I’ve been going MacGyver style a lot lately. I’m on a role. There is no problem in our house too big for duct tape.
It’s easy to spend money. It’s easy to shop for a ready-made-solution. Our houses are full of ready-made-solutions to everyday problems.
But if we want to keep our hard earned cash in our pockets, we need to get out our creative brains into gear.
When people talk about being creative we think of basket weaving or interpretive dance. We think strange clothes and bohemian living.
But being creative is not just about painting the Mona Lisa or composing a Symphony no.9, it’s about using your noggin to generate useful solutions to everyday problems.
Don’t think that you’re not creative. I’m here to tell you that you are. You exercise your creativity every single day.
Every time you whip up dinner from what’s rolling around in the fridge, you’re being creative.
Every time you handle a difficult customer, or negotiate with a difficult colleague, or solve a pressing problem at work, you’re being creative.
Every time you help your kids with a school project or play with them, or entertain them on a rainy day for free, you’re being creative.
Every time you tell a story, recount an incident, make a funny joke, you’re being creative.
Every time you solve a problem, you’re being creative.
Techniques For Everyday Problem Solving
1. Define your problem
This seems like a duh! thing to say. But don’t skimp over this step. Understanding the problem that you’re trying to solve is essential. Really think about it and look at your problem from multiple angles.
For almost a year I had an ergonomics problem. My new deluxe office chair (that I had to have! 🙂 ) was too big to fit under my desk. I was getting back strain hunching over to reach the laptop. All that time I was thinking “how do I get a new desk that my super-duper chair fits under?”
But then I realised the problem was not that I needed a new desk. The real problem was that I needed the laptop to be closer to me.
Problem redefined – not to get the chair closer to the desk, but to get the laptop closer to me. After months of dead ends working on the wrong problem, a couple of minutes resulted in a free and functional solution.
Defining your problem and exploring it from different angles, throws light on possible solutions that you may have never otherwise thought of.
2. Brainstorm Solutions
Think of as many solutions as possible. No idea is too outrageous. In fact, the least obvious ideas (and often idea number 20 or 100) are usually the best solutions. Use lateral thinking techniques to think outside the box.
3. Do some research
Google your problem. How do others fix it?
Wander around the house, garden, town looking for potential resources that you might use.
Ask someone else.
Look at completely unrelated things and think of ways that they may help solve your problem. In the least, it will help you develop your lateral thinking.
Creativity is not a lone process. You don’t have to create something from nothing.
4. Model, Doodle, Moodle
Building models or prototypes is one of the best ways to make your idea tangible so that you can suss it out and develop it in a constructive way. Dig into your kid’s craft box. Got a cupboard full of empty meat trays, recycled paper, plastic containers, glue, paper, plasticine? Then…
…doodle, play, trust, role play, design, have fun, construct, discover, be open to possibilities, be uninhibited, explore.
Then take a break.
The crazy thing about the creative process is that the solution often pops into our heads at the weirdest moments, epiphany style.
There are all sorts of theories about alpha brainwaves and the subconscious state but at the end of the day, if you can’t find a solution, sleep on it. Or play golf, or take a shower, or work on something else.
Just don’t think at all about your problem. The answer will come to you.
5. Evaluate, Improve, Refashion
The story goes that Edison had thousands of failed attempts before inventing the light bulb. His comment on this? “I have not failed. I’ve just discovered 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
If it doesn’t work then make adjustments or try something else. It doesn’t have to be beautiful (but that doesn’t mean you can’t be aesthetic) it just needs to be functional. If it solves your problem, you have a winner.
Move over MacGyver. Problem Solved. Now where’s the duct tape?