4 downsides of creative problem solving

Over the past two weeks, I engaged in creative problem solving to tackle a particular problem. My quest to use creative thinking to develop a couple of strong ideas for a project worked well. I was able to synthesise two solutions that I decided to take forward in my work. What I learned was that it is possible to engage in a creative thinking process by yourself, and it is possible to do so even if you don’t consider yourself inherently creative. I began to appreciate the value that creative thinking brought to my problem solving toolset, and how it enabled me to look at many problems from a completely new perspective.

However, especially compared to analytical thinking, there are several well maybe not disadvantages, but aspects that you need to be aware of when it comes to creative thinking. The first one that I noticed very early was time. Creative thinking is not something that can be done quickly. In fact, when you’re letting ideas rest in the incubation stage, you actually need to let quite a bit of time pass before you can move on to synthesising your ideas. There are many business problems and even more situations in which you simply don’t have enough time to go through every step properly – you need solutions now. If you’re dealing with a problem like this, try to think of ways in which you could still think creatively but save on time. For example, get a team who can do some tasks at the same time. Or modify the creative thinking process to focus on idea generation, and then move on to synthesising with the use of more analytical tools.

The other slight disadvantage I noticed was the problem of focus. I’m a single-tasker, so having various ideas at the back of my mind was draining and sometimes confusing. I struggled to keep track of threads, new developments and further ideas all relating to different potential solutions. I tried keeping all my work visible on flipcharts, but then during incubation, when I was supposed to do everything but think about solutions to the problem I decided to focus on, I would have flashes of genius that would quickly get muddled up in all the other ideas. At times it felt that creative thinking is better for people who can keep a few ideas in their mind at once. One way to solve this issue that worked for me was to narrow down the number of ideas to ponder on before getting into the incubation stage. Then I had only around 5 ideas to keep in my mind, much better than the hundreds that I generated at earlier stages.

Plausibility of ideas was another important factor. By default, we’re not supposed to evaluate the ideas we come up with in the early stages of the process, so I ended up with a long list of ideas that I would just strike off immediately. If you’re trying to solve a problem on a tighter schedule, this may cost you time that could be better spent otherwise. So a solution that I’d recommend here is to introduce constraints in the very beginning. When you state your problem in Stage 1, add the necessary constraints: budget, timeline, resources… anything that you’ll have to apply to your ideas later anyway.            

Something that I observed that I found the most surprising when experimenting with creative thinking was its impact on my attention. Since I tried to engage with the creative process every day, I felt that it made me less focused on everything else I had to work on during the day, even outside of my designated thinking slots. It felt as if when you get into the creative gear, your thoughts just run away with ideas and your brain is more scattered than usual. There were days when I was supposed to work on my research papers and write a specific section, and instead I found myself running up to the flipchart and scribbling some thoughts on how to better solve my problem. Of course, these were good ideas and all part of what creative thinking is about – but it’s not always great to be interrupted like this. I still haven’t figured out any solutions to this last issue. Let me know if you have any ideas!

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Marta Stelmaszak Rosa
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I'm a researcher, academic and writer dedicated to becoming a better thinker. Every day, I practise thinkfulness: consciously adopting a structured approach to thinking in order to understand and change the world. The world needs all of us to become better thinkers, so let's start a thinkfulness revolution together!

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