April 8, 2014 12:38 pm

Inventions come in many different shapes, sizes, and levels of complexity, but their goal of solving an existing problem is the same.  Through the use of innovative problem solving techniques, inventors have been able to change the world—or at least their corner of it—through creation of innovative inventions designed to tackle challenges large and small.

Six Steps to Problem Solving

While some inventors experience a flash of inspiration during an “A-HA!” moment of creativity, problem solving is more technical and involves a process of working through six steps to find the perfect solution to your dilemma. The steps are flexible and may be adapted to fit various types of problems. You may not spend equal time on each step but each is equally important.

1. Define the Problem

Identify the problem to be sure you are not working on solutions for a symptom rather than the overreaching issue.  The more clearly a problem is defined, the easier it will be to go through the following steps. One useful technique in problem definition is gap analysis, comparing the status quo to an idealized future state to identify the gaps in between.

2. Analyze the Problem

Dig to the root causes of the problem to detail the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. Try a cause-and-effect diagram using categories of causes including people, time, and environment. Remember that causes are something that produce an effect, result, or consequence.

3. Identify Solutions

As we discussed in our post last week about brainstorming, come up with as many alternate solutions as possible, without judgment or worries of practicality. Considering many alternatives may enhance the value of your final solution.  Be a problem-solving reporter and ask questions about the who-what-when-where-and-how of the causes. Record your ideas as you go, no matter how farfetched or out of the box they may seem.

4. Choose a Solution

Now it is time to look at all your solutions and pick the best. Allow yourself to let your imagination and creativity take you from one possibility to the next, as an impractical idea may lead you to a wonderful and ideal alternative. Consider the following while evaluating your ideas: Will this solve the problem without causing other unanticipated problems? Does it lead to an effective outcome? Will all key stakeholders accept this solution? Is the time and cost of implementation acceptable?

5. Plan of Action

You have found your ideal solution. What steps are needed for implementation? What tasks, timelines, and costs are involved? Who should execute each task? Draw up an action plan to guide you through this multi-step process. If you are working within a group, involving others in these tasks may be the best way to guarantee their buy-in and minimizing resistance to subsequent changes.  Consider creating a contingency plan—a “Plan B,” if you will—in case unexpected roadblocks appear that stop you from proceeding through your initial planned route.

6. Implement the Solution

This ongoing process includes not only implementation but also testing and monitoring progress to make sure you receive the desired results.  Build in feedback channels to alert you to any results, good or bad. If something in the process breaks down or is deemed ineffective, or the system needs updated to respond to future changes, you may wish to brainstorm further solutions to keep the process running successfully.

Effective and Creative Problem Solving

This six-step system is a tried and true approach to effective and fact-based innovative problem solving, useful for inventors who want to ensure  they are taking the right steps to solve the problem in the best way. By following this process, inventors may discover good, original, and useful solutions.

Have you used this six-step process for creative problem solving? We would love to hear how it worked for you. Please share your results with us in the comments.

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