How To Apply Creativity to Your Specific Challenges


creative solutions

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Alicia Arnold on how to apply creativity to your specific challenges.

Alicia is the author of Creatively Ever After: A Path to Innovation, where she shows you how to innovate to get results, and how to apply the Creative Problem Solving (CSP) Process to your work and life.

I asked Alicia to share her best insights learned from studying and teaching creativity skills over the years, and to make it as actionable as possible for readers of Sources of Insight to instantly apply it.

To set the stage, you can think of creativity as simply applying the use of imagination and ideas to produce a result.  You can also think of creativity as a skill that you can build.  By thinking of creativity as a skill, you empower yourself to make the most of any creative techniques and thinking tools that are readily available

Without further ado, here’s Alicia …

By now you’ve probably heard the chatter about creativity – an IBM study of 1,500 CEO’s around the world identified creativity as the number one leadership competency for the future.

In addition, creativity is top of mind for CIO’s as well. CIO’s have identified issues like globalization, the need for acceleration, increasing amounts of data, a push to digitize, increasing proliferation of personal devices in the workplace, and having to do more with less budget, require creativity and innovation.

However, creativity is one of those funny topics. Creativity can be difficult to understand and many people do not believe you can learn to become more creative. The good news is, it has been statistically proven, over decades of longitudinal research, that creativity can be learned. Based on leading creativity courses in business and academic settings, I’ve compiled a list of top insights and lessons learned. I hope you find these valuable in thinking about how creativity and creative problem solving can be applied to your specific challenges.

Lesson 1. The question isn’t are you creative, but how are you creative

When I describe creativity, I frame it in terms of identifiable skills. Creativity is made up of four skills – the ability to ask questions (clarify), the ability to come up with ideas (ideate), the ability to string ideas together to form a solution (develop), and the ability to take the solution into action (implement). By couching creativity within identifiable skills, it becomes easier to understand how each one of us is creative and what teachable skill is most important for each individual. Generally speaking, your chosen profession is a likely indicator of your creative preference. While there are no absolutes, marketers tend to exhibit high ideation preferences, while information technology professionals tend to exhibit high clarifying and developing preferences. This leads me to the second insight…

Lesson 2. Creativity in business takes teamwork

Surviving in the business world means tackling complex problems. The more complex the problem, the greater the likelihood it will require cross-discipline knowledge and a variety of problem solving preferences. By diversifying your team to include folks who enjoy clarifying, ideating, developing, and implementing, you will have a greater chance for success. But, this can cause discomfort. The next time you’re in a situation that requires teamwork, but are feeling discouraged, ask yourself why you’re feeling that way. Chances are you may be working with people who have different preferences than yours. To help, ask team members to explain their reasoning and intent. This will help the group focus on the task at hand rather than individual positions. Also, knowing your creative preference helps. If you are someone who enjoys clarifying, when working with people who enjoy ideating, you can add significant value by asking questions to help ensure the ideas are solving the right problem. And, there’s a skill to asking questions. Read on…

Lesson 3. Asking open-ended questions invites participation and solutions

The best way to ask questions when solving problems is to ask open-ended questions. These are questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” For example, rather than asking “Can you meet the deadline?” rephrase as “What might be all the ways to meet the deadline?” Open-ended questions help in three ways: 1) they invite participation by moving your mind into problem solving mode 2) they help you believe the problem is solvable 3) they diffuse tense situations. The next time you’re in a bind, try asking open-ended questions. When used properly, open-ended questions can change the cadence of the conversation. To get started, practice phrasing questions with…

  • How to…?
  • How might…?
  • In what ways might…?
  • What might be all the ways…?

Lesson 4. Getting a fresh perspective creates breakthrough solutions

Sometimes new thinking comes from physically leaving your work setting. In a memorable innovation workshop I ran, I worked with C-suite technologists, marketers, and finance executives from a global bank to come up with differentiating ways to leverage the web site to deepen customer relationships. We held the session at a local museum and tied all exercises to business strategy and objectives. After crafting the problem statement using open-ended questions, teams used museum exhibits to help come up with ideas on how to solve the problem. It was at this moment team members had a change of heart for tapping into new modes of thinking. When looking at a hologram, one participant remarked how the hologram looked different depending upon where she stood. This hologram experience helped the team come up with the idea of personalizing, customizing, and using data visualization to bring meaning to customer account data. The team proposed by allowing web site users to play with, and combine, account data in new ways, they could realize a way to build stronger, value-added relationships with customers. New perspective can be as simple as finding an object of interest and asking, “What ideas does this object give me for solving my problem?” Chances are this “forced connection” will bring new solutions.

In our lifetime, we’ve been schooled to find the “right answer.” This may work when we are trying to solve mathematical equations, however the business environment is ambiguous and the data set is never complete. Learning how to tap into your natural creativity is an essential life and business skill. Congratulations on taking a step towards building a leadership competency in creativity!

Alicia Arnold is the author of Creatively Ever After. She holds a Master of Science in Creative Studies from the International Center for Studies in Creativity. She has written over 100 articles on the topics of creativity and innovation at Alicia can be reached on Twitter at


  1. Hi Alicia and JD,

    Thanks for sharing the study about the 1500 CEOs. As you mentioned creativity is a learned skill and we all can learn it if we use our mind and improve our thinking skills. A long time ago when I used to work for one of the compaines, my director said that he gets paid for his thinking and that he always tries to think outside the box and be creative. I must say I learned a lot from him. Thanks for sharing

  2. I like #4 Alicia because I walk the walk on that one. I feel being creative requires a different mindset and used to advise business people stuck on a plan or campaign to take it elsewhere. Go in the park and have a picnic meeting, do a ‘walk-and’talk’ session out and about somewhere or go to a coffee shop and feed off the buzz. Above all lose the 4 walls preset that says it’s round a board room table. Creativity needs spark so encourage that spark by opening up to more places it can be found and you with it.

  3. Hi JD and Alicia .. creativity is there .. it often needs to be allowed to escape and not be constrained by the norms of life. I’ve found my creative spirit very late in life .. but am harnessing it for productive use in society .. helping others.

    I need to hold my creativity in within me .. so as not to bounce others out .. I need to listen and absorb others’ thoughts .. and let them create or believe they are creating .. building teamwork.

    Such a great post – many thanks .. Hilary

  4. Alicia,

    Thank you for the post.

    I found the breakdown of the process in step #1 to be very helpful, clarify, ideate, develp, and implement. Some things are easier and some are harder. I can ask questions all day long, but ideating seems to occur at random moments.

    The fresh set of eyes is important too. One of the things we do in my group is develop processes where people can rotate positions – this helps to keep ideas bubbling about how things can be improved.


Comments are closed.