We are living in extraordinary times, and it is even more important not to shut down our minds to new ideas. When we do, we often leap into solutions for our problems. Creative problem solving (CPS) is an approach which encourages fresh and open thinking. However, with more of us living in a confined situation, due to COVID 19, how do we work on CPS techniques when we are working alone?

One approach is to use technology to set up virtual meetings and I am sure that many are doing this. However, we can work successfully alone in a creative mode. There are many possibilities in the technology field for working alone, such as this mind mapping software.

However, working with a screen all day can be counterproductive. Often, we have our best ideas when doing something away from our desks such as going for a walk, taking a break, even while we sleep. It helps to prepare our minds to allow ideas to incubate while we are doing other things.

So how do we prepare our minds?

I propse here to lead you through an approach to the three-stage process on creative problem solving whilst working alone. You can of course try any of these techniques on their own.

Stage 1: understanding the problem

In the same way as we prepare in group problem solving, we can use techniques to explore the problem. I favour using imagery for this and suggest you draw the problem as a rich picture or put together a collage to represent the problem. This is an activity you can do  alone. You can virtually share this with others if possible as it helps to get  reflections and  perspectives around the problem..

After working visually you can then pull all the elements of the problem together using mind mapping or a fishbone diagram.

Stage 2: Exploring solutions

When we understand what the problem is, then we can brainstorm ideas to resolve it. This is also something we can do on our own, even though input from others is so much better.

Other techniques you could try include using metaphor as a prompt for new ideas. Find a random image from magasines or photos you find online,  and ask yourself, in which way is this image like your problem. Note what comes up. don’t search for anything spexiific, it is imporatnt that the mage you choose is a random one.

At this stage you could select your best solution and move onto stage 3 or collect your ideas together into a storyboard.

Stage 3: implementing the solution

At this stage of the CPS you start with some bullet proofing to see if your ideas are viable. Some techniques you can do on your own might include drawing up a help/hinder diagram or a force field analysis. Both identify the forces that would work in favour of any ideas being implemented and those that would work against.

A fun approach to try on your own is the Disney strategy. Although this is normally done with others.  Place three chairs in a triangle ,  marking each one  to represent one of the three roles, Dreamer, Realist or Critic.  Then spend a short time in each position making the case for the idea you are bullet proofing. Note the arguments that would be made in each position, and on the next round adjust your ideas to take these into account.

When this is finished, after  three or four rounds, collect any insights or changes you have made to your ideas and start to build your action plan.

If you have used the storyboard then this becomes your action plan and you can add in more detail as the plan takes shape.

You can find all of these techniques and more in the book, Creativity cycling that I co-authored with Tracy Stanley.

Stay safe, stay creative.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached people  in a variety of corporate settings, and developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .