Problem solving is a skill that takes creativity. Unfortunately, most people consider themselves idea-challenged. If you think you're not that creative, think again, says Mona Patel, founder and CEO of the New York-based design agency  Motivate Design.

"The problem that often hobbles problem-solving is the 'I can't' mindset, which we all suffer to a greater or lesser extent," she says. "It's the hurdle separating problem recognition and imagination. But if we can get past 'I can't,' we enable wonder, curiosity, creativity and, sometimes, groundbreaking innovation.

Patel says imagination is the bridge that connects everyday problems with solutions to those issues - it's the first step to finding answers that work.

"Problems are amazing because of the innovative and creative solutions that often follow," says Patel. "There are so many big, juicy problems out there that remain blank canvases just waiting for the answers to improve the quality of life for us all."

The key to solving problems is to overcome the "I can't" mindset. Patel offers three steps you can take right now to enable creativity and innovation:

1. Get rid of doubt. When you're facing a tough problem with no obvious answer, it can feel natural to think, "I can't." Instead, Patel suggests challenging your doubts.

"If you're stuck in 'I can't,' then attack it with 'Why? Why do I feel stuck?'" she says. "It's a great device for questioning and can help you understand the root cause of an issue."

"Why?" sheds light on a usually irrational belief of "I can't" and begins to liberate your mindset, says Patel. The factor causing self-doubt gets put into perspective, enabling you to move on.

2. Shift the way you see the problem. The shift is deceptively simple and is similar to how we can get unstuck, says Patel.

"Problems are usually perceived to be much bigger than they really are, causing intimidation and avoidance," she says. "Be sensitive to this intimidation; rather than allowing anxiety to take root, allow yourself to see problems as an invitation, or challenge, to keep asking questions."

3. Hold brainstorming sessions. Building creativity is like building a muscle. Patel recommends that teams get into the habit of regular brainstorming sessions that start with a silent warm-up ideation round of three minutes, followed by a sharing round, repeating the process three times.

"In the silent ideation, you write down as many "What if?" or open questions as possible," she says. "Participants come up with ideas at the same time and write them down, so louder and more vocal people don't have an advantage."

A necessary general guideline in this sharing process is positivity, showing support for good ideas and keeping the vibe open and friendly with positive language.

Finally, collective brainstorming can sometimes yield too many ideas, and it's important to distill the best ideas that are out there. Deduce and connect the best ones, says Patel. 


Patel says her three-step process counteracts "I can't." "This is a lesson that not only yields creative solutions for one problem, but a general principle with which to address all problems," she says. 

Published on: Nov 30, 2015