The Art and Science of Creative Problem Solving

by Gemma Watts, Programme Manager

Having signed up to this afternoon course, I had no idea what to expect, “The Art and Science of Creative Problem Solving” sounded cool but what did it really mean?

After an interesting icebreaker, we had to bring in an object that had some personal significance or meaning and describe ourselves within our groups by explaining why this object was important to us. Some bought letters/drawings from their children that they kept in their wallets, some bought photos or pieces of jewellery that had sentimental value. It gave everyone the opportunity to talk and everyone the space to listen and to gain new insight into fellow colleagues, a glimpse at what really makes us tick.

We then undertook a number of exercises that explored different people’s preference and that there is no right or wrong, just personal choice. It made me see that there are different ways to look at problems and that people are very different in what solutions they prefer.

The theory was delivered through short informative video clips from companies such as IDEO, a design and consulting firm in California and through a presentation on the process for “Design Thinking”.

Design thinking has 5 progressive steps, the first being empathy, whereby you explore by talking to users what the problems are, the next stage is definition, through which you outline exactly what the main problem is. The third stage is ideation where you brainstorm any possible solution or outcome that would resolve the problem. The fourth stage is prototyping, where through trial and error you build the best possible solution. The final stage is feedback, where the solution and the problem are reviewed, and feedback is provided on how well the solution meets the needs of the problem.

We then got to try out these different stages through a guided exercise, whereby we were presented with a problem scenario “the morning routine before work” and within our groups, one member of the group had to give a detailed account of their morning routine. It made us practice listening and asking exploratory questions in order to gain full understanding of the problem “empathy”, before we could even think about possible solutions. We then had to decide within our groups what was the main problem “definition”. We then moved on to brainstorming possible ideas that would provide solutions to the problem “ideation”. No idea was too silly or ridiculous and any possible solution was acceptable. For our group the problem was the traffic, so we thought about changing the mode of transport from car to helicopter, to building additional roads, to working from home, to changing job. Everyone within the group had their own perspective on the problem and their own unique ideas how to solve it and through debating and listening we came up with a group consensus on how to address the problem “prototyping”. There was a light-hearted “feedback” session, because we were not able to implement the solutions into practice. However we were encouraged to meet our group members in the weeks to come for coffee, to chat and see if the solution was implemented. However seeing as our solution was to “change jobs”, I doubt our group will be meeting again, regardless of whether the solution was implemented or not. Perhaps the helicopter idea would have been the friendlier option.

Course Trainers, Prof Suzi Jarvis and Fergal Brophy, Innovation Academy, UCD