Creative Thinking Hub

Thousands of ideas & resources to help you think more creatively. By Jim Connolly

Category: Problem Solving (page 1 of 3)

How to do the impossible!

You need to be really careful about the limitations you place on yourself. This brief article explains why.

I’d like to start by asking you a question: When was the last time you consciously thought about, what’s really possible for you?

One of the reasons children are so creative, is that they are open to all possibilities. We all start off that way. Then, as we grow up, we apply various filters to our thinking, as we determine what is and is not possible for us. The challenge, is that we often get it wrong. This causes us to wrongly remove possibilities from our decision making and creative thinking, which unnecessarily restricts us.

Understanding what is and is not possible for you

Imagine Bob tried to play the guitar when he was 12 and found it extremely hard, then quit. He then decides he can’t play the guitar and being a guitarist gets added to the list of things that are not possible for him. Now, Bob also discovered as a kid, that he couldn’t fly like superman, after he tried to take flight, Superman style, when jumping from a tree.

Bob’s flying like Superman experience was filtered as not possible, based on fact. His guitar experience was filtered as not possible, based on fiction. If Bob really wanted to play guitar, with the right tuition and a tuned guitar, he would get there and play to a lesser or greater degree. With enough practice, he could then become very good.

Just like Bob, we too make similar, incorrect decisions on what is and is not possible for us.

Rethinking my possibilities

In 2002, I decided to rethink what was and was not possible for me. I had a successful, traditional marketing business in London, England. My challenge was that I was passionate about working in marketing, but wanted to move with my wife, to live in the countryside, where there were few potential clients. My initial thought was this isn’t possible, I need to be where my clients are. As I didn’t want to waste hours each day travelling, it seemed I was destined to stay in London and put my dream of a home in the countryside on ice for 30 years, until I retired. UNLESS I found another way.

So, my challenge was to find an alternative way to deliver my services and run a viable business. I decided to embrace the technology available 10 years ago, and deliver my services remotely. It worked. Beautifully. Instead of working with people in my local area, I had clients worldwide and still do today. Within 12 months, I was living in my dream home, working fewer hours, running an extremely successful international marketing business and earning more than I used to when I was in London.

Still today, I know people who say they would love to relocate as I did, but that it’s just not possible.

Rethinking your possibilities

Take time out today to rethink your own possibilities.

In particular, examine the stories you have told yourself, which may have wrongly removed possibilities from your treasure chest of options.

Stuck? Try this useful problem solving tip!

Sometimes you get so close to a challenge, problem or project, that it smothers you… and your creativity.

Give yourself some distance

When you’re stuck or making too little progress on a creative project, put some distance between the project and yourself. Imagine the project is in a different place, miles away from where you’re working. Look at it again, this time from a distance.

This study confirms what many have known for years. That viewing a creative project from a distance alters our connection with it. This subtle change shifts our perspective. It gives us fresh eyes and a chance to see what we were previously blind to.

Try it!

How to find the answers you need, Einstein style!

One of the keys to problem solving, is to learn how to stick with the challenge for long enough to find the answer you need.

Einstein famously said: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

I think we can all agree that Einstein was one of the greatest minds in history, however, his decision to stick with a challenge and work on it for a long time is something we can all benefit from.

Creative thinking requires effort

Over on my marketing blog, one of the most common phrases I see in the comments section when I make a suggestion, is a variant of; ‘It’s not as easy as it sounds.” Most people seem to be programmed to seek the easy or lazy answer by default. Then, if the answer doesn’t come easy, they quit. This places a very low ceiling on their potential, as there’s only so far someone can go if they are not prepared to think deeply, when required.

