Problem Solving

Think Creatively to Stand Out

How does creative thinking help you in business?  

I get asked all the time “Why do I need to worry about how creative my thinking is? Don’t I just need to do my job well?”

My return stare is usually a bit glassy eyed and blank – I’m working on that.

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image – markgraf – morguefile

 

But then I respond – Doing your job well isn’t enough these days. Competition is fiercer than ever. You need to stand up and stand out.

Thinking creatively about your job, your customers, your company, and your industry is what will set you apart.  Tweet: Thinking creatively about your job, your customers, your company & your industry will set you apart. http://ctt.ec/aCyed+ @prodigyandco

You will be the one with great ideas in meetings. You will spot the opportunities for new products and services. You will see and squash inefficiencies like they are bugs.

As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Start thinking creatively to solve new, unique, complex problems and be the office rock star.

Or do your job well – and prepare to do that same job for a very long time.

 

 

Design for People – SOTGC Article

My most recent article for Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling is about how to find project success by designing for people.

Jessica-K

Are you creating, designing, or developing something? Aren’t we all, really?

No matter your industry or profession, we all create and design new things.

Some of us actually build products, some of us design services for customers or users, some of us develop new processes within existing businesses and frameworks, some of us are making our way through uncharted entrepreneurial territory and everything we do is a new creation or development.

Design firm IDEO uses what they call design thinking, or human-centered design, in the development of all of their projects – whether it is a new product, service, or experience.

Their projects include developing the Apple mouse, kids toothbrushes, patient experiences for a children’s hospital, digital platforms to teach millennials about money, and so much more.

Their focus? People. People are always the center of their design process.

Read more on SOTGC

#50BooksIn2016 – The Books (11-20)

I have committed to reading 50 books in 2016 to increase my knowledge of varied fields to up my innovation skills and my ability to make connections between seemingly unconnected ideas. And also because I love books and learning. I’m an awesome nerd like that.

For more on the commitment, check out the original post here.

For books one through ten, check out this post. (Putting all the books in one post was getting out of hand.)

This post will contain books 11-20 along with links to the reviews. Please follow along and let me know your thoughts, whether or not you have read the books.

Book 11 – The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck – by Sarah Knight

“The power of honesty cannot be overrated. I can’t tell you how many more f*cks you end up giving when you try to beat around the bush. God, even that expression sounds exhausting.” 

life changing magic

Book 12 – Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being by Martin Seligman

“The lesson from positive psychology is that positive mental health is not just the absence of mental illness… Positive mental health is a presence:  the presence of meaning… good relationships… engagement… positive emotion… accomplishment.”

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My Review Here

 

Book 13 – Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

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Book 14 – Content, Inc: How Entrepreneurs use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses by Joe Pulizzi

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**This post contains affiliate links.**

You are creative… Whether or not You Know it

I used to think I wasn’t creative because I wasn’t an artist or musician. That was creativity to me.

creativityNevermind that I spent a significant part of my childhood with an imaginary friend named Anderson, or that my best friend and I played “bank” where we created money, checks, and a teller line and we waited on pretend customers, or that in middle school a friend and I developed a man’s entire life story just for fun. I never claimed to be an ordinary child, clearly.

Those things, among many other random things I did, required a lot of imagination and creativity. But at no point did I look at my life and see creativity. I mostly saw a weird kid, but let’s not get into my self-perception issues.

Now I know that creativity is about so, so, so much more than just making art or music. Any new idea about anything is creative.

One of the definitions of creativity is: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.

Whoa.

That’s a lot. And it sounds kind of daunting. But it really isn’t.

We transcend traditional patterns of life every single day. We take new routes to work when accidents leave traffic at a standstill. We make up dinner with just the food in our fridge. We find some sort of tool, anything really, that will get the broken cork out of the neck of the wine bottle. That is all creativity. (It’s also problem solving, but we’ll talk about that later.)

Think about all of the things you have done today that wasn’t just your same old routine. Creativity! Bam!

Don’t be like I used to be, not seeing your own creativity and imaginative power. It’s all around you, if you just realize it.

So tell me, how were you creative today? Leave a comment and let me know.

How do you find your “Eureka”?

Have you ever struggled with a problem you just could not move past?

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At work, trying to get a customer to purchase your solution that you know will make their work easier and more profitable. Or trying to figure out why a once bestselling product has lost market share steadily over the last year.

At home, getting your children to finish their homework and chores before getting on social media.

You have been thinking and researching and asking colleagues and friends, but you just cannot find a solution that meets all of the important needs of the problem.

What do you do now? Give up the sale? Discontinue the product? Fight with your kids every night?

