We’ve all been there before. There’s a task at hand — a pesky problem, a question in need of an answer — that requires some elements of creative problem solving to resolve. After mulling over the same issue for long enough it can be difficult to see all of the pieces clearly.
We’ve all been there before. There’s a task at hand — a pesky problem, a question in need of an answer — that requires some elements of creative problem solving to resolve. After mulling over the same issue for long enough it can be difficult to see all of the pieces clearly. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to step away from it, refocus, and come back with a clear mind. Here are 4 creative exercises that can help you re-center your thoughts and get the gears turning.
1. Solve a puzzle — You might be thinking, why would I go solve a puzzle if I’m struggling to meet the deadline for my current project?
Putting together the pieces of a puzzle is a lot like rapid ideation and iterative prototyping. Puzzles help us cope with micro-failures by forcing us to repeatedly test various approaches until we unfold the correct answer. As an added bonus, they help refine our skills in creative thinking, strategy, information retention, and, overall, lower our stress levels.
Plus, sometimes all you need to get back on track is an easy win — even if that comes from beating the next level of Candy Crush.
Action plan: Take five to ten minutes to complete a game of Sudoku or solve a crossword puzzle. The New York Times has a section dedicated to free puzzles that has helped me stretch my brain in times of dire straits. If you don’t have any puzzles at hand, do a quick google search and solve the first one that catches your eye.
2. Shift the paradigm — A paradigm shift occurs when the current way we think about something is replaced by a new framework, i.e. when we thought the earth was flat and then we didn’t. The problem you’re facing most likely has a certain set of constraints, guidelines, or consequences that go with it. Whether you’re deciding which venue to use for a professional development conference or leading a team of market researchers, shifting the paradigm of the project can give you a fresh perspective on your task.
You can shift the paradigm of your problem by thinking about it in a different environment or a different context altogether. If the rules of the project changed, what would you do?
Action plan: Conceptualize the problem in terms of a different set of values. Does your solution have to involve specific software? What would happen if you could only use kitchen utensils instead of a computer? Who are the project stakeholders? How would you approach it if the stakeholders were kindergartners instead of CEOs?
3. Get physical — Bodystorming is a technique most often used in interaction design, but it’s benefits are highly applicable across disciplines. In essence, bodystorming is role playing a user’s interactions with a product or process to help designers better understand how the product would function and what elements might improve the design.
You don’t have to be a designer to use this technique. All you need is a way to tangibly explain your issue and some office space to move around.
Action plan: Get up from your desk and set the scene. Does your project involve any environmental or spatial elements? Are there other people who might interact with your solution? Use props or your imagination to create the context of your project and act out the process of a user engaging with your solution. Even if your solution is a spreadsheet, talk through the elements of it with a co-worker or trusted associate, acting out applicable moments. The point is to stretch your limbs and think about the problem not only in theory, but in practice.
4. Make a vlog — I’ve found that sometimes all I need to get the gears turning on a project is to talk through the task and my ideas. However, we don’t always have a team or co-worker that can give us feedback. Vlogging is a great tool to get your thoughts and pain points out of your head.
Vlogging is a lot like writing in a journal, but without the writing part. Journal writing, although effective, can be time consuming, and sometimes feel like a chore when you have other mechanical tasks to complete. If you’re under a time crunch it might be faster and easier to record a quick 3 minute video on your phone. With the camera rolling, you’ll be less inclined to edit yourself, which could lead to more robust or creative ideas.
Action plan: Record yourself explaining the problem or solution either with your phone camera or a voice memo. Don’t share it with anyone. Start from the beginning and allow yourself to speak out loud for as long as you need. Pretend you’re speaking to a close friend, a room of attentive listeners, or your biggest fans. If possible, save the recording so you can use it as a reference tool as the project progresses.