“The brain is wider than the sky…” said the poet, Emily Dickinson, long before scientists discovered that our nervous system is capable of processing innumerable stimuli at any given time, of making trillions of synaptic connections, and sending messages at the speed of 120m/s.
She spoke of the brain so boldly because the human brain is able to imagine anything and everything and always expand beyond the limits of the physical world.
Imagination, which fuels creativity, can be a catalyst of incredible change. Indeed, it is by imagining a world that is different to what it is now that eminent personalities throughout history, from Newton to Nelson Mandela to Steve Jobs, have managed to ever make a difference.
We often think that creativity is a skill reserved solely for the strategic and marketing divisions of an organization, but is it really? Almost every possible task that is being done within an organization will require a lot of the skills that go hand in hand with creative and innovative tasks.
A quintessential element of any task is is problem solving. The photocopy machine is broken, what do you do? You have been put into the organizing committee for the office Christmas party and there is only three days left, what do you do? A customer walks in angry and starts shouting at you while you have yet another customer sitting at your table listening to this conversation. What do you do? Your department has been given an increased profit target for the upcoming quarter, your industry is competitive and your customers have too many options to choose from, what do you do?
The answers to all those questions will depend on how your employees will approach and attempt problem solving tasks.
It is not enough for for organizations to simply just let their employees know that the organization welcomes innovative and creative thinkers. It is now important for organizations to develop the creative and critical thinking skills of their employees. You might think it is easier to screen and pick out people who have natural tendencies of problem solving skills during the interview process but with the lacks in the pool of candidates to chose from and existing difficulties of employee retention, developping critical thinking and creative skills in your employees could be a solution to both the issues of retention and increasing employee efficiency.
What are the ways in which we solve problems in daily life?
One of the problem solving strategies is called the ‘Hill Climbing Strategy’. To understand this strategy simply imagine that you are hiking up the mountain. On your way there might be many trails and paths that branch off and at each such juncture you might take whatever the path that seems to take you uphill in the direction of the top of the mountain. While being a strategy that is simple and easy to employ, it also require a lot of time and effort for us to explore all possible option of getting to our goal and sometimes when faced with problems that require you to move away from you goal in order to reach it, this strategy might lead to failure.
Another commonly used problem solving heuristic is the ‘Means-End Analysis’. When employing this technique we often compare the current situation and our goal and work out what we need to do to get to that goal from where we are in terms of subgoals. For example, writing a report at work could be broken down into many small subgoals of gathering and verifying data, drafting, proofreading, finalising and so on, and the completion of each subgoal will move you towards the goal more and more. This is a highly effective method of problem solving as, by breaking down the problem into smaller pieces the initial problem becomes easier to solve and less daunting a task.
One of the most effective strategies is ‘Working Backwards’ from the goal. That is, you identify what the goal is and use that as a starting point to identifying the things that need to be done to get there.
What can organizations do to foster an environment of creative problem solving?
Take every opportunity possible in the day-to-day work environment to inform and train your employees on the different ways of problem solving. Give them opportunity to experience, not only freedom to problem solve in creative ways, but also support from their superiors as they do so. Allow your team to take time away from the problem, the much spoken about period of ‘incubation’ actually does have it merits!
An organization is but a brilliant hub for minds of hundreds of different individuals to come together for one single purpose. Allow human imagination and creativity to help your organization grow and transform beyond the limits of your office!