More creative problem solving techniques

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Techniques to help you solve problems

During the time that you're at college or university, you'll often encounter problems, and these problem solving techniques are designed to help you to solve them. This is the second lens I've created on problem solving techniques - click here if you'd like to view the first: creative problem solving.

Visualising a goal

E.g. Gawain, 1982

Creative visualisationUsing this creative problem solving technique, you focus, energise and inform your own efforts, as well as influencing others around you in ways you may not be aware of.

To use the technique, first set your goal. Then create a clear idea or picture of how you want the situation to be. After that, focus n your picture, perhaps in meditation and also throughout the day so it is an integrated part of your life. You need to give your vision positive energy by thinking about it in a positive encouraging way. Keep with this until you achieve your goal or no longer want to - goals do change! Make sure if you achieve the goal, you acknowledge this to yourself.

An important aspect of the technique involves a sort of internal mental conflict. On one hand you need to be realistic about how achievable the goal is - and on the other hand, you need to be giving it an almost unrealistic positivity to influence yourself and others.

Find out more about visualising a goal for creative problem solving.

Stakeholder analysis

e.g. Mason, R.O. and Mitroff, I.I. (1981)

Stakeholder analysis involves identifying all relevant stakeholders to a problem, categorising them by their chance of affecting a situation and also by the scale of impact they may have if they did. A matrix is created on which each stakeholder is placed.

As part of the process, it's useful to carry out assumption surfacing from each stakeholder's perspective.

What you're left with is a shortlist of robust assumptions that tie the situation together. These need to be carefully reviewed and questions asked such as: Does this stakeholder have any special power in the situation? How could this stakeholder be influenced to change their position or course of action (if you want them to)?

Find out more about stakeholder analysis.

Rich pictures

E.g. Peter Checkland (University of Lancaster), Systems Group (OU)

Rich pictureRich pictures are a helpful way to capture all the elements of a messy unstructured situation found in a soft system.

To use the technique, you...

'Dump' all the elements of the messy situation you are considering in an unstructured way, using symbols and caricatures, on paper.


2. Try to find elements of structure (physical), e.g. buildings, apparatus, etc.
3. Try to find elements of process, e.g. things in a state of change, activities that go on within the structure.
4. Consider ways in which the structure and the process interact and try to get an impression of the organisational climate.
5. Don't try to represent the situation in terms of systems, but do use symbols.
6. Include both hard factual data and soft subjective information in the picture.
7. Examine the social roles that you think have some meaning to those involved.
8. Add notes to your rich picture with more detailed footnotes if it's appropriate.
9. Where it's appropriate, add yourself into the picture, whether as a participant or observer, or both.
10. Don't forget to give your rich picture a meaningful and descriptive title.

Find out more about rich pictures here.

You might also like to check out mind mapping - a similar technique - I found a good lens on it here: mind mapping.

Preliminary questions

E.g. VanGundy, A.B. (1983)

Van GundyIn my last lens, I mentioned the 5 Ws and H that most people are familiar with. Here is a fantastic list of questions adapted from VanGundy which expands that basic model.


1. Who is affected by your problem?

2. Who else has the same problem?

3. Who says it is a problem?

4. Who would like a solution to the problem?

5. Who wouldn't like a solution to the problem?

6. Who could prevent a solution to the problem?

7. Who needs the problem to be solved more than you do?


8. When does the problem happen?

9. When doesn't the problem happen?

10. When did the problem appear?

11. When (if at all) will the problem disappear?

12. When do others see your problem as a problem?

13. When don't others see your problem as a problem?

14. When is the solution needed to the problem?

15. When might the problem happen again?

16. When will the problem get worse?

17. When will the problem get better?


18. Why is this situation a problem?

19. Why do you want to solve the problem?

20. Why don't you want to solve the problem?

21. Why doesn't the problem go away?

22. Why would someone else want to solve the problem?

23. Why wouldn't someone else want to solve the problem?

24. Why is it easy to solve the problem?

25. Why is it hard to solve the problem?


26. What might change about this issue?

27. What are the problem's main weaknesses?

28. What do you like about the problem?

29. What do you dislike about it?

30. What can be changed about it?

31. What can't be changed?

32. What do you know about this issue?

33. What don't you know about this issue?

34. What will it be like if the problem is solved?

35. What will it be like if the problem isn't solved?

36. What have you done in the past with other similar problems?

37. What principles underlie this issue?

38. What values underlie this issue?

39. What problem elements are related to one another?

40. What assumptions are you making about this problem?

41. What seems to be most important about it?

42. What seems to be least important about it?

43. What are the sub-problems?

44. What are your major objectives in solving this problem?

45. What else do you need to know to solve this problem?


46. Where is this problem most noticeable?

47. Where is this problem least noticeable?

48. Where else does this problem exist?

49. Where is the best place to begin looking for solutions?

50. Where does this problem fit in the larger scheme of things?

Adapted from: VanGundy, A.B. (1983) 108 Ways To Get a Bright Idea, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, pp. 86-7

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