Is there a way to prime your brain for what seems to be the ever elusive EUREKA! moment?

According to an April article for Psychology Today, there is.

The Brain at Rest

Brain research has shown that most creative solutions and stories are created in the unconscious or resting parts of our brains and later fed to the conscious brain for editing and action. These moments can seem spontaneous or as breakthroughs, because we were not fully aware that our brain was solving problems in the background.

In fact, often thinking about a problem too hard can limit the potential to find solutions. Conversely, your subconscious can never solve a problem if some of the key pieces of information are missing.

How do you balance the need for the right information being there, in your brain, so that you can not think about it?

Catch-22 anyone?

Psychology Today recommends eight techniques to help you prepare your mind for a breakthrough moment and even recognize a potential breakthrough. They are great suggestions and I highly recommend them. But what about the other side of the EUREKA? Having the right information?

use your brain

Information Overload

Knowing which information is accurate and relevant is a huge task today with our access to the bottomless knowledge pit of the internet. Keeping track of good information is just as difficult. There are three keys to overcoming the overload:

  1. Be able to discern fact versus opinion – The internet is full of knowledge, but it is also full of pundits, critics, and those that want to seem important and powerful. Make sure the sites you get your information from are trustworthy. Are people experts in their field? Is there research backing their claims? Is the research legitimate? Sometimes it can be hard to tell. If you are not sure, note it as second tier information.
  1. Challenge assumptions – Take the time to treat what you think are known quantities about the problem as if you read them on a website you were not so sure about. Why do you (or other’s) assume the things you do? If anyone says “Because that’s how it is, or how it’s always been done” stop immediately (and maybe slap them on the back of the head) and rethink that entire aspect of the problem. Assumptions are not facts until they are proven.
  1. Organize information on the intake – As you find facts online or talk with people surrounding the issue, make notes and files as you go. Do not wait until later to try and organize things or find that one article that gave you such clarity but you forgot to bookmark or save it. There are tools such as Evernote and One Note that can help, but even a word document and a well-organized folder structure will do. Organizing electronically in this way and filing and recording as data comes in, will help with your brain’s internal organization as well.

Back to the Breakthrough

Now that you have the right information you can get to the business of priming the breakthrough pump.

The eight great techniques recommending by Psychology Today (and seconded by me):

  1. Take a technology break
  2. Exercise
  3. Travel
  4. Learn about and appreciate other subjects
  5. Contemplate a Koan (In Zen Buddhism, a problem or riddle that admits no logical solution)
  6. Learn to recognize the sense that something is there, just beyond the surface
  7. Write down everything you know about the problem
  8. Practice – follow through on other hunches, whether big or small

Take time away from the issue at hand and focus on other things. This gives your unconscious brain time to work through all the information you gathered and put the pieces together. Once the resting brain has done its work and the solutions are passed on to your conscious brain: EUREKA!

What do you do to work through issues? Do you have tips or techniques you would recommend to others? Share them in the comments below.

 

Problem Solve Your Way to Success (Success Fastlane Article)

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On Friday, I had an article published by SuccessFastlane.com.

It is an amazing site full of success, motivation, and development articles that are truly inspiring. I am so honored to be featured there.

Problem Solve Your Way to Success

Where does the most successful person you know excel?

Are they a phenomenal sales person? Do they connect with people easily and naturally? Do they create new products or services seemingly out of thin air?

These are all important characteristics that drive success, in business and in life. But at the heart of each one is the same core function: problem solving.

Sales is really about helping your customer solve their problem with your product or service. Connecting with others is solving a problem of mutual benefit. Creating new products and services is all about seeing a problem and developing a solution.

A problem is really just a difference between the current situation and the most desired situation.

Check out SuccessFastlane for the full article…

How Does James Altucher Solve Problems?

Every Thursday at 3:30pm EST, James Altucher hosts a Twitter Q&A where anyone can Tweet him a question and he will answer as many as he can.

I just recently learned about this. He has done the Q&A’a since April 2010 and other than Thanksgiving holidays has only missed a few of these sessions. How amazing is that?

If you don’t know James Altucher, he is a best-selling author and entrepreneur who has started more than 20 companies (some of which he sold for lots of cash) and who has written 17 books. He writes a blog and has a relatively new podcast. He has done a little bit of everything. And his outlook on life and business is so fascinating to me.

During today’s Twitter Q&A, I asked James if he had a process for solving problems and if so what it was? He gets hundreds of tweets during this time, so I was not sure I would get a response. But I did!

I love his response. “A problem is intense only relative to how strong I am” That’s a tweetable and quotable for sure!

