and how they were overcome.
- Reflect on the impact of using a structured approach to problem-solving.
Feel free to adapt this exercise to suit the specific needs of your team or organization. Share your experiences or insights with your colleagues to foster a collaborative learning environment. By sharing your experiences and learning from others, we can collectively enrich our problem-solving skills and foster a collaborative learning environment. Your unique perspective could inspire someone else's breakthrough. Embrace the journey, and let's build a community of innovative thinkers!