In search of creative problem solving... part two.

The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here.

About a month ago I started my search for creative problem solving with the brilliantly entitled blog post - "part one". To this post, my most favorite geophysicist commented, and I quote in part, " P.P.S.: Just to make sure you don't forget: You still owe us a definition for creative problem solving". ;-)". With that, I bring you the equally brilliant, "part two". "The devil is in the detail" they say and it is in this, that I believe light can be shed on creative problem solving; it is here want to spend some time on the word problem. I am sure this will help with my search and my obligation of a definition.

There are a wide range of emotions available to you (option

There are a wide range of emotions available to you (option

For the sake of getting us started, let's define a problem as, "a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome". It is here I should add that problems tend to come with emotion attached; it tends to happen with something that is 
"unwelcome or harmful". I think I may be on to something here... let's go with it! 

Problems, by their very definition, bring feelings with them that fall into a wide spectrum of emotions such as fear, sadness, anger and frustration. If I use the following example, how many emotions come to mind? "You have a job interview at 10:30 am and you have left yourself ample time to get there... all of a sudden there is a multi-car pileup in front of you and traffic has come to a dead stop; no sign of movement for a while."* Let me offer a few that have come to mind:

  • Angry because this happened to you on such an important day.
  • Frustrated that the traffic is not moving and you will be late.
  • Worried that this may impact the chances of getting the job.

Now, depending on the individual, these emotions may range from fleeting expressions to pounding violently on the steering wheel and openly sobbing - We tend to "humanize" problems  and offer them a very human and social response. Let's just suppose for a moment that problems are  in fact "human" - they would be totally indifferent, slightly twisted, sociopathic individuals, with a very creative sense of humor tossed in. At the very most, the response you would get to your pounding and sobbing would be a slight head tilt and small wry smile of recognition. Lucky for us, problems are not human and we don't have to socialize with them at parties. This is an important recognition in two respects: it helps us understand how to deal with problems more effectively and it helps me with my search for a definition.

Emotions are reserved for people, pets and maybe a couple of other things, but definitely not for "problems" - Dealing with problems is an intellectual exercise and should be treated as such. With this said, here are a couple of things for consideration:

  • Emotions are extremely fatiguing, so much so, you may be too exhausted to work on the problem.
  • Emotions distract and impact the thinking process.
  • Emotions will not solve your problem.

I want to point out here that I am not saying don't be emotional**, but learning how to compartmentalize emotions when you are dealing with problems. I will be the first to say compartmentalization can be difficult but it can be done...

  • Develop the mantra that problem solving is an intellectual endeavor.
  • Put your problem down on paper; it becomes a "tangible inanimate object".
  • As you verbalize the problem do not legitimize it with human characteristics or words of emotion.
  • Involve other people. They will not hold any emotion with the problem and help with the intellectualization.

Well there you have it... by no means a definition for creative problem solving but knowing that dealing with problems is an intellectual exercise helps me get there.. Stay tuned for my brilliantly titled blog "part three". I wonder what my geophysicist thinks?


* We have all been there, and up front I will tell you I'm rather good at "screaming at the wind"

** Having emotions is one of the greatest gifts we were given as humans, so get the most out of them. Just focus them where it matters, that's all.