Are Your Top Talent Creative Problem Solvers?

Costa Michailidis -
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As robots and algorithms take over repetitive tasks, applying creativity to solve new problems takes center stage for top talent.

Photo of Creative Problem Solvers at Work

(Creative problem solvers at work)

Why Creativity? Why Now?

For thousands of years human beings worked the same jobs for generations.

A shoemaker, a merchant, an inn keeper, and a soldier learned how to do their job from their masters who learned from their masters. The best techniques were figured out a long time ago. There was a right way to make a shoe or throw a spear.

There were of course exceptions, and room for creative input. Perhaps in the arts, music, poetry, and performance, but for the most part, it was the same jobs done the same way for a long time.

There were very few innovators, but when they came around they changed everything. The first time a bow was invented warfare changed. When agriculture was first cultivated whole societal structures were reformatted. Innovators change things. They require the rest of us to adjust to their world.

As the pace of innovation kicked into high gear in the 20th century jobs changed extensively. Information technology, modern medicine, video games, and new forms of entertainment all emerged chock full of new problems to solve and new jobs to do. A sound engineer in Ancient Athens was concerned with how echos bounced off the amphitheater walls. A sound engineer today is concerned with getting their podcast or song sounding rich across an array of devices and applications.

Today, jobs are changing even faster, and because of this, creativity is stepping into center stage.

The Role of Creativity in Emerging Jobs

When your master taught you how to make a shoe, or your captain taught you how to sail a ship, you just trusted that they knew the best way to do it, and they did.

Today... Not so much.

If you're a marketer, you might discover that the best way to market your product is not on social media anymore, but in messenger applications in an automated fashion leveraging chat bots. Lots of professionals are applying creativity to solve problems in their jobs. Web developers are constantly discovering new ways to improve performance and engagement. Entertainers are creating entirely new categories of experiences for people.

In fact, there are today, out there in the world, places that will charge you money to lock you and your friends in a room, and make you solve puzzles in order to escape. This is a form of entertainment. This is a real thing! In fact we've modeled a training course after the concept called Escape The Meeting »

Jobs are changing so quickly, that we need creative people to figure out the best ways to do them on the fly. There are no masters anymore.

As if it isn't bad enough that all these new jobs are evolving at a break neck pace, any jobs that include physical or intellectual repetition are quickly being automated with robots and algorithms. Creativity has never been more important a skill in the work world.

What Does It Take to Be a Creative Problem Solver?

Everyone has what it takes to be creative. I ran an activity at a DisruptHR event here in New York on reclaiming creativity. The activity was a hit, and I wrote it up so anyone can do it: Reclaim Your Creativity »

The idea is that children are naturally creative. They must be in order to learn. While school or our family life may push creative inclinations out of our usual behavior, as a way to help us conform to how the world works, creativity is always there, dormant. Sometimes all it takes to ignite it is acknowledging it, identifying once again with the creative part of ourselves.

Creative Problem Solving constitutes a set of skills and attitudes that we train and develop here at Innovation Bound.

In order to think creatively to solve novel problems you need to be able to do a number of different things:

That's a simplified list, but it should put a picture in your mind about what the creative problem solving process looks like from challenge to solution.

The crucial difference between problem solving and creative problem solving is that you need to be ready to take on a novel perspective, or develop a novel approach at every stage of the process from clarifying the problem to executing a solution.

So, clarifying the problem becomes reframing the problem. Developing a solution becomes inventing a novel approach, and so on.

There are a series of relevant questions to ask at this stage.

Let's explore one of these questions, and let us know if you'd like a deeper dive. Contact me on LinkedIn: Costa Michailidis on LinkedIn »

How Do You Lead Creative Problem Solvers?

When Steve Jobs was at the helm of Apple in the 2000's, he lead by having great ideas. He defined an ambitions vision, he held his people to an incredibly high standard, and they soared.

It is one good way to lead creative people, but there's a rather interesting alternative that Google embraced in the same era. (It's unclear whether they still do this.)

The founders at Google didn't lead by having great ideas, they lead by having great questions. How might you organize the world's information, and make it universally accessible and useful? Google's very mission is a question in disguise, and a very innovative question at that.

There is no one right way to lead creative people, just as creativity itself does not yield a right answer. It yields potential answers.

This is the honest truth. Leadership just isn't simple, but for those that like to have a solid foundation of academically validated answers here is a strong starting point. The following are ten aspects of psychological climate that strongly affect creativity.

Ten Dimensions of Creative Climate
  1. Challenge - Finding joy and meaning in the work you do
  2. Dynamism & Liveliness - A place where new things occur often
  3. Playfulness & Humor - Spontaneous, relaxed atmosphere with lots of laughter
  4. Freedom - An environment where people are given autonomy
  5. Risk Taking - The tolerance of ambiguity and risk
  6. Idea Time - Time to work on new ideas
  7. Idea Support - New ideas being welcome and not discouraged
  8. Trust & Openness - Safety in relationships
  9. Debate - Allowing viewpoints to clash and encouraging questioning of norms
  10. Conflict (negatively correlated) - Emotional tension or interpersonal conflict hinders creativity

The climate at an organization or within a team can have a strong influence over that team's behavior and their ability to be creative in their jobs.

If your leaders can instill a climate like the one described above, the evidence demonstrates that they'll be supporting and encouranging creative problem solving behaviors and outcomes.

We wish you luck in all of your creative endeavors!


Ekvall, G. (1996). Organizational climate for creativity and innovation. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5 (1), 105 - 123.