A Secret to Creative Problem-Solving

A Secret to Creative Problem-Solving


Find an innovative solution with one simple technique: re-describe the problem. The whole idea behind creative problem-solving is the assumption that you know something that will help solve this problem, but you’re not thinking of it right now. Put another way, your memory hasn’t found the right cue to retrieve the information you need.

Changing the description tells your mind that you’re in a different situation, which unlocks a new set of memories.

Ask yourself two questions:

1. What type of problem is this?
Most of the time, we get stuck on a problem because our focus is too narrow. When you think specifically, you limit your memory and stifle creativity.
Instead, think more abstractly. Find the essence of the problem. Take vacuum cleaner filters, for example. Vacuums used to have bags that were constantly getting clogged, so innovators focused on how to make a better filter.

2. Who else has faced this type of problem?
When you think about your problem abstractly, you realise that other people have solved the same type of problem in radically different ways. One of their solutions may hold the key to yours. When you begin to realise that the problem you’re trying to solve has been solved over and over again by people in other areas, you can look at the solutions they came up with to help you solve your own. You may not use one of their solutions exactly, but you free your memory to retrieve more information, making that elusive ‘aha’ moment easier to reach.

By re-describing the problem, you’re much more likely to find inspiration for a truly creative innovation.

Nadia Goodman
Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.