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Solve problems more creatively by thinking outside of the box.

Reframe your problems

The ability to creatively solve problems as they occur is one of the most sought-after skills in contemporary workplaces.

According to a recent report, problem solving and creativity are at the top of employer lists when asked what they are looking for in new employees.

These are also critical life skills in our complex 21st century lives because they enable us to adapt to situations others may regard as barriers.

Design thinking

One approach to creative problem solving that’s become very popular in a lot of different industries is known as design thinking.

This is a process that’s been documented through studying the way designers, eg graphic designers, product designers, engineers and architects, think about their work.

Designers want their products to make people’s lives better, so they need to identify problems in order to know what to do. For a designer, a problem isn’t a barrier – it’s the start of a solution.

Design thinking in practice

One of the key lessons from designers is that sometimes we discover the problem we think we’re setting out to solve isn’t the real problem after all.

For example, David Kelly, one of the leading lights in design thinking and founder of Stanford’s famous d.school, relates the story of a group of his students who went to Africa to help with developing solutions to make villages more fire resistant.

Once they had talked to the villagers and spent time understanding their lives and perspectives, they realised that what the villagers were most afraid of was losing their documents through fire.

In an interview, Kelly tells this story in the following way:

So when the students get there, they realise that they’ve changed the problem from fire prevention to document preservation. Based on this realisation, they develop their solution to the problem. They start a company with a pick-up truck and a scanner in the back of the truck. They go around scanning everybody’s documents and they put them up in the cloud. The innovation came from reframing the problem. We are full of stories like that … We look at lunch in high schools. We reframe it in the context of a new realisation – people don’t care about lunch. They care about the socialisation of being with their friends. So we design a fantastic socialisation experience at lunch, and then we slide a little food in. The problem started as ‘lunch’, but that’s not what was really needed.

The design thinking process

The key elements of the design thinking process highlighted in Kelly’s story are:

  • It begins with an information gathering process that includes talking to a lot of different people.
  • It involves taking in different perspectives.
  • This involves standing in another person’s shoes with empathy.
  • It’s open to multiple ways of reframing a problem.

Design thinking as a way of reframing problems

While we’ll talk more about collaboration with others and empathy in later steps, what I would like you to think about here is the way reframing a problem is often a key part of finding a solution that works.

In other words, the problem we start with isn’t always the one we actually need to solve. That’s why we get stuck.

This ability to reframe or think differently about problems – often from the perspective of another – is a key part of building our resilience tool kit. It means that when we confront a problem, we engage with it to understand it rather than allowing it to block our way forward.

In the first video of this course, I talked about flexibility and adaptability as key factors in building resilience. Design thinking and the idea of reframing gives us one way to approach problem solving more creatively and flexibly.

Your task

Can you think of examples from your own life or career when a problem turned into an opportunity or when you were able to reframe a problem to come up with an unexpected solution?

In the comments, share your stories and reflect on those of other learners.

Remember to like other learners’ comments or reply to them if you identify with what they are saying.

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This article is from the free online course:

Professional Resilience: Building Skills to Thrive

Deakin University

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join:

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    Ready why prototyping is a key element of design thinking that means solving problems through experimentation and playing with possible solutions.

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    In this article, Assoc Prof Marcus O'Donnell outlines how compassion, including self-compassion, helps build resilience.

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