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Creative Thinking and How to Solve Problems

In a long and varied career, I have spent a few decades in coaching, sales, sales management, IT, and running my own businesses.

Learn how creative thinking can help you solve real-life problems. Sometimes we need to think outside the box to overcome the obstacles we face.

Learn how creative thinking can help you solve real-life problems. Sometimes we need to think outside the box to overcome the obstacles we face.

Seeing Obstacles as Challenges to Be Overcome

If we are in business, starting a new job, or simply trying to navigate the complexities of modern life, we will inevitably encounter obstacles that may prevent us from reaching our personal or professional goals.

Anyone who wants to be successful in business, work, or life has to wear many hats, but whatever ‘hat’ we are currently wearing, we will always meet with obstacles blocking the path to where we want to go (i.e., our goals). It is important to ‘see’ these obstacles as challenges to be overcome rather than permanent roadblocks.

A first glance, we may see no solution to get around an obstacle. So we will need to get creative in finding new ways of getting around the problems that are holding us back, or over them (or even through them).

Overcoming Obstacles by Steven Claunch

What Is the Value of Different Perspectives?

It is essential to look at problems and obstacles we encounter from different perspectives, as this practice helps stimulate and create problem-solving ideas.

One of the key tenets of creative thinking is the ability to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar simply by looking at them differently.

Here are some resources that can help you learn how to see things from new perspectives:

Try This Exercise

Take a look at the following word groups and see if you can identify the significance of each one.


Here is the first one (crossroads) to get you started and to give you an idea of what to do.


Now, take a few minutes to see if you can work out the meanings for the rest of the ‘word groups’ and jot them down on a notepad.

Have you written down as many meanings as you can find? How did you do?

Here are the answers:


This may seem like just a bit of fun, but if we can look beyond the normal boundaries and suspend judgments based on our previous experiences, it will become much easier to solve problems and get past obstacles more consistently.

Two More Exercises

Try the next two exercises to see how our thinking can sometimes be limiting. How many squares can you see?


Pause your reading while you work it out.

How did you do?

The correct answer is 30—pretty easy once you start thinking outside the box.

Another Puzzle

Here's another little puzzle to get us thinking beyond our normal boundaries.

Copy the figure below onto a notepad and draw four consecutive straight lines, so that every dot has at least one line through it.

There's only one rule: once your pen starts drawing, it cannot leave the paper.

Pause your reading while you have a go at it.

Here's one possible solution:

What Are Self-Limiting Boundaries?

These simple exercises demonstrate that it is all too easy to make an instant judgment on what we believe is the best solution. Problems are often more complex than they first appear, and we sometimes need to dig a little deeper to find the best solutions.

Frequently, however, we don’t have time to come up with a great solution and simply have to go for a quick fix using our experience, which can often give us a workable result. However, we will encounter many situations where a quick-fix approach is not appropriate.

When looking at the previous ‘dot’ problem, most people recognize that they will try and stay within the dots. In other words, they will impose a self-limiting boundary on themselves.

In the real world, this is something we all do to a greater or lesser extent throughout our lives.

How Do We Solve Problems?

Cultivating the ability to find lasting solutions to complex problems increases our effectiveness. To tackle these challenges, a logical and structured approach is always needed. One such approach can be broken down into two distinct stages.

  1. Problem Diagnosis
  2. Problem Fix

Both stages can be further broken down into three action steps. Let's go through this in detail.


1. Problem Diagnosis

The first stage is Problem Diagnosis. And the first step within Problem Diagnosis is to select and define your problem. So, however many problems you are having with your current business or project, you need to focus and work on only one at a time.

Define the one problem you want to work on first. Next, it helps to write down exactly what the problem is on a piece of paper so you can clarify and define it completely. This way, it’s no longer a vague, ‘woolly’ problem; it is clearly defined, and you understand it precisely.

Step two is to begin collecting data or information around your problem. What things might affect the problem? Who might you have to speak to regarding the problem? Where might you have to get more information regarding the problem before solving it? You need to collect all of this data.

And finally, the third step is to find the ‘root cause’ of the problem.

From the information you have gathered, it should be easier to see where the problem originated from and, therefore, its root cause. This is particularly helpful in avoiding the same problem or problems in the future.


2. Problem Fixed

The next stage is Problem Fixed. So now you’ve precisely defined your problem, gathered a lot of information regarding your problem, and also discovered its root cause. The efforts in the Problem Diagnosis stage make it much easier to find a solution to your problem.

So, the first step within the Problem Fixed stage is to review the information you’ve gathered and start brainstorming and generating possible solutions to the problem.

Go with the flow on this; just jot down as many potential solutions to your problem as you can possibly think of.

Once you have a list of potential solutions, step two is to choose the best solution, and once you’ve chosen the best solution, immediately implement that solution and monitor it to see if it works.

If this solution doesn’t work out, step three is to go back to the drawing board and begin the Problem Fixed stage with another of your potential solutions. The main thing is to generate as many solutions as possible, choose the best one, implement it immediately, and closely monitor its results.

Now that you understand the Problem Diagnosis, Problem Fixed approach, let's take a look at how someone might apply this in their own life.

Now that you understand the Problem Diagnosis, Problem Fixed approach, let's take a look at how someone might apply this in their own life.

Real-Life Examples

Okay, let's try this approach with some real-life examples to get into the swing of it.

Identify a problem or situation that you would like to improve in your business, home, or social life. Then for this situation/problem, produce a plan containing the three steps of the Problem Diagnosis. Remember, this is to help ensure you have a complete understanding of the situation.

When you have completed the Problem Diagnosis stage, move on to the Problem Fixed stage and follow the steps that relate to that area, making sure you pay particular attention to how you measure your success.

This way of diagnosing and fixing problems (or obstacles) works in a wide variety of situations, so why not give it a go.

Applying the Problem Diagnosis, Problem Fixed Approach

Here's a basic, real-life example of how you might implement this.

Say you have had a succession of failed romantic relationships, and you're seriously interested in succeeding at the next one you get into.

Problem Diagnosis Stage

For the first step in the Problem Diagnosis stage, you might spend a week or so reflecting and journaling about the reasons why you think you've been unsuccessful thus far in your romantic relationships. By doing this, some workable problems might emerge. You might, for instance, realize you have a low opinion of yourself that affects how you relate to your significant other.

In your second step, you would reflect on and write down all the experiences, life events, etc. that you think have influenced how you view and feel about yourself. You might also search for good articles on the internet and helpful books to read and learn more about your issue (you'd want to take notes).

Finally, you would want to draw up a list of who to talk with about your problem—they might include family members, a licensed therapist, and even past significant others who are willing to speak with you. After doing this, you can speak with these individuals and take notes to learn more about yourself from others' perspectives.

In this example, the third step would likely be achieved as part of the process of the Problem Fixed stage.

Problem Fixed Stage

In the Problem Fixed stage, your first step would be would reviewing your journal, reading notes, and notes from conversations. After reviewing, you would reflect and write out numerous possible solutions to your problem.

In step two, you'd choose what seems to be the best solution you've come up with and implement it immediately. This could, for instance, be to continue speaking with a licensed therapist twice a week for three months. This could also be to avoid romantic relationships for a period of time and commit to journaling about your emotional life on a daily basis and practicing meditation.

Step three would ideally be a periodic check-in with yourself to see whether or not the solution was really working. You could reassess and see whether or not you were making real progress, and adjust your approach as needed.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Jerry Cornelius