In this article, I’ll help you think outside the box and I’ll explain 9 creative techniques for problem-solving.
To overcome any challenge of intermediate or advanced difficulty and to think outside of the box, you’ll want to have an adequate number of creative techniques for problem-solving at your disposal. Some of the following problem-solving techniques are well known, while others were derived from the Six Sigma methodology, advanced brainstorming techniques, and situational analysis frameworks.
1. Brainstorm Multiple Approaches to Reaching a Goal
This involves brainstorming as many alternative approaches to reaching a goal as possible and putting those approaches into a list.
Similar to chess, it’s better to have five options to choose from at each move than to think five moves ahead. And when it comes to war strategy, the army with more viable options to choose from tend to have a competitive advantage.
Pick a goal and force your brain to think of 10 – 20 approaches you could use to achieve that goal.
To brainstorm even more approaches, it’s also a good idea to consider unique situations where some approaches might work better than other approaches.
Here are a few benefits of varying your approaches:
- You’ll obtain more information about how to reach the goal
- You’ll have more viable approaches to choose from
- You’ll be more likely to end up with an approach that is optimally effective
- You can combine approaches to create multi-faceted strategies
2. Create Associations with Outside Concepts
This involves associating your situation with as many other concepts as possible.
In order to do this, focus more on the relationships between concepts than on the concepts themselves.
This is important because ideas typically emerge when you find relationships between existing concepts.
Holding two concepts together that are typically unrelated allows your mind to move to a new level and think of ideas that your never thought of before.
This allows you to look at your situation from more perspectives. The more perspectives you use to view and analyze your sitaution, the better ideas and solutions you’ll get.
3. 10x Your Goals to Think of New Solutions
This approach often results in revamping concepts from the ground up and avoiding practices traditionally associated with those concepts.
This approach involves conceptualizing a concept such as a product, service, function, or goal that is ten times more effective or faster than what is typical for that concept. For example, if you set a 10x goal for yourself, you’ll need to completely revamp how you approach that goal at a fundamental level. That thinking exercise would result in you getting fundamentally different approaches that you never thought of before.
4. Solve Similar Versions of a Problem
Sometimes the best way to solve a difficult problem is first solve problems that have some similarities to the original problem but are easier to address. Solving alternative problems will give you new skills, knowledge, and experience that will make it easier to solve the original problem. The more alternative problems you solve, the more capable you’ll become at solving the original problem.
5. Generalize a Problem
Generalization is the construction of problems sharing similar characteristics and functions. Generalized problems encompass a wider class of problems that include your specific problem. For example, many types of movies exist, but they are all assembled under a single construction: movies. Generalization also makes it easier to generate new ideas because you’re not constraining yourself to problem that is too specific.
6. Retrograde Analysis - Work Backwards From Your Goal
With this approach, you determine the goal you’re trying to achieve and you work backwards in the steps leading from the goal to your present situation. Another way to look at this is to think of the causes and conditions that must be true in order for your goal to take place.
7. Evaluate Alternatives To The Original Goal
If the original goal is too cumbersome to achieve, there might be an alternative goal that can give you equivalent or sufficient benefits. In some circumstances, fulfilling an alternative goal first might actually be the fastest route to solving the original goal. That’s because achieving that alternative goal would give you skills and experience that you wouldn’t have otherwise that may make it easier to achieve the original goal.
8. Reverse Assumptions
The Reversal Assumption technique encourages you to alter an aspect of the problem or your assumptions about it. By reversing your assumptions and creating mirror image perspectives of them, you can generate new ways of approaching challenges and issues. This technique is one of the fastest ways to provoke unconventional thinking patterns and get counter-intuitive ideas.
9. Phoenix Checklist
The Phoenix Checklist provides context-free questions that enable you to look at a problem from many different angles. Sometimes, problems aren’t as easy to understand as they may seem at face value—especially problems that are inherently multi-faceted. These questions will help you clear ambiguities and pinpoint the unknown unknowns associated with a problem.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) developed this framework.
The Phoenix Checklist is comprised of two components:
- A list of questions used to define problems
- A list of questions to define the plan to solve the problems.
I currently have these questions on my website and I provided a URL to these questions in the video description below.
📚 “How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method” - G. Polya
📚 “The Thinker's Toolkit: 14 Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving” - Morgan D. Jones
📚 “Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2nd Edition)” - Michael Michalko
📚 "The Innovator's Toolkit: 50+ Techniques for Predictable and Sustainable Organic Growth" - David Silverstein, Philip Samuel, and Neil DeCarlo:
📚 “How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking” - Jordan Ellenberg
📚 “Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions” - John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, & Howard Raiffa
📚 “And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared: TRIZ, the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving” - Genrich Altshuller
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