If I have a challenge that’s proving a tricky nut to crack, I employ a few strategies before I decide it’s beyond me:

  • I take the problem for a walk. Ensuring I have a way to record any answers that come to me. This is the best thing I have ever found for developing creative ideas. Almost every challenge I have is resolved this way.
  • I clearly define the challenge at the top of a sheet of paper, then write as many answers as possible. I allow my mind to flow and write down everything that comes to me. I also make sure the question is written correctly.
  • I talk to someone with expertise in the area, where my challenge resides. For example, if it’s a design problem I’ll talk to a designer – even if their field of design is different.
  • I talk to someone whose opinion I respect, yet who has no expertise on that area. This outside perspective has proven to be a goldmine of creative answers, as their feedback directs me to look for answers in a new, often fertile direction.
  • I then give the challenge as long as required, before deciding the answer is beyond me.

Some challenges come with a hard deadline, so there is a set time frame within which the answer is needed. However, in most cases the deadline is more flexible than that.

In short: For us to stand the greatest chance of getting an above average answer, we should stick with it for longer than the average person.

Video: A quick look at the design genius of Dieter Rams

A short, informed introduction to the work of design legend, Dieter Rams.

It was recorded at a travelling exhibit, celebrating the work of Dieter Rams, during its stop at London’s Design Museum.

The Magnetic Organization System

Magnetic Organization System

Magnetic Organization System

Here’s a wonderfully designed answer to a common, frustrating problem.

If you find yourself regularly having to hunt around your desk for cables, this could be just what you need: The MOS (Magnetic Organization System).

As the name suggests, this magnetic device sticks to your desk or wall and allows you to stick your magnetic cable ends to it.

You can find out more at

The secret behind the world’s best problem solvers!

This article is about one of the keys to creative problem solving.

It starts with an understanding that the best problem solvers and idea developers, know that most questions have more than one correct answer.

For example, if your question is; how can I write upside down, using a pen and a pad?’, there are lots of correct answers.

These include:

  1. You could spend weeks, months or maybe years, learning how to re educate yourself, so that you can write upside down.
  2. You could simply turn your writing pad upside down and write normally. Then, as soon as the pad is turned the correct way, your writing will appear upside down.
  3. You could grab a pen and write the words ‘upside down’ on your writing pad. This is a play on words, but it’s still a possible answer.

All those answers are correct, depending on what you want to achieve.

  • If the reason for asking that question, was to learn a new skill, then the first answer is what you are looking for.
  • If the reason for asking that question, was to find the fastest way to solve the problem of writing words that appear upside down, then the second answer works.
  • If the reason for asking that question, was to develop a party trick, then the third answer is what you need.

Creative and traditional problem solving

Creative problem solvers search for as many answers as they can find. They then determine which answer is the most valuable to them.

Typical problem solvers look for THE correct answer, as if there were only one. When they find it, they stop looking. The challenge with this approach, is that the first correct answer we find is not always the best answer. It’s just AN answer.

Problem solving tip

Once you have clearly defined your question, keep looking for answers. Aim for at least 5 possible answers. 10 is even better. Then, evaluate the answers and determine the one you believe to be most valuable.

Creativity and curiosity: The undeniable link

Here’s an interesting question: How curious are you?

As young children, we are endlessly curious about the world around us. We examine and explore everything. Then, as we get a little older we are made to sit down in class, listen to what the teacher says and just accept that they are right. We leave the school system and unless we are very careful, we start accepting what we are told by people in positions of authority; from our boss at work to the most persuasive politicians and everyone in between.

Asking ‘why?’

It’s hard to think creatively or independently, if we just accept what we see and hear. The solution is to re embrace our natural curiosity and start asking ‘why?’ again, like we did when we were kids.

Why? Because forming your own opinions, based on a deeper examination of what others automatically accept, allows you to build a unique and massively more accurate picture of the world.

It’s easier to offer truly creative ideas and answers, when you operate from such an original vantage point.

4 Ways to refresh your thinking and work smarter

This article comes from my friend, web developer and software writer, Gregor Spowart. He shares 4 simple ways to produce better work and refresh your thinking, so you are more creative and productive.

think clearly, refresh your mind

When I first started my business, I knew that I was going to have to work hard if I wanted to succeed. In my mind, hard work equalled success. So, as long as I worked hard then I’d be successful in what I did. Looking back that’s laughably naïve, but these are the lessons you very quickly learn when you’re starting out!

