In its purest sense, creativity is problem solving. You have a problem, you create ideas to solve the problem. But more often than not, when I ask a team prior to a brainstorm what problem they’re trying to solve, they say there isn’t a problem, or they aren't sure if there's a problem, or they don’t agree on the problem.
<sigh> That's a problem.
Part of the problem is the word “problem.” The word suggests negativity, distractions and wasted resources.
People think problems are severe. A problem is destructive, catastrophic. Things will go from bad to horrible. Unfortunately a common reaction is to ignore the problem, hoping that it'll go away. Too bad they don't remember that creativity – or more specifically, ideas – make problems go away.
In reality, a problem is simply “a less than ideal state.” It’s the gap between today (the current) and the ideal (the desired state). The problem prevents you from achieving your goal. It’s a situation needing resolution.
Societal – The problem is broadly understood or believed by a vast number of people, such as trying to convince a nation to support a law or regulation.
Cultural – The problem is only shared by a defined group of people, such as a demographic group or an internal team.
Experiential – The problem reflects one’s collective history and experiences with a company, its brand or product. My ongoing frustrations with Microsoft for example make me a fan of Apple products.
Situational – The problem is specific to a single situation or event, such as the launch (or re-launch) of a product, or the negotiations between business and unions during a strike.
Perceptual – The problem is perceived. There is little tangible evidence, and sometimes based more on emotion than fact. “Perceptions are real,” said one of my career mentors, “but not necessarily true.”
To enable the most effective brainstorming, two things needs to happen:
- You need to articulate the problem both precisely and concisely, in context between the current situation and the ideal state (which is also your goal).
- To understand the problem, your research needs to uncover an insight.
When you have these things, you have another powerful recipe for creativity:
Goal + Problem + Insight = Ideas.
Tomorrow: one of my favorite brainstorm exercises in problem solving: Stop It, Mop It.