A Case for Creative Problem Solving

As I write this, we are nearing the summer solstice 2020 in the northern hemisphere.  This is the day each year when the earth’s tilt toward the sun is at a maximum. On this day, we experience our longest day of the year and the sun appears at its highest elevation with a noontime position that changes very little for several days before and after. Interestingly, the word solstice comes from Latin solstitium or sol (the sun) and -stit-, -stes (standing).  The summer solstice also marks the beginning of summer season.

There are a number of historical traditions associated with both the summer and winter solstice – many dating back to pre-Christianity.  For example, our good friends in Finland, hold celebrations to take advantage of the “midnight sun.”  In some northern cultures, it is common to build a fire to keep away the evil spirits.  In others there are dances and celebrations of fertility.  Either way for most of us, this time of year marks the beginning of the  summer months which are a time where we enjoy the benefit of longer and often more relaxed days. 

Summer solstice 2020 somehow feels a bit different.  We have reached the halfway mark of a very challenging year with six months marked by stories of pain, suffering, anxiety, loss and division.  Certainly, there have been positive outcomes as well. But a lot of people are hurting. And a lot of people are unsure how to move forward.

A few years ago, I became very interested in better understanding resilience and how to help the students and entrepreneurs that I teach and coach build their resiliency muscle.  In recent weeks and months, I have written about the value of staying centered and maintaining a beginner’s mind as well as other topics that I hope are helpful to entrepreneurs and my students during this challenging time.  I have also asked most of the guests on the Enfactor podcast about their own failures, challenges and obstacles and how they remained optimist and productive during those times.  The stories are varied and each one provides inspiration and value to the listener and can help each of us build our own personal method for coping and remaining resilient. Recently I talked with Jeff Civillico who had to deal with an unexpected betrayal by a business partner and Saville Kellner who continues to innovate and lead his companies as he is coping with a life threatening disease. 

Sumita Batra is another amazing story of a strong female entrepreneur. I had the opportunity to talk with her about her story and as I listened to how she is navigating the challenges of having a very “hands on” business (threading and other Indian beauty treatments) with multiple locations that hasn’t been able to open to customers since early March, I am reminded of the power of creative problem solving as one of the most important tools to help build resilience. To be resilient (from the Latin resilient – ‘leaping back’) means to be able to bounce back quickly and to return to some sense of equilibrium after disruption.  In many cases, we come back  even stronger.  This kind of bouncing back usually requires a new mental framework or a different way of looking at the situation.  Sumita’s story embodies this definition.  If you listen to her story on the podcast, I think you would agree that she is a strong and savvy business woman but that she is also open to listening and learning.  It is this kind of openness, or what I often refer to as intellectual honesty , that provides the foundation for renewal and creative solutions. 

Interestingly, we often think that creativity begins with the mental realization of an idea.  But there is a process that takes place prior to that aha moment that many of us don’t understand.  We can actually improve our creativity if we understand how it works.  One of the best books on the process of creativity is one that was written by an American advertising executive, James Webb Young.  His book, A Technique for Producing Ideas, outlines a 5 step process that I use in my classes on the topic of innovation and creative problem solving.  The book begins with an introduction from the author about his motivation for writing the book.  After considering the question of where ideas come from, he determined that they are the outcome of a process but that we are often not consciously aware of the process.  According to the author,

“This has brought me to the conclusion that the production of ideas is as definite a process as the production of Fords; that the production of ideas, too, runs on an assembly line; that in this production the mind follows an operative technique which can be learned and controlled; and that its effective use is just as much a matter of practice in the technique as is the effective use of any tool.”

Webb Young had determined that there is a technique and that anyone can practice it.  But, he added a caveat which I highlight here as I do with my students.

“If you ask me why I am willing to give away the valuable formula of this discovery I will confide to you that experience has taught me two things about it:

First, the formula is so simple to state that few who hear it really believe in it. Second, while simple to state, it actually requires the hardest kind of intellectual work to follow, so that not all who accept it use it. Thus, I broadcast this formula with no real fear of glutting the market in which I make my living. “

Perhaps this has piqued your interest and you are ready to enhance your own creativity or at least learn more about problem solving from this perspective.  You can, of course, read Webb Young’s book and learn the “secrets” for yourself.  However, over the next few weeks, in this companion blog to the Enfactor podcast, I will be discussing the steps in this process and sharing some techniques and tips I use with my students as they learn to apply this deceptively simple, yet intellectually challenging process.  My hope is that as we move into the second half of 2020, our collective resilience will help us make progress toward a more positive second half of the year.

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