The phrase “Work smarter, not harder” is pretty much a cliché now, which is a shame. It’s actually a good idea to ask ourselves, ‘are there any alternative ways to work, which are at least as effective as my current working practices, yet require less effort?’

For me there are!

The lesson I quickly learned was that when I was working all day at my desk, then working on the sofa in the evening with my laptop, I wasn’t really working. And I don’t mean that I was on Facebook and YouTube wasting time (although now that I think about it, I probably was!). What I mean is that my brain wasn’t ever working at its optimum level, because it was tired. My mind simply wasn’t getting the chance to relax, recuperate and refresh at the end of the day.

It’s now essential for me each evening, to step away from my day to day work and forget about it until the next day. This gives my brain a chance to refresh and get ready for the demands I make on it the next time.

Of course it’s easier said than done, especially when you’re busy and stressed. So, here are a few rules I follow, which work extremely well.

How I refresh my thinking outside working hours

Here are 4 rules I have put in place, which have given me greater clarity, improved my creativity and refreshed my thinking:

  1. Don’t look at your (work) email outside of work hours: Make a clean break. Once your body has left work, then so should your brain. There’s no need to read work email when you’re not there. Resist the temptation! Personal email is fine, but make sure it goes to a different account to your work email.
  2. If you have your work email on your mobile phone, switch off the notification icon: We all fiddle with our phones and tablets when we’re not at work. If an email notification icon pops up, then you’re going to see it and even if you don’t look at it, you’re going to wonder what it’s about. Don’t just hide the icons!
  3. Don’t give clients your personal mobile number: If you do, then they’ll call you and you don’t want that! Even if you ignore the call, you’ll see the missed call and then you’ll wonder what they wanted. You may even feel obliged to call them back. Don’t! This is your personal time, not work time. If necessary, get a cheap mobile phone and give them the number, but make it clear that it’s for desperate emergencies only.
  4. If you have a home office, shut the door outside of office hours: It’s a no-go zone. If you wander in there, then who knows what evils will catch your eye and send your brain back into work mode. Stay out of there! Seriously. Just stay out.

There are also a few rules I follow when I AM working

  • Take regular breaks: Everyone knows that regular breaks are good for your health, but in terms of working smarter they’re incredibly effective. If you’re faced with a tricky problem, then taking a 5 or 10 minute break for a cup of tea or coffee, can give your brain the rest it needs, for you to come back and see that problem in a new, solvable light. Even a two minute wander in the garden or to the local shop can help.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away: Literally.  This post was originally going to be about the importance of going for a walk, but Jim did a great post on that already. It’s a fantastic thing to do, It clears your head, it’s good exercise and it lets your brain relax. You can go cycling, running, skateboarding or whatever. Just get away from your desk for a while and enjoy yourself. You’ll come back to your desk with a much clearer head and feel more productive.
  • There’s nothing wrong with YouTube in the workplace: On the contrary, 10 minutes of watching people fall over or cute kittens is fantastic brain relaxation time. I’m serious – if you’re watching a skateboarding dog and laughing about it, then you’re not thinking about the usual work stuff. So, when you return to your work then you’ll see it in a new light. Try it!

One size doesn’t fit all

It’s important to state that these rules should be applied in moderation. If you’re the on-call guy for a nuclear power plant, then don’t ignore your phone! And don’t go for 9 hour walks every day, while your workload goes out of control and your clients leave you. However, do make a clear distinction between your time and your work time. Ensure that you get plenty of time to relax and switch off from work.

You’ll be amazed at what you can do when you put your mind to it (another cliché!)

About the author

Gregor Spowart is a web developer and director of Mass Media Design, a digital agency based in Reading in the UK. He blogs regularly on website marketing and SEO at the Mass Media Design blog and can also be found on Facebook, Twitter and on GooglePlus.

Don’t get angry – Get proactive

The next time you’re feeling stressed, angry or frustrated, remember this:

You’re fighting against a world of your own creation.

Take that stress, anger or frustration and use them to motivate yourself to improve the situation. Don’t get angry… get proactive.

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