Myths about Creative Thinking and Problem Solving

1. Every problem has only one solution (or one right answer). The goal of problem solving is to solve the problem, and most problems can be solved in any number of ways. If you discover a solution that works, it is a good solution. There may be other solutions thought of by other people, but that doesn't make your solution wrong. What is THE solution to putting words on paper? Fountain pen, ball point, pencil, marker, typewriter, printer, Xerox machine, printing press?

2. The best answer/solution/method has already been found. Look at the history of any solution set and you'll see that improvements, new solutions, new right answers, are always being found. What is the solution to human transportation? The ox or horse, the cart, the wagon, the train, the car, the airplane, the jet, the SST? Is that the best and last? What about pneumatic tubes, hovercraft, even Star Trek type beams?

What is the best way to put words on paper? The word processor? Is that the last invention? How about voice recognition, or thought wave input? On a more everyday level, many solutions now seen as best or at least entrenched were put in place hastily and without much thought-such as the use of drivers' licenses for ID cards or social security numbers for taxpayer ID numbers. Other solutions are entrenched simply for historical reasons: they've always been done that way. Why do shoe laces still exist, when technology has produced several other, better ways to attach shoes to feet (like velcro, elastic, snap buttons, and so on)?

3. Creative answers are complex technologically. Only a few problems require complex technological solutions. Most problems you'll meet with require only a thoughtful solution requiring personal action and perhaps a few simple tools. Even many problems that seem to require a technological solution can be addressed in other ways. For example, what is the solution to the large percentage of packages ruined by the Post Office? Look at the Post Office package handling method. Packages are tossed in bins when you send them. For the solution, look at United Parcel. When you send a package, it is put on a shelf. The change from bin to shelf is not a complex or technological solution; it's just a good idea, using commonly available materials. As another example, when hot dogs were first invented, they were served to customers with gloves to hold them. Unfortunately, the customers kept walking off with the gloves. The solution was not at all complex: serve the hot dog on a roll so that the customer's fingers were still insulated from the heat. The roll could be eaten along with the dog. No more worries about disappearing gloves. (Note by the way what a good example of changing direction this is. Instead of asking, "How can I keep the gloves from being taken?" the hot dog server stopped thinking about gloves altogether.) 4. Ideas either come or they don't. Nothing will help. There are many successful techniques for stimulating idea generation. We will be discussing and applying them.

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