Spark Creativity and Solve Problems


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

Spark Creativity and Solve Problems

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things.”

— Steve Jobs

Creativity is not just for artists and authors. It’s the engine that drives innovation in every business. It is key to solving problems, and boy, does business need problem solvers.

Creative thinking also isn’t magic. It’s about connecting dissimilar ideas to create a synthesis, as Steve Jobs pointed out. You can use specific strategies to think creatively.

Let’s start with metaphorical thinking.

What is metaphorical thinking?

Metaphorical thinking is connecting dissimilar things to find creative connections. Here are four basic strategies:

  • A simile compares two things using like or as.

    Our warehouse is like a sleeping man.

  • A metaphor equates two things.

    Our warehouse is a sleeping man.

  • A symbol makes one thing stand for another.

Of course, all of this metaphorical thinking begs the question “How is the warehouse like a sleeping man?” Is it sluggish and unresponsive? Is it worn out from working hard all day? Is it resting up for the next big push? Is it calm and cozy?

There is no linear route connecting a warehouse and a sleeping man, so your brain has to find nonlinear ones. These strategies require you to think creatively, seeing the old warehouse in a completely new way. And if the warehouse needs to wake up, you start thinking of what could do the trick—the beginning of problem solving.

You Try It!

Complete one or more of the following sentence patterns to spur creative thinking about your topic:

  • Simile: ________________ is like ______________.

    My résumé is like a weed-filled garden.

  • Metaphor: _________________ is ___________________.

    My office partner is a blast furnace.

  • Symbol: The physical representation of ________________ should be __________________.

    The logo of our competitor should be a hand picking a pocket.

Then think of creative ways that each sentence can be true.

You could also try conceptual blending, which requires even more creative thought.

What is conceptual blending?

Conceptual blending combines dissimilar concepts and requires you to creatively work out the connections.

How can hiring be more like speed dating?

  • Hold a fare with tables for different companies.
  • Give each applicant 10 minutes at a table.
  • Have HR managers and applicants indicate interest.
  • A third party looks for matches and calls for connections.
  • Instead of a second date, successful applicants get a personal interview.
  • Hiring could use an online app to find applicants to participate.

What qualities should our department share with pizza?

  • Everyone likes pizza, and everyone should like working in our department.
  • People should get to choose the ingredients they prefer for their workday.
  • Our work should be appetizing and filling.
  • The department should nourish the people who work in it.

What could the lunch room learn from a playground?

  • It could have different stations for different kinds of diners.
  • It could have colorful and inviting furniture.
  • It should be designed to get people to collaborate.
  • It should be a destination that employees eagerly flock to.

The conceptual blend once again creates a cognitive dissonance, and your mind has to find creative ways to connect the two concepts.

You Try It!

Complete one or more of the following sentences to create a conceptual blend:

  • How could ________________ be more like ____________________?
  • How could our product team be more like the Avengers?
  • What features of ________________ should ________________ have?
  • What features of an oak tree should our catalog have?
  • What could ________________ learn from ________________?
  • What could our department learn from an ant farm?

Answer one of your questions in as many creative ways as possible.

Next, you can try perspective shifting.

What is perspective shifting?

Perspective shifting lets you think about a situation from a different person’s vantage point. You start by listing facts about yourself, going from general to specific:

I am . . .

  • Health: Healthy
  • Age: 26
  • Gender: Female
  • Nationality: American
  • Ethnicity: Caucasian
  • Language: English
  • Location: Milwaukee
  • Education: Bachelor’s degree

Then ask what you think about a specific topic?

Given who I am, what do I think about student debt relief?

Afterward, change one or more details about yourself and think of your opinion from that perspective.

If I were retired, what would I think about student debt relief?
If I had a tech degree, what would I think about student debt relief?
If I were a person of color, what would I think about student debt relief?

You Try It!

Provide answers to each of these facts about yourself. Then write down your opinion about a specific topic. Change some of the facts and think of how your perspective would change.

I am . . .

  • Health:
  • Age:
  • Gender:
  • Nationality:
  • Ethnicity:
  • Language:
  • Location:
  • Education:

Get More Support

Refer to the Write for Business Guide, Courses, and eTips for more support with creative thinking.