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A New Approach to Creative Problem Solving in the Workplace

A New Approach to Creative Problem Solving in the Workplace

[Estimated Reading Time: 9 Minutes]

How many times has a team member or client requested that you come up with an innovative or creative solution to the problem at hand? How do you switch to a “creative mindset”? Many organizations have completely lost touch with true creativity and are consistently churning out lacklustre results that rarely “wow” the user or audience.  

Some of us have been blessed and possess a natural “creative touch”, where others seem to become overwhelmed when tasked with choosing a font colour for a Powerpoint presentation. The truth is, we all have access to creative thought patterns but in the typical business setting of today, we are rarely presented with the opportunity to tap into our natural instincts that allow for the creation of something truly unique.

Luckily, some of the most creative minds in the world have come together and created a system that grabs your hand and walks you through a creative problem-solving process that produces incredible results. IDEO is a global innovation company, often hailed as one of the top leaders in the world for design and solutions-oriented creativity. This group of thought leaders have created a process called “Design Thinking” which allows any organization or team member to tap into their natural creative tendencies. With these bursts of “out of the box” thinking, businesses can then overcome complex obstacles and produce products and services that provide true value to their users.

Recently, our Chief Design Officer (Tina Walczak) and I completed IDEO’s course on Design Thinking and were absolutely blown away by the information that was shared with us. We highly recommend exploring their course further but in the meantime, we would love to elaborate on a few of the insights that we believe could help your business better solve problems today. Ready to get started? Let’s begin with an overview of Design Thinking.

web design marketing seo | Tina Walczak, the Chief Design Officer at Hiilite Creative in Kelowna

What is Design Thinking?   

Design Thinking is really a mindset. It is a way to routinely come up with valuable, creative ideas and can be thought of as a process for problem-solving that starts with empathy. In order to utilize Design Thinking, you need to start with the actual people that will interact with your offering and deeply analyze their needs. For those of us that have a difficult time tapping into the creative side of our brains, IDEO stresses that you must actively engage in the process of Design Thinking in order to gain the full benefits.

It might sound ludicrous at first but sometimes the solution you are seeking is found within a box of pencil crayons instead of on your laptop. Sound childish? Steve Jobs and Jony Ive (the Chief Design Officer at Apple) played around with physical mockups and prototypes every single day. They would paint them different colours and experiment with various materials and textures – perhaps Kindergarten taught you a lot more than you previously thought!  

web design marketing seo | A male designer sketching a creative solution to a problem in his workplace

Implement This Phrase Now and Instantly Improve Your Organization

Now that we have a basic understanding of what Design Thinking is, I have a little tidbit of information to share with you that can radically transform your business or organization overnight. That is the beauty of Design Thinking; you can always acquire more knowledge and refine your processes, but this is truly a system that can begin to benefit your company right now.

One of the main factors that contributes to IDEO’s continual success is the way that they approach problems. Their team recommends framing each problem as a question instead of a negative, dead-end fact. IDEO uses “How Might We” statements in place of typical problem statements which provides an optimistic invitation to explore the complication at hand further. It is a subtle change in the problem-solving approach but it can have a massive impact on the motivation levels and mindset of your team, even at a subconscious level.  


The HOW is solutions-oriented

The MIGHT encourages optimism

The WE is collaborative


Get your team to start asking “How Might We” instead of focusing on the obvious problem and watch as solutions begin to magically appear!

The Four Phases of Design Thinking

Once you have your team asking “How Might We”, they are then ready to dive into the four steps or elements of Design Thinking. These phases are taught in a linear fashion but remember, not all of our problems follow a linear path. Each of these steps can be used at any time depending on the stage of your project or issue. The four phases of Design Thinking are:


  1. Gather Inspiration
  2. Generate Ideas
  3. Make Ideas Tangible
  4. Craft a Relatable Story


IDEO’s course dives into these four steps in great detail, walking you through specific examples and exercises but in order to get you started, we will explore the basics of each phase here first!

web design marketing seo | A business leader in Los Angeles working through a complex problem that requires a creative solution

1. Gathering Inspiration

Let’s say you own a company that has several divisions, all client facing. One of these divisions has a storefront and has been receiving a plethora of negative comments recently, the majority of the remarks referencing long wait times and a claustrophobic waiting room. How might we solve this little issue?

