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How To Problem Solve Like A Creative

Written by: Eleanor Oliver-Edmonds, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Having worked as a creative in the advertising and marketing industries for over 20 years, there’s a highly valuable skill most people in the industry take for granted: creative problem-solving. In the creative world, every problem has a solution. Even the non-viable solutions (some would call these failures) offer beneficial clues and insights if you’re paying attention.

Employees doing some creative work on a table.

At the start of a project a creative team receives a strategic briefing which may outline the company’s or client’s objectives: increase sales, attract new customers, promote an event, develop new product concepts, or deliver a campaign that outshines the competition. Included with the brief are a budget and due date. Everyone in the room understands the assignment: deliver the goods in a compelling manner that exceeds expectations. The gauntlet has been thrown down; challenge accepted.

The extraordinary thing about being in a room full of creatives is how every mind is racing full speed ahead in search of the perfect outcome. There are no excuses and no one saying it’s impossible. There is one unspoken understanding: not solving the problem is not an option. What follows is ideation, implementation, and execution. While attending a writer’s conference years ago, keynote speaker and film director Garry Marshall, had the best analogy for this. He explained in his early days as a comedy writer he worked in a club owned by a rather cantankerous man who valued his daily late afternoon naps. He admonished the writers to not disturb him until their jokes were funny. The team spent hours refining their jokes until they knew the punchline was wake-up worthy.

Most people become stuck when facing a challenge because they tend to fixate on the problem and only the problem. They may consider a solution or two but give up before thoroughly exploring all their options. This is not effective nor efficient. Creatives understand while the problem represents the what, the process of solving the problem reveals the how and why and is ripe with possibilities. Once you begin to shift your focus squarely on finding a solution, your way of thinking expands into the field of potentiality.

Try applying one or more of the following 5 techniques to help you enhance your problem-solving abilities.

1. 360 POV

Imagine attacking your problem with the same tenacity, persistence, and determination you would apply to solving a cubed, brain teaser puzzle. What new possibilities will be revealed with each flip, twist, and turn? Challenge yourself to resist the urge to settle on the first favorable result, continue ideating until you have several strong options. Look for every possible angle, see things from another person’s person, dig deeper until the abstract becomes tangible. The longer you persist with this approach you will reach a breakthrough point where good becomes great and great becomes excellent.

This technique is an effective method for solving people-related problems. Shift from your perspective to the other person’s, look for potential blind spots, communication gaps and opportunities for mutual resolutions.

2. What If/Why Not

Asking "what if or why not” as opposed to simply “why” alone allows you to dig deeper into emerging possibilities. Why begs a cause-and-effect response while “what if/why not” entertains exploration, a change of direction and allows space for the creation of new concept and ideas. In a team setting, the group can riff and ideate off one another’s “what if/why not” responses. Gamify this approach for an impromptu brainstorm either on your own or in a group. You may be surprised of the number of new ideas that surface as a result.

Another additional way to apply this technique is when you believe you have exhausted all viable ideas, see if you can push through to a deeper level.

3. Begin with the End

Reverse engineering is an excellent method to apply when you don’t know how to get started. Seeing the project or task in its early conceptual stages can be overwhelming for individuals who are not yet strong at visualizing. Creative teams seeking early concept buy-in from cross functional partners will use mock-ups to present their ideas. It’s easier for some to understand the steps and processes necessary when they see a visual of the proposed finished product. Now it becomes easier to identify the steps, systems, processes, and support necessary to then move you forward.

This technique works equally well for goalsetting as it does for chunking down larger projects. One of the reasons I enjoy applying this method with my coaching clients is when they fully see the big picture overview of their stretch goal, they immediately see themselves as having accomplished it. It’s no longer feels like a formidable task in the distant future. A shift in perspective can do wonders for motivation and confidence.

4. Brainstorm

This is one of the fastest ways to generate ideas either in a group or individually. Once you have identified your problem or challenge, without judgment or justification write down as many solutions as you can. If helpful set a timer. Throughout this brain dump process avoid over-thinking or analyzing. Allow the answers to bubble up and put them on paper. Circle your top three to five solutions or results. When working in a group, allow each team member to select their top 3 options. You can apply these options if applicable or use them as a starting point to build upon.

5. Be Curious

Curiosity sparks exploration which ignites inspiration. Be open to looking at the world around you with fresh eyes. Creative problem-solving involves looking for solutions in unusual or unexpected places. Allow the process and yourself to get messy. Try new foods, listen to different music artists, read a new genre of books. Study trends. Creativity is about applying or juxtaposing similar concepts with an innovative or unexpected twist. The more you expand your horizons, you increase your awareness and ability to ideate and innovate.

There’s an NLP saying that say, “what you focus on increases.” People who focus on problems will only see, more problems. The same is true for those who choose to focus on solutions. Allow yourself to think like a creative and toss the word impossible from your vocabulary. See your world through a lens of potentiality, in doing so you create a space for something new and better to come into existence.

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Eleanor Oliver-Edmonds, Senior Level Brainz Magazine Executive Contributor

Elle (Eleanor) Oliver-Edmonds is a writer, speaker, and certified virtual coach. She pivoted from her advertising/marketing career as a creative strategist crafting consumer-directed messaging for top household brands and applied her creative problem-solving expertise to coaching individuals.

She’s the founder and creator of the S.H.I.F.T. Factor, an online transformational space where Elle empowers women over 40 to reconnect with their dreams, overcome barriers, and strategize a path to success. The five-part inside-out process is based on the guiding principles, tools, and resources Elle successfully used to reimagine and redesign her own life after losing of job, marriage, home, and business.

She now lives a life where every day looks like a vacation. She relocated from hectic city life in Los Angeles to the Palm Desert area where she lives with her husband and is affectionately referred to as “Coach Elle in Coachella” by her clients. Elle is the proud mom of two entrepreneurs who inspire her to follow her passion of living with intention and creating a ripple effect.



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