Current technology and the business environment have made creativity more important than ever to businesses. Not only do companies continually need to come up with new products and reinvent themselves, but they also need to do those tasks creatively. There are many creative problem-solving tools that organizations can use to increase their competitiveness. Within the scope of this post, some standard techniques are discussed. The post also demonstrates how to use those methods through an example of a fictional company.
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Fictional Company Overview
My company is a smartphone retailer based in Irvine, California. It offers smartphones to customers through two physical stores in Orange County. With the rising acceptance of the internet, more people are buying smartphones online. As a result, our sales have dropped drastically. Besides, due to globalization, numerous foreign retailers enter the U.S. market. Thus, the market is becoming much more competitive than it was before. I will discuss the problems and solutions of how to get my company out of the current situation using the concepts mentioned in this post.
Creative Problem-Solving Tools – Wishful Thinking
A paradigm can be described as a thinking manner obligated by specific criteria. In more detail, when people try to think of a solution to an issue, they tend to rely on their beliefs, rules, or perceptions to guide them through potential solutions. These beliefs and opinions are often within the paradigm of an organization or a community. Even though the paradigm is useful in finding possible answers, it limits a person’s ability to develop creative explanations. Breaking conventional paradigms can help individuals within a company unleash their creativity for problem-solving.
One popular paradigm-breaking technique is wishful thinking. This creative problem-solving technique makes participants form a perfect future to develop attainable goals. It can also promote motivation and adjust their views. To successfully implement the wishful thinking technique, a company needs to pursue the following four steps. First, the participants should define the problem that their business is facing. They can come up with a short statement of the issue. The purpose is to understand what they are dealing with. If they do not study their problem carefully, they may end up going down the wrong path and developing solutions that deliver false results. Team members should frame the issue in simple terms and identify the reason why the problem should be resolved.
In the second step, each individual needs to build a fantasy statement of what the perfect future of the company should look like to them. For example, the fantasy statements can begin with phrases like “it would be perfect if our company started…” or “a great company would…” The ideas help team members share and understand each other’s perfect future, which is a foundation of this technique. In the next step, the team will analyze and examine each fantasy statement. For each wishful event, the team will need to figure out solutions on how to achieve it. An example of a wishful statement can be “a great company would not have scheduling conflicts.” Based on this fantasy suggestion, a potential solution can be “employees should have the authority to make their work schedules.” The manager who holds the wishful thinking events should record all statements and answers on flip charts.
In the last step, participants go back to the statements and the solutions to move back to reality. In other words, the main question in this step is, “how can we do it?” The goal of this step is to pick out the most feasible ideas. For the example given above, the group will need to determine if giving employees the authority to make their work schedules is possible. Because the wishful thinking technique is not an easy process, and not all answers are practical, managers and participating employees need to be patient with the process. Besides, the managers and the team members should have a good working relationship and built up a high level of trust. If a business can use this technique correctly, it can generate a good number of solutions that the entity would not have been able to do with other methods.
For my company, because one of the goals is to expand the business to e-commerce, I will hold a meeting with all of the employees to discuss how we should respond. A fantasy statement in the conference can be “it would be perfect if our company had an intuitive e-commerce website. From this opinion, there are two ideal solutions. The first one is hiring a few full-time web developers to build the site from scratch. The second one is using an e-commerce platform like Shopify or WooCommerce. Based on the reality that my company does not have enough money to hire additional staff, the practical solution is that we should use a third-party platform to build our website.
Creative Problem-Solving Techniques – Mind Maps
A mind map is a mechanism that links different ideas, words, or tasks to a keyword. In problem-solving, it can be used to generate and structure new ideas and solutions. Mind maps can be especially helpful in meetings. There are three significant benefits of using mind maps during business meetings. First, it leads to higher engagement among employees in the sessions. It is due to the way human’s minds work. When a person looks at a work in progress, like a diagram or a mind map, they tend to contribute their effort to fill in missing details. As a result, it encourages all meeting participants to engage more in the meetings. Second, it motivates system-level thinking. Most people cannot see and connect different ideas from different people. With the help of a mind map, people in a meeting can understand higher-level system’s work. Thus, it allows team members to come up with higher-quality ideas and solutions that support other people’s opinions. Lastly, mind maps can create a group history of what has been discussed so far in a meeting. It is helpful to share with people who come late to the meeting or do not attend the meeting.
With all the benefits of mind maps, there are also some common mistakes that managers should avoid when using these creative problem-solving techniques in meetings. The first mistake is that managers should not include too much detail. Unnecessary ideas and opinions may confuse people and take their attention away from important keywords. Second, managers should not use only texts in their mind maps. Including some images can help participants use both sides of their brains. Finally, managers should not create a big mind map that contains everything in it. Instead, they can create multiple maps or linked sub-maps.
For my company, our sales are decreasing due to higher competition from overseas and the internet. Therefore, the central idea is to increase sales. After holding a meeting using the mind mapping technique, the following concepts are created. First, about our markets, there are retail and institutional markets. The second concept is that we need to manage our supply chain to minimize costs. The third concept is that we need to do quality control to ensure we only offer smartphones with the highest quality to our customers. At first, the ideas are not connected because they come from different employees in the meeting. However, when the ideas are plugged into the mind map, we can figure out a solution, that is, to establish a supply chain management team that focuses on institutional customers. Because business customers still prefer local retailers for their needs, we can direct our attention to this market segment to increase sales. However, those institutional customers have stricter quality requirement than that of individual customers; a supply chain management team can help meet this requirement.
