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Why problem solving requires structure and creativity

Like most things in life, problem solving is more effective (and enjoyable) when both structure and creativity are part of the process. For an example that might hit a little too close to home, think about your recent trips to the grocery store. Let's review three options:


No structure, all creativity

No structure and all creativity at the grocery store makes Jack an unhealthy boy. When I go to the grocery store without a list (no structure) and all creativity (think hunger), I'm bound to make questionable choices that my less hungry self will regret. I usually end up avoiding the exterior aisles with all the fruits, vegetables, meats, and eggs and saunter through the interior aisles with all the sugar injected deliciousness.


All structure, no creativity

All structure and no creativity at the grocery store makes Jack a boy ripe for binging a full pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey standing over the kitchen sink at 2 am. If you haven't been on the receiving end of that golden spoon, I've done it enough times for both of us.

When I go to the grocery store with a list (structure) and no creativity (not hungry, convicted I'll only eat fruits and vegetables for every meal for the rest of my life), I'm setting myself up for trouble because achieving absolute perfection on a diet is difficult.


A balance of structure and creativity

The winning ticket for grocery store success is going in with a list (structure) and allowing for some flexibility in food choices (creativity). Sticking with healthy foods for the bulk of meals and snacks with the occasional treat is much more sustainable than the all or nothing approach. It will also produce a healthy body and relationship with food.


Hungry yet?

Problem solving has many parallels with grocery store shopping (never thought that connection would be possible, did you?).


No structure, all creativity

Complex problem solving without structure (such as a tool like 8D) generally involves haphazard discussions, little to no progress on eliminating the problem, and will likely lead to a lot of frustration. It's akin to running a large scale project with no Gantt Chart, action register, or milestones to hit. You feel like you should be making progress because you're doing something, but you're not doing what's necessary to be effective.

Look, a squirrel!


All structure, no creativity

If you've ever participated in an 8D session (bless your heart), you're familiar with how challenging they can be from a keeping your eyelids open standpoint. They can be tedious, boring, and ineffective if done poorly. A lack of creativity sucks the energy out of the room and disengages participants quickly. If you're the facilitator, you dread sending out the meeting invites and if you're a participant you pretend you're triple booked during the same time slot (the other two "meetings" involve cleaning your desk and organizing your junk mail).


A balance of structure and creativity

As you've likely figured out by now, problem solving is best done when there's a blend of both structure and creativity. 8D forms and other similar problem solving approaches provide tremendous value. They help people stay disciplined and focused on solving the problem, ensure there aren't gaps in the approach, and document the steps along the way for future reference. Creativity in the process is what helps the team generate better solutions to the problem, keep them engaged and contributing, and helps craft a more robust and elegant final solution. Some ideas on how to add creativity to the session are:

  • Perform go and sees. Go to where the problem exists.

  • Utilize brainstorming tools like affinity diagrams, mind maps, and story boards.

  • Create sub-groups that brainstorm alone and report out to the broader group. This reduces group think and allows for more creative options.

  • Review other areas where the problem does not exist for inspiration.

Don't just go through the motions of completing the form. Draw out the best of your team by using a blended approach with both structure and creativity. You'll get better results and your team will find time to catch a nap after work hours.

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