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He says he makes himself stronger than the problems and gives some tips on how he does that.

  1. He writes down 10 ideas every day
  2. He is grateful for the problem
  3. He stays healthy
  4. He surrounds himself with good people

What I love most about his response to this question is that it isn’t so much a problem solving process, but a “make your life better” process.

My focus is on teaching people how to be more creative problem solvers, but sometimes the issue is deeper than a person’s ability to think creatively and generate ideas. If you are not taking care of yourself it is hard for the brain to do its work and give you amazing results.

What things do you do to make yourself stronger and more ready and able to solve problems?

 

Fact versus Fiction

When you are solving problems, do you take the time to really think about your thoughts and ideas? The assumptions you are making about the important aspects of the problem?

Do you know whether you are basing decisions on fact or fiction?fact or fiction

How do you find out?

You can search the internet. You can talk to those around you.

We live in a wonderful age of technology and connectedness which, for all the potential negatives associated with it, gives us access to the vast and amazing knowledge of the entire world.  There is not much we cannot find out today by surfing the internet. Google the basic premises of your assumptions and see what you find.

People often have faulty memories or believe what makes their lives the easiest. They like to operate in safe and comfortable bubbles of consistency, whether or not the assumption they operate in are fact or fiction. Talk to team members and those involved about the major issues. Do they believe the assumptions are hard and fast truths? Or do they understand that some are fiction? Asking basic questions such as “Why do you believe this?” or “Where did this come from?” can begin to bring to light fictions previously perceived to be facts.

Take those big issues and aspects of your problem and find out what is really fact and what is just fiction. It could be the fiction of someone’s opinion. It could be the fiction of a rumor run rampant. It could be the fiction of stories misunderstood. It could simply be the fiction of “we have always done things this way” or “that is just how it is done here”.

Taking time to do this when you are in the middle of a problem and struggling through the details will give you a better understanding of where you are at and where you need to go.

Why Problem Solving is Important for the Future of America

Numerous recent studies have shown that Americans are lacking in problem solving skills, particularly when compared to citizens of other countries.

The ability to solve problems is crucial to any countries future in business, education, government, and pretty much every other field. How can we expect to lead the world in innovations and world-changing technologies if we cannot solve problems?

A study by the Educational Testing Service found that:

  • In literacy, U.S. millennials scored lower than 15 of the 22 participating countries. Only millennials in Spain and Italy had lower scores.
  • In numeracy, U.S. millennials ranked last, along with Italy and Spain.
  • In PS-TRE, U.S. millennials also ranked last, along with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.
  • The youngest segment of the U.S. millennial cohort (16- to 24-year-olds), who could be in the labor force for the next 50 years, ranked last in numeracy along with Italy and among the bottom countries in PS-TRE. In literacy, they scored higher than their peers in Italy and Spain.

test scores

Last in numeracy and problem solving! How is it that we have allowed ourselves to reach this point?

Businesses are feeling the effects of this lacking skill set. A Wall Street Journal article from October 2014 quoted a Harris Interactive study and reported:

“A Harris Interactive survey of 2,001 U.S. college students and 1,000 hiring managers last fall found that 69% of students felt they were “very or completely prepared” for problem-solving tasks in the workplace, while fewer than half of the employers agreed.”

Half of hiring managers do not believe that recent college graduates are prepared for problem solving tasks on the job.

Companies need employees who can see problems and implement solutions and who can seek out opportunities and take advantage of them. It’s these type of people who have made American companies some of the greatest in the world and created some of the world’s greatest technologies and products.

Skills such as literacy, numeracy, and problem solving are some of the most basic skills that help people start new companies, develop solutions to society’s problems, and effectively run governments. They certainly are not the only skills needed to do these things, but without these foundations innovations of all types will stagnate.

Education is the first and most obvious place to start to fix these issues, but it will not be an easy process. Too many classrooms are based on teaching memorization and not focused on the real-world application of concepts from different subjects.

Bryan Cordova, in an article for The Pioneer, the online magazine for California State University East Bay, discusses how memorization of facts is a disservice to students. He lists six different subjects and what they actually teach versus what they should teach. He says:

“Instead of the majority of lessons in high school being facts that we can use for trivia, we should be teaching students how things work, and take more hands-on approaches. We should stay away from rewarding students with grades for showing the ability to memorize theories, and empower them with applied knowledge.”

I could not agree more. Students at all levels, and Americans across the board, should know how to apply knowledge to existing problems and how to seek out the knowledge they need to solve problems when they cannot do it on their own.

If we do not begin to correct this failing of Americans, we will be putting our future in a perilous place.