Creative Problem Solving is a Superpower

There seem to be many problems in the world at the moment. Which often feel overwhelming and even insurmountable. How can we save the environment? What will happen if our economy fails? How do we survive a pandemic? How do I keep my business afloat in these troubling times? How can I afford to live if I lose my job? How can I be happy with less? How can I live with uncertainty? How can I have a lifestyle of a high quality that heals rather than harms our global eco-system?

Problem solving cat [Photo by Tomas Tuma on Unsplash]

The good news is, that you are a natural born problem solving machine. After 7 million years of evolution, you and your siblings are the pinnacle of 350,000 generations in your family line. [Using an average yield time of 20 years per generation]. As a result, your physiology, genetics, mental capacity and general fitness for survival is superior to all those ancestors before you.

Given your superior ability and the tools at your disposal; your prospects of succeeding are ever-improving. The greatest of these tools is your creative mind—and its fine capacity to innovate—to come up with something new that will free you from harmful traditions and speed you towards safety.

In this module you will learn how to put your mind into top gear; using the creative problem solving process. This is a superpower that will help you to invent a high-quality, sustainable lifestyle.

The Scientific Method of Inquiry

“Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by fighting back.”

Piet Hein

Humans have an excellent way to solve problems and learn from their experience and mistakes—they run experiments.

Experiments help us to test what will work best, going forward. 

You see little children, even babies doing this instinctively. For example, a baby will adjust the noise it makes to get it’s parents to pay attention and do things for it. If a high pitched yell doesn’t work, then choking-type sounds will certainly have them galloping into the bedroom in the middle of the night. Clever babies register such results and reuse effective sounds until they stop producing the desired results. Since this is all they have to control the world—the sounds they make—babies are really inventive in the audio realm. If you went into a maternity ward or a creche and observed: you would hear the most amazing range of audio experiments being conducted—inciting squads of adults to action.

Over time this experimental approach to problem solving for humans has crystallized into what we now call “the scientific method of inquiry”. Simply speaking this involves five simple steps:

  • Question: Ask “I wonder what would happen if…?” 
  • Hypothesize: Formulate a theory about what is going to happen. 
  • Experiment: Do it. Make it happen. Test your theory.
  • Analyze: What happened? Did it match your theory?
  • Conclude: What do you conclude and what should happen next?

This approach is a time-honoured method that shows up in all fields of human endeavour. Science, engineering, academia, design, medicine—you name it. It has taught us everything we know.

It is very scientific, but also very practical. Anyone can be systematic and follow the above procedure. Especially when the stakes are high.

It is widely used. You can watch hours of fascinating experiments using this method on the Mythbusters TV series. In her book “Crash Test Girl” Kari Byron, from the Mythbuster series shows how to “crash test your way through life, no lab coat required.” She thinks the scientific, experimental approach is the perfect way to solve everyday issues. [See our article about The Science of Art.]

Creative Problem Solving

But where is the creativity in all of this? Well we are not machines or computers so we have lots of scope to use our imagination. [Trying a choking noise to control your parents, as a baby, when you are not actually choking is pretty imaginative, don’t you think?]

The scientific method is augmented by creative thinking approaches.

This is what designers and other creatives do when they problem solve. This type of creative problem solving is also known as designing.

How Do You Get Really Good Ideas?

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

Albert Einstein

The value and effectiveness of the creative problem solving process depends upon the quality of the ideas being explored. Predictably, crappy ideas for experiments will result in crappy outcomes—and a waste of time. We need to solve big problems, so we need big brilliant ideas.

In the end, we want to design solutions that will work not only for individuals and the economy; but also for communities, society, the future and the planet. In other words: solutions that are truly sustainable.

The Design Process

People in creative professions adopt the design process to make sure they are truly innovative (different, new and better than anything beforehand). The design process involves:

  • The design brief: Creating a clear statement of the problem and the design goals and requirements helps to set you on the path to success. This becomes an essential baseline and navigation tool as you go exploring ideas and running your experiment.
  • Ideation: Running sessions (alone or in groups) to rapidly and exhaustively generate and brainstorm many ideas. Rather than settling on the first idea that comes to mind—this approach loosens up the imagination and gets the creative juices flowing.
  • Concept selection: Strategically selecting the pick of the litter. Among your brainstorm ideas will be some real gems worth pursuing. These often stand out immediately; or you can search for themes, patterns and qualities that match the requirements of the brief. Designers tend to limit the selection to three options to avoid confusion.
  • Concept development: Experiment and test. This usually involves making mock-ups, models and a functional prototype of the selected concepts and running experiments on them to see if and how they work. Through a process of analysis, elimination and perfection you will arrive at the final design. This is an iterative process because you can continually return to the brainstorm, if your ideas fail to make the grade. Concept development is the engine room of experimentation. Each idea passes through iterations of development till one emerges as the superior option. (Similar to the way you have evolved.) The tests to which you subject your ideas determine how robust the ideas are and how fit they will be for purpose. [Being creative and imaginative about the tests is just as important as coming up with the ideas in the first place. Creative testing expedites development.] Presenting to clients, users and critics to seek their feedback is a critical test in the development of a concept.
  • Implementation plan: Specifications and a plan will be required for building the final design. Describing the form of the finished product. How your idea will manifest in the world. What is visible, apparent and readily perceived by others. For example, if you are designing a new way to manage your finances:- the finished product may be a set of budget goals and rules, an expense recording app, and a tailored savings and investment portfolio, etc.).