Many managers or owners might get on the phone and begin searching for a larger space to operate out of, or they might even turn to their staff and place the blame with customer service. Design Thinking suggests you start by leaving your office and walking down to that storefront to physically OBSERVE your clients in the environment in question. Observing others actually interacting with a product or service can unlock a brand new way of thinking. It provides insights to the issue at hand that would never be realized in a boardroom meeting. IDEO suggests “listening with your eyes”, attempting to step into the shoes of the people that you are designing for. If your team can adopt a curious mindset and empathize with your consumers, creativity will emerge and produce great designs.   

web design marketing seo | A large group of customers in a public space in New York City

2. Generating Ideas

There is one thing that every organization, business and team have in common; they all believe that they have great ideas. Great ideas are rare, extremely rare. Most employees are more likely to be struck by lightning than to discover and implement a truly innovative idea. Why is so hard to tap into our creativity and come up with an idea that is unique? The majority of us are stuck in “idea patterns”, coming up with the same type of solution time and time again, instantly selecting those ideas when they appear instead of diving deeper into the core emotional elements.


“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas”– Linus Pauling


After your team has pushed their denial to the side and accepted that maybe there is a little more room for creativity in their life, the real fun then begins. Idea creation should not be scary or intimidating, it should be playful and explorative! Bringing a playful mood into your workspace gives your team permission to think outside of the box and push free of the traditional constraints they are accustomed to. IDEO recommends setting time limits on your brainstorming sessions so your team doesn’t overthink the problem and fall into their old thought patterns.

Exercise you can implement right now…


Provide your team members with a piece of paper and a writing utensil and give them 2 minutes to come up with a solution to your issue by combining or “mashing up” two offerings from outside industries. Let’s say your company creates and distributes umbrellas…what would happen if you combined the design of an umbrella and a common kitchen funnel or an athletic water bottle? Perhaps the umbrella collects rainwater as you walk and filters it for human consumption, a design idea that could tap into the environmentally conscious consumer market!

web design marketing seo | A female looking at the reflection of her umbrella, considering how it could help in design

3. Making Your Ideas Tangible

his is where teams falter most frequently. We have become so comfortable working within the confines of computer programs and apps that we have forgotten that most solutions live outside of a screen. Once you have a few ideas that have the potential to lead somewhere interesting, your team should begin to create a few prototypes. One of the easiest ways to create a simple prototype is to sketch an idea out. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a Picasso to complete this task- keep your sketches simple and fast.

Our friends at CopyBlogger put together a fantastic article on how to create simple drawings which will help take the pressure off your team when it comes time to pick up the pencil.   

Remember, some ideas will seem amazing in your head or on a design program like Photoshop, but oftentimes, you won’t be able to tell if a solution has legs until you create a physical version of it. Think cheap and fast here! Designing a new laptop? Make a quick prototype in a few minutes using an old pizza box to see your idea come to life and decide if you want to invest any additional resources at that point.

web design marketing seo | A group of creative business professionals play around with prototypes

4. Turning Your Design into a Story

Storytelling is one of our most powerful tools available to us as humans and yet, the art of crafting a relatable tale seems to have been lost in the past few decades. Stories help your users relate to your product or service while making the experience or interaction memorable. Before there were computers or even a solid supply of books, humans passed information from one to another through the power of story.


“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”– Robert McKee


IDEO has some recommendations for storytelling that can turn any idea into a captivating and relatable tale.

  • Make it personal, or have a person in the story
  • Get emotional
  • Use anecdotes and reflections
  • Include a call to action

What product are you more interested in? A fridge that has a built-in app to help people lose weight, OR,  a solution that helps Steve, an overworked construction worker, beat his depression and lack of energy by adjusting the way he interacts with his fridge at home.

web design marketing seo | A man gives a keynote presentation in Los Angeles, displaying his story telling ability

If you take away one thing from this article, remember that the key to finding innovative solutions and bringing creativity to a team is to cultivate optimism. Instead of, “Wow, another problem that is costing us money” shift to, “Here is a chance to take our company to the next level. How can we innovate and offer more value here?” Design Thinking is not mastered overnight but you and your team can become more creative starting today by implementing some of the tools and tactics we have shared above.


Ready to dive into Design Thinking with IDEO? Click HERE


Need an outside, creative perspective to help promote your company?  Our team here at Hiilite can help with that!


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