Pres. Sian Beilock: How To Kickstart Creative Problem Solving

Despite our best intentions, most of us are already back in a rut just a few weeks after the New Year, having quickly thrown in the towel on reaching our lofty resolutions and being the very best versions of ourselves.

We tend to blame lack of willpower, while not realizing our full potential may have more to do with our failure to address waning creativity.

If you’re able to come up with better and faster solutions to problems, this can do as much – or more – to put your desired outcome within reach than sheer grit and determination. In particular, many will find it more rewarding to achieve success by tapping into their creative side rather than burning the midnight oil desperately seeking a remedy to their business or personal dilemma. 

Here are a few ideas that can help boost creative problem solving:

Explain your problem to someone else. Whether you’re having trouble signing big clients to your firm, struggling to stay within your monthly budget, or spending too much time on social media, explaining the problem to someone else can often help you spot patterns that will hint at possible remedies. If it’s a complex issue, seek out an audience from outside your field of expertise, which will force you to distill the major issues/roadblocks down to their essential components – and without any jargon. This can help you gain clarity and think about things from a new angle/perspective. And research shows that exposure to different ways of thinking about problems tends to lead to better outcomes. 

Accept the possibility of failure. Being extremely risk averse or fixated on avoiding mistakes can cause you to shut down promising ideas during the brainstorming stage. But there are no bad ideas when brainstorming! When you accept that failure is a potential outcome, even when doing everything in your power to succeed, it can help you keep an open mind while generating and growing new ideas. Also, there are times when you must be realistic about the chances of success: If you can’t land that new account, will your department’s budget get cut? If so, it’s likely time to call in reinforcements to develop a backup plan.     

Stop actively focusing on the problem. Usually, the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling under the gun is to let yourself off the hook – even for a few minutes. While it may seem like you need to power through when you’re tired or in a bad mood, forcing yourself to try to focus when you’re burned out will rarely generate good results. Instead of fighting to force yourself to concentrate, do something else that prevents rumination (or at least lets your mind relax), but doesn’t eat up a lot of brain power. A few ideas: going for a run, taking a shower, or breaking out a coloring book. Much like you tend to think of a good zinger 20 minutes after a heated argument has ended, the best solutions to problems will often come once you’ve allowed your mind to wander. My research focuses on how anxiety harms performance, but it can also kill your creativity.

As the saying goes, work smarter – not harder. Instead of mentally preparing yourself to endure a tough road ahead, start thinking imaginatively and using creativity to your advantage to lighten your load en route to success. 

You’ll be impressed by what you’re able to achieve when allowing your creative side to find a simpler path to your destination.

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