Creative Problem-Solving Tools – Reverse Brainstorming
Reverse brainstorming is a technique that combines brainstorming and reversal methods. This technique enhances the brainstorming approach to include more creative ideas. In regular brainstorming, participants try to think of various solutions for a problem. In reverse brainstorming, participants need to do the opposite. They will find reasons why the problem cannot be solved. This technique allows users to look at issues and solutions from entirely different perspectives. There are five steps to use reverse brainstorming in business meetings. As with other methods, the first step is to define the problems. The problems must be explained clearly and concisely. In the second step, team members will try to reverse the issues identified in the first step. To make it easier to modify the issues, the managers who host the meetings can ask questions such as “how can we cause the problems?”
In the next step, the team will start to generate and brainstorm all the ideas and solutions for the reverse problems. Managers should accept all views, whether the ideas are conventional or new. Any interesting ideas should be noted down. In the fourth step, all ideas collected in the previous step are converted to solutions to the original problems. The team can combine ideas if they feel the need for it. In the last step, the team will evaluate each plan and choose the best ones to be the solutions.
Going back to my company, after we have recognized a way to build our e-commerce website, the next challenge is “how to attract new customers to our site?” To solve this challenge, I hold a meeting with my team and use the reverse brainstorming technique as our creative problem-solving tool. The reverse problem that we come up with is, “what should we do to force our customers to leave our site?” After pointing out the reverse issue, we work on our ideas. There are three ideas that we think of. The first one is we need to make our site hard to navigate and log in. The second idea is to ask a lot of personal information from our customers.
The third one is to use deceptive descriptions for the phones listed on our website. Following the brainstorm of reverse ideas, we convert those ideas to solve the fundamental challenge. The first opinion can be transformed to “eliminate log-ins and use accurate and clickable navigate titles.” The second converted idea is to minimize the information required when customers make a purchase. Explain why some information is necessary. The third solution is to create clear and precise product descriptions. When the meeting ends, we decide unanimously that the company should use all three solutions to attract more customers to our e-commerce website.
Creative Problem-Solving Tool Techniques – Heuristics
Generally, heuristics is a problem-solving technique that people use when under time pressure to produce quick results. People apply heuristics in their daily life all the time without them knowing it. For example, when someone follows what other people are doing because that person does not know what to do, it is heuristics. Typically, heuristics are often used in two situations: time constraints and limited information. This method can save people time and energy and often generate good enough outcome. However, heuristics techniques can often lead to logical errors. Below is the list of popular heuristics techniques and how I plan to use them to increase sales for my company.
The first one is the availability heuristic (cognitive bias). It happens when people use knowledge and information that they know to make decisions. For instance, if one reads many news reports about car accidents, he or she will think car accidents are more common in their area even though they may not be valid. Another example can be after reading a news article about a lottery winner; people may overestimate their chance of winning a lottery. Business owners can make good use of this type of heuristics to attract more customers. They can present the problem to their customers or show their customers how successful their companies are. When the customers face the problem, they will recall what they know and buy the products as a part of their solution.
Using this creative problem-solving concept, I will start posting advertising online and in the newspaper about the problems of buying smartphones from international retailers to residents of Orange County. The issue can be a lack of customer support when their phones break. Because big international retailers operate in different regions, they may not have customized services for Orange County residents, such as home mobile care (fixing customers’ phones at their houses). My company is based in Irvine and able to offer such local customized services. When a person who lives in Orange County sees this commercial, the next time his or her phone breaks, the person will recall the ad and may buy a phone from my store to solve their problem.
Another common heuristic method is the anchoring and adjustment heuristic. This method makes people rely steadily on the first piece of information that they receive. This first piece of information serves as an anchor. People’s minds will then make some adjustments based on this anchor to arrive at the final decisions. For example, if a person faces with a question like “is the population of the U.S. more or less than 50 million?” the person will use 50 million as an anchor. He or she then adjusts the anchor, based on prior knowledge to get the final answer. For my company, I can use this technique to make my products’ prices appear more attractive to my customers. For example, if my company wants to sell a smartphone for $100, I will mark the price up to $200 and then offer a discount of 50%. When customers come to my stores and see the 50% discount, they will value the sale and are more likely to buy the phone.
Summary and Conclusions
When it comes to problem-solving, there are various approaches that people can use to make judgments. To improve the current difficulties related to dropping sales that my company is facing, some of the techniques that I can use are wishful thinking, mind maps, reverse brainstorming, availability heuristic, and anchoring and adjustment heuristic. For wishful thinking, my company uses it to decide how to build our e-commerce website. For mind maps, we apply it to choose which strategy we should take to increase sales. In terms of reverse brainstorming, we employ it to make our websites appear more engaging to our customers. With respect to the availability heuristic, we use it to make our customers remember our products the next time they need to buy new phones. Lastly, concerning anchoring and adjustment heuristic, we use this method to make our prices look more appealing.