Problem solvers often begin by looking for new, innovative solutions, even though many solutions consist of innovative combinations of less-innovative pieces. But innovation can be as much or more in the way pieces are combined, rather than in the pieces themselves. Because this happens with such regularity, setting out to find solutions of this form can make problem-solvers more productive.
Many problem solutions are like found art, which is art created from objects that are not normally considered art. They might be everyday objects, like tires or chair legs. They might even be discarded or broken. By combining them in new ways, possibly with objects or materials that normally are considered art, the artist creates something that clearly is art.
Similarly, problem solutions sometimes consist of familiar elements of other solutions, possibly combined with truly new elements. Often, we come to these solutions only after failing to compose wholly new solutions. Here's a proposal: we might benefit by approaching problems from the beginning by searching for solutions that are hybrids of new and old.
Here are some suggestions for problem-solving using combinations of new and old solutions.
- Generate a catalog of old solutions
- Become a student of old solutions. Gather ideas that worked in the past to solve problems that are now solved. You can use this resource repeatedly for each new problem-solving effort. And the successful results of each new effort can become entries in this catalog.
- Maintain a didn't-work-for-this-problem list
- As you progress You can reuse past ideas
only if you know about
them. Become a student
of old solutions.toward a solution, you'll try ideas that turn out not to work. Add them to the didn't-work-for-this-problem list. Then ask, why didn't it work? If that condition is still in place, address it. Addressing that condition is a slightly different problem — one for which you (or someone else) might already have a solution.
- Search for themes in the didn't-work-for-this-problem list
- As you add items to the didn't-work-for-this-problem list, search the list for themes. Sometimes, when something doesn't work, the causes of failure can be hidden in subtle ways. But when you ask what a group of failed solutions have in common, sometimes that hidden cause becomes evident. In this way, failed solutions can lead to success.
- Be zany
- Because intentional zaniness can help you relax constraints that might be keeping you from seeing a solution, search for obviously zany ideas. But not just any zany ideas. Start with an item from your catalog of old solutions, or from your didn't-work-for-this-problem lists. Then "zanify" it. Zanify it again in another way. You might be surprised at what happens.
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- When All Your Options Are Bad
- When you have several options, and all seem politically risky, what can you do? Here are two guidelines
to finding your way to a good outcome.
- Poverty of Choice by Choice
- Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life
can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions,
and how can we tell when we're doing it?
- What, Why, and How
- When solving problems, groups frequently get stuck in circular debate. Positions harden even before
the issue is clear. Here's a framework for exploration that can sharpen thinking and focus the group.
- Unintended Consequences
- Sometimes, when we solve problems, the solutions create new problems that can be worse than the problems
we solve. Why does this happen? How can we limit this effect?
- Design Errors and Group Biases
- Design errors can cause unwanted outcomes, but they can also lead to welcome surprises. The causes of
many design errors are fundamental attributes of the way groups function. Here is Part II of our exploration.
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