How to trigger creativity and innovation:“Radically new solutions require radically new problem statements”

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We have been looking in the wrong place for our creative insights. “We ask people to ‘think outside the box’, but we should be asking people to find more descriptions of the box,” according to Art Markman. How to get creative? The most consistently creative people are the ones that find many different ways to describe the business problem being solved, he says, and shares his views on how to achieve this.

Art Markman, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas and author on topics including reasoning, decision making and motivation, is bringing an important message: how we define the problem determines whether we solve it.

Collective memory

“Most people who come up with creative solutions to problems rely on a relatively straightforward method: finding a solution inside the collective memory of the people working on the problem,” he explains.

“The key to this method is to get the right information out of memory to solve the problem,” he says. And the problem statement is the cue to memory, “it is what reaches in to memory and draws out related information”.

How to get creative

So, how do we create the problem statement we need to find a solution to our business problem? “Unfortunately, there is no ideal problem statement,” Markman says. “Instead, the most consistently creative people and groups are ones that find many different ways to describe the problem being solved.”

“Some of those statements will be specific and will talk about the objects being acted on. That leads to retrieval of specific information that is highly related to the problem,” he says.

Additionally, he claims, “groups should find several ways to describe the essence of the problem being solved in ways that focus on the relationship among the objects or a more abstract description of the goal”. Each of these descriptions will help people to recall knowledge that is more distantly related to the domain in which the problem is stated.

Radically new

In sum: typical stories of creativity and invention focus on finding novel ways to solve problems. They focus on the novel solution, and make the problem it is addressing seem obvious. Markman encourages us to turn our approach around. “A radically new solution to a problem, requires a new problem statement,” he says.

Interested to learn more? Read Markman’s full article.