Strategies to Creatively 
Solve Problems
Generate New Ideas

by Marvin Bartel, 2001,2010 author bio

Be Passionate

Highly creative people are passionate about what they do. Being a generalist and superficially interested in too many things makes it hard to progress far enough into any field to make a creative contribution. When we pursue one or a few strong interests are more apt to reach the edges of the ordinary. The passionate are less prone to boredom than those who jump from one thing to another.


Brainstorming uses a group process encourage every possible idea. Far fetched ideas are allowed and no negative comments are allowed. A judgment must be deferred. Brainstorming seeks to generate many ideas & prioritize them later.

* Some studies now show that the same individuals can produce more and better ideas working separately than while working as a group.

** Other experiments that bring together leading thinkers in diverse fields for the express purpose of generating solutions and patents have been very successful. Nathan Myhrvold leads an innovation company called Intellectual Ventures. He has used brainstorming by diverse groups of leading scientists to generate many inventions and patents.

It may depend on the field in which you working. It is hard to imagine a passionate artist benefiting much from brainstorming, but brainstorming may work well for a group of teachers who work in different disciplines to share ideas on how to motivate students.

Make a List Individuals or groups can do this.
- While making a list, obvious items often remind us of similar or opposite items that are much less obvious.
- Sketching is a way to make visual lists.
- Checklists are used to avoid missing approaches, such as the yellow pages used to find a career or business idea.  
- Attribute lists are also called "part changing" lists, such as
when designing a soap dish one needs to consider the attributes of slick wet soap:
- soap's tendency to dissolve in water
- attributes and interests of the user  (make a list)
- attributes of the room in which it will be used (make a list)
- attributes of possible materials from which to make the dish
- attributes of of the possible processes by which to make the dish

One of the most creative soap dishes made by one of my students was in the shape of an elephant that held the soap in its mouth.  In making a list that considered the individual interests of the user, the student listed the interests of her mother (the user) who was elephant collector.  She then had to "invent" a functioning solution to make an elephant into a functioning soap dish.  This was the opposite of a "form follows function - less is more" solution.

Synectics Group
process using diverse experts who search for unique ways to solve problems

In classroom grouping one would seek to design the makeup of the each team with the maximum diversity. If teams are periodically stopped and asked to share one of their best of most unusual ideas with the entire class, they can be given points if no other team has a similar idea. This uses both collaboration and competition help inspire individuals to contribute to their team efforts.

meaning and methods
of Synectics

Accidents and Mistakes
This produces creative results if it results in discovery, reflection, experimentation, change and practice based on the mistake experiences.

***Malcolm Gladwell relates a very telling story of two types of surgeons.  The one type, when asked if they ever make mistakes, readily says that mistakes happen all the time.  They see things that go wrong and they take time to reflect, experiment, practice, and so on until they find a way to make improvements.  The second type, when asked if they make mistakes might admit to having some bad outcomes, but not to making mistakes.  The second group tends to be the ones that end up with malpractice problems.

Mistakes and accidents have been very productive for minds that are well prepared, but remain open to discovery. ****Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver, while working at 3M, invented Post-It notes using an adhesive that had been an apparent failure.  If we do an Internet search of serendipity, we find that many innovations in science have been the result of accidents and mistakes by those who had the knowledge and openness to see the possibilities of a discovery.

In the arts it is common to work with expressive abandon during the development of an idea. Many writers allow a free flow of thoughts, knowing that they can refine the ideas later while editing. Aspiring artists and writers need to refrain from erasing mistakes too soon. Don't nix it, until after you fix it.

Work - WAIT - Expect

Our brains know a lot more than we can think of in any particular work session. Our brain takes on assignments and works behind the scenes. Creative people often tell about getting ideas, answers, or insights when they least expected them. Generally, these answers and ideas come to us after we have been trying, but failing to find a solution. While doing something totally different, in the middle of the night, or some at other unexpected time a totally new idea emerges.

*****Randy Buckner of Harvard describes his work with animals and people that show the hippocampus system in the brain automatically becoming active during sleep and in periods of doing nothing. During these times of apparent inactivity the brain is reviewing future scenarios and making predictions.

---------------------------------- references --------------------

*Bronson, Po. and Merryman, Ashley. "Forget Brainstorming." Newsweek, July 19, 2010, page 50.

**Gladwell, Malchom. "In the Air, Annals of innovation." The New Yorker, May 12, 2008.

***Malcolm Gladwell  "The Physical Genius - What do Wayne Gretzky, Yo-Yo Ma, and a brain surgeon have in common?"  The New Yorker, August 2, 1999

****"Fascinating facts about the invention of Post-It Notes by Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver in 1974" The Great Idea Finder (retrieved 8-15-2010)

*****Buckner, Randy L. "The role of the hippocampus in prediction and imagination." Annual Review of Psychology, 2010L61:27-48 (an abstract is published by U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Health. (retrieved 2-2-2010)

All rights reserved.  This page is by © Marvin Bartel, 2001, and updated August 15, 2010.  You may link to this page, but you may not post it on your site or publish it. author bio
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