A Valuable Lesson in Creative Problem Solving…

While most people believe that they cannot think innovatively or creatively, surprisingly, most people are more creative than they think they are. Gaining insight into creative thinking, problem solving and innovation will help you be more successful in today’s business environment.

Scientist sat in chair resolving problemOne of our favorite stories is about a famous research scientist who had made several very important medical breakthroughs. He was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter who asked him why he thought he was able to succeed so much more than the average person, to be so much more creative than the average person? In other words, what set him so far apart from others?

He responded that, in his opinion, it all came from a lesson his mother taught him when he was two years old. He’d been trying to take a bottle of milk out of the refrigerator, when he lost his grip and spilled the entire contents on the kitchen floor. His mother, instead of scolding him, said, “What a wonderful mess you’ve made! I’ve rarely seen such a huge puddle of milk. Well, the damage is already done. Would you like to get down and play in the milk before we clean it up?”

Overturned glass and spilled milkIndeed, he did. And, after a few minutes, his mother continued, “You know, whenever you make a mess like this, eventually you have to clean it up. So, how would you like to do that? We could use a towel, sponge or mop. Which do you prefer?”

After they were finished cleaning up the milk, she said, “What we have here is a failed experiment in how to carry a big bottle of milk with two tiny hands. Let’s go out in the backyard, fill the bottle with water and see if you can discover a way to carry it without dropping it.”

And they did.

Thinking happy kid in glasses with idea bulb aboveMost people have spilled some milk at some point in their careers, and everyone responds differently. One person will see problems as a challenging though temporary state, while another will view the very same situation as disastrous and quite permanent.

One way to build your creativity and problem solving skills is to loosen any “petrified” perspectives you may have. These “written-in-stone” ways of looking at the world often prevent people from finding new solutions. Often, people accept a situation, policy or procedure simply because it exists (and has existed for as long as anyone can remember).

Instead of accepting the narrow point of view, try working from the “what if” angle. Apply the question to any stage of production, to any level of the organization, to any aspect of your work. This perspective will allow you to stay flexible and will encourage you to try fresh and innovative approaches.

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