Business today is full of perplexing problems, especially in early stage companies, just ask anyone with their masters in management. Often, the more traditional ways businesses used to solve problems are outmoded, or simply not fast enough. These are the times when you should employ creative problem solving methodology to fix a problem or come up with an alternative solution to an issue that is challenging your organization.

In the very earliest days of a company, you can use innovative problem solving to test an idea.  This type of solution can be derived from using a four step process:

  • What is the opportunity? The first step is to gain a complete comprehension of solutions already on the market. If you’re designing a consumer product, observe how it is already being used in the marketplace. What do they like? What annoys them? Have users invented their own work arounds for product flaws? 
  • What if? Identify these key points, and discuss them among your colleagues. Make a list of possible solutions and brainstorm different ways to solve the problems. This is a better system that just throwing ideas against the wall without having done the discovery process. You’ve identified possible needs here and are thinking of creative solutions.
  • What wows? Once you have identified the entire spectrum of possible solutions, contemplate and discuss which ones will work.  Look for those that fall into the “wow zone”, those innovations that will motivate the public to buy your product or service. Now you start to employ standard business models to each of the solution, and narrow the list down to some viable ends.
  • What works? You’re at the state where you can create prototypes or beta versions and bring them back to the group you originally observed. After initial feedback, return to the office and reinvent, hone where you need to. Small failures sometimes lead to big successes.

For more general problem solving, group brainstorming involves everybody, and can be a fun as well as productive session.

Why a group?   Better decisions. It can be argued that group brainstorming creates better solutions by affecting one of the three elements of decisions:

  • Criteria – group participation assures that more people that will be affected by the decisions will be involved in the process.
  • Cause/Effect – by including people with specialized expertise, you can be assured that more specific proposals, relevant to the problem, will be put forth.
  • Alternatives – groups tend to offer a higher quantity of solutions, as well as a greater variety.

The role of the leader in group brainstorming can take one of two paths, either as an advocate, or as a moderator. It’s best if one role or the other is taken, and that role not change during the session.

When you set out to resolve sticky situations in your company, answer two questions prior to setting out to find a solution:

1. What kind of problem is this?  A product modification, distribution, marketing?  Identify the core area of the problem prior to setting out to find a solution.

2. Who else has faced this type of problem?  Often it’s best to take a lesson from history rather than ‘reinventing the wheel.’  What companies or products have suffered from this type of situation in the past?  Did they solve it?  How did they solve it? What is the long term result of their solution to the problem?

Creative problem solving can be a great tool for most organizations, large or small, successful and mature, or just starting out. It’s important to identify a time or space specifically for this session, and not have employees or outside advisors coming and going during the session, checking email, answering phone calls.

You might consider having them “off-campus” in a nice setting like a hotel or resort, as many employees will consider that kind of session a “perk” and not “work”.