Designing is creative experimentation in the real world. It is so commercially effective that the entire economy is invested in it. Every effective product, service or system on the market has been designed—using the above process.

Now it is time for you to invest in becoming a designer by adopting the design process to change your life for the better.

Life is an Ever-Improving Experiment

“All life is problem solving.”

Karl Popper

Looking at the historical improvements in the life expectancy of humans (shown in the chart below) we can see clear evidence that our experiments are paying off. And each of these experiments was started by an individual and eventually taken up by the whole human race. That’s a superpower right there!

For example—looking at the lines below—in the 1870’s we (the human race) found ways to improve health care for mothers and babies—which significantly reduced infant mortality. In the 1930’s we discovered antibiotics. In the 1950’s we introduced vaccinations. Each of these interventions began as an experiment in a lab by a scientist and was then adopted by the rest of society.

Life expectancy [Source ourworldindata.org]

Very encouraging! But now we must solve the problems that naturally arise when you keep more people alive for longer. 

As the population grows, the dynamic between individuals intensifies. Which means that every lifestyle choice we make as individuals has an increasingly significant impact in the wider world.

Take for example the recent rush on toilet paper in Australia, in the early days of the coronavirus crisis:—

In the beginning, each person decided to get a few extra packets of loo roll to tide them through a period of isolation at home. A simple, individual decision.

As a consequence, within a day every supermarket ran out of stock on their shelves. So everyone—seeing empty shelves—got scared and decided to stockpile a few extra rolls the next time they were available. Another simple individual decision. But then every supermarket ran out of stock in their storerooms. 

Some customers started to complain and fight for the limited supply. Which led the supermarkets to introduce security measures and put pressure on their distribution centres; who then put pressure on manufacturers; who put pressure on paper mills; all the way down the line through to the timber industry. 

All of a sudden (and this only took 21 days) a noticeable impact was felt on the environment because the timber industry increased the logging of trees to fuel economic demand. These forests and this supply of trees was already under stress due to recent destruction by bush fire.

This type of chain reaction has cumulative, exponential power. So that the pressure felt by the logging companies was far greater than the pressure exerted by the consumer. (Except when they started throwing punches).

Here we see how the seemingly minor lifestyle choices of individuals lead to significant impact on the wider world and environment.

If exponential growth is not interrupted or moderated it will quickly get out of control. Watch the following simulation of exponential growth which shows the dynamic between individuals. 

VIDEO OF THE CORONA CHANGE OVER TIME SIMULATION By Stevens, Harry. (2020) Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”. Washington post. [View simulation.]

A Moderated Lifestyle

“Pay attention to the inner voice that tells you when something feels right. Much of your creative problem-solving occurs at an unconscious level.”

Nita Leland

We need creative ways to interrupt, moderate and counteract the behaviours that cause the big issues. To be effective, these new ways will have to work at the individual level.

At creatementality we help you to bring your lifestyle into equilibrium. We argue that if you can do that, you will be far less susceptible to the pressures of the world around you, which will allow you to contribute in positive rather than negative ways when faced with problems.

We focus on building a moderated lifestyle that places reasonable limits on how you use your energy, resources and time. And we encourage you to establish daily practices that will free you from the frantic/panic mainstream world that hordes and fights over toilet paper. 

Scientist are predicting a pretty challenging time for the human race over the next 100 years.

“We are at an extraordinary crossroads in human history and our actions, or failure to act, will determine the fate of the earth and human civilization for centuries to come.”

James Martin, the Meaning of the Twenty First Century

In his book, The Meaning of the 21st Century, Jame Martin as you to “think of the 21st century as a deep river canyon with a narrow bottleneck at its centre. Think of humanity as river rafters heading downstream. As we head into the canyon, we’ll have to cope wit the rate of change that becomes much more intense—a white-water raft trip with the currents becoming much faster and rougher… At the narrow part of the canyon, the world’s population will be at its highest and worlds resources under their greatest stress. In these coming decades, as we are swept towards the canyon bottle neck we must unlock extraordinary new technology… and find ways to get the whole of humanity through with as little mayhem as possible into what we hope will be smother waters beyond… Solutions exist, or can exist, to most of the serious problems of the 21st century… The bad news is that the most powerful people today have little understanding of the solutions and little incentive to apply them.

Which leaves the ball in your court. In our court as individuals.

If you are free from frantic consumption, aggressive competition and the fear of missing out (FOMO); you will be able to hear that inner voice that tells you when you are on the right track. Instead of getting caught up in a dodo-like race over the edge of the cliff, you will be concerned with the well being of others and be able to design constructive solutions.

Ultimately, we aspire to sustainable practices and finding ways to make a quality lifestyle ecologically neutral, so that everyone in the world can also have it.

Exercise to Test the Theory

“At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

—Mark Watney, the Martian

Let’s get you to run an experiment and use the creative problem solving approach. If it works this time, you can use it again and again, until you solve enough problems and we all get safely through the canyon.

Pick a problem that you would really like to fix in your life right now. Download The Creative Problem Solver worksheet and fill in the blanks. 

Thinking through problems in this systematic way is always helpful. Whether you completely solve any given problem—you will be better off in the end for having given the issue some creative attention.

If the experiment does not entirely solve the problem the first time —be like a designer and simply run a new experiment. Till you do solve the problem. And then the next problem. And the next. In this way you take your superpower and turn it into a lifestyle.

In this way you will be part of the bigger solution, no longer part of the problem: because you will be thinking creatively instead of just consuming and living mindlessly.

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