By Lt Gen S.S. Apte January 1998 Did you know that dealing creatively with problems could be your way to developing intuition, healing relationships, empowering your organization, evolving the brain to a new level and personal transformation? Problems, according to conventional ways of thinking, are obstacles to a goal. We learn to live with the unsolved ones which grow into the crises which dominate our lives. Creative thinking reverses this order and alters our perception of a difficult situation. A problem becomes a challenge and then, an opportunity. Consider this; one company in the USA had spent millions of dollars to develop a multipurpose adhesive which turned out to be a failure, as it would peel off. They turned this failure into an opportunity in the post-it pads. These yellow little squares of paper can be stuck and peeled off for reuse. Creative thinking alone sees such opportunities. When I first developed and applied the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process in 1984, as a UN (ILO) productivity expert in Nigeria, it was mainly for the industry, distribution system, plantations and government. After returning to India three years later, I refined it further during my consultancy work with diverse organizations and, lately, some army units. Though originally intended only for solving problems, over the years I discovered its tremendous power to transform individuals and organizations. A QUESTION OF CREATIVITY Creativity is our inborn ability to change perceptions and to see any situation differently. No open-ended problem can be solved without some change in our perception. To illustrate, the new head of a public sector unit in Bihar in eastern India found that the corners on the newly painted walls of the corporate office were being splattered red with chewed betel nut. Since disciplinary action against offenders did not help, he tried creative thinking. He asked himself. ‘What will make me not even want to spit?’ Solution came instantly—place pictures of venerated deities at the corners. This solution was effective and enduring. Not only were the employees pleased with the prominence given to the deities, they also feared the consequences of spitting on them. In another case, at NASA, the tip of the streamlined ceramic heat-shield of the space module was burning out due to the frictional heat generated when it returned to earth at supersonic speed. The shield could not be made any thicker. Like a needle held in a flame, the tip accumulated heat which it could not carry away due to its small cross-section. Someone then offered a `ridiculous’ solution—reverse the direction of entry of the module so that the broad side faced earth. Since this ignored the principle of streamlining which reduces resistance to motion, the engineers hadn’t considered it. Now, they remembered that streamlining was effective below the speed of sound, and that at supersonic speeds, shape did not matter. Traditional thinking of streamlining for high speed projectiles had blocked a creative approach. This mental block was blasted by the technique of enforced `reverse thinking’ and a critical problem was solved in seconds. EXPLORING SOLUTIONS Our eyes can see and identify objects of a given size only up to a limited distance. Telescopes extend our limited vision. Similarly, mental blocks prevent us from seeing solutions. CPS extends our mental vision by blasting through blocks. We can then see and explore farther into the limitless solution space. Besides, while solving one problem, some new and deeper problems surface. Hidden problems cause endless harm, like cancer. On seeing and solving these, we usually get that totally satisfying `aha!’ Experience. Many solutions are then available to us. WATCHING THE BRAIN WORK The left and right hemispheres of the human brain function differently. During waking hours the left brain (LB) is dominant. LB is the stable, conservative anchor to our thinking, and ensures predictable or patterned behavior so essential for living in society. It is the fighter, and the argumentative brain. It creates tension to give us the needed fighting spirit but it gobbles up energy. It helps us survive day-to-day conflicts but when overused by constant arguments in long meetings and corporate or family battles, it depletes our energy and exhausts us. It is also our logical, disciplined but unbending, rigid brain which creates our mental blocks. The right brain (RB) is dominant when we are relaxed, drowsy or sleeping. It creates physical and mental relaxation, stimulates energy centers in the brain, giving us limitless energy. All creative thinking including humor is enjoyable and relaxing. RB makes new connections with existing ideas and creates numerous new ideas and concepts, not limited by logic, fear, past experience, practicability, etc. It creates new logic such as Boolean algebra with symbolic logic for computer circuitry. LB works for our survival, by preventing us from behaving in a socially or professionally unacceptable way, by giving warnings of our limitations (through fear), by enforcing current logic for existence, such as rules, regulations, traditions and other paradigms; but it prevents us from venturing out and growing. Resistance to change comes from LB. Its dominance is due to generations of fighting and evolving a rigid survival code for behavior and even thinking, thereby dousing our inborn creativity. During sleep or when relaxed, RB is dominant. Imaginative faculties, which venture into new territories and create both risk and growth, are now operative. RB responds in pictures and symbols in our dreams, and even in waking hours as intuition. The creativity of a child flows freely till school-going age, then he learns the hard, logical and `rational’ ways of survival in a hostile world, and inculcates the unchangeable rules and protocol. His rebellion is against this interference with his creative growth instincts. Forcing him to live a socially acceptable life all the time even when sleeping closes down his creative power, so that when adult, he needs artificial methods of creative stimulation, as the modern man needs artificial exercises such as yoga postures, aerobics, and massage (to maintain blood circulation and to get rid of toxins) Which the primitive man never needed. Hence, for survival in these changing times, creativity training is a must, as it speeds up our thought-circulation and throws out the toxins of outdated assumptions such as: ‘women do not deserve freedom’. ON DEVELOPING CREATIVITY In 1978, as honorary advisor to BHEL, the several lectures I gave on the subject to most of their senior managers over a period of three years, were well received, but no one actually applied creativity. Later, I realized that any new learning died down quickly unless there was immediate application and a pressure to use it. In my UN assignment, I had also discovered that no problem could be solved without some change of perception, which meant creative thinking. Then. The link between creative thinking and its immediate application in problem solving became obvious. The CPS Process was born—at the stage, primarily for solving current or potential problems. Everyone is creative, but many of us are blocked from using our creativity. Through its block-busting techniques, such as reversal, analogy, forced relationship, turning around assumptions, and free association of ideas, CPS challenges and forces the problem solver to think creatively. Managers, executives and also workers should learn appropriate CPS techniques and be made to apply these immediately to their problems. Resistant thinking will disappear quickly. Unlike other management training, this one gives results even before the training is over, as the experience of quick success creates all round motivation to continue. ZOOMING-IN ON CPS You can shoot the enemy whom you can see and who is with in the range of your weapon, which can fire in a straight line, like a rifle. If there is a hill between you and him, your solution has to be different. For instance, you can use an indirect fir weapon firing over the hill (a mortar or gun), you can have an observer to guide your fire on top of the hill, you can move to the top and use direct fire when you can see him, or you can even attract the enemy to the top so he becomes visible: you can use a longer range weapon, or go closer to the enemy. All these are different creative solutions for when you get stuck or if conditions change. However, the final solution which you choose must be logical, practical, within your resources of time, space, men and materials, etc. It must also harmonies with human attitudes if some persons are involved in implementing it. The RB creates many alternatives: the LB chooses. Thus CPS consists of two distinct stages: the creative phase of developing many alternatives without restrictions of any kind, and the rational, logical or decision-making phase. The broad series of steps are: define problem, develop many new definitions of the same problem, that is, look at it from different viewpoints, (for instance: How to kill rats? How to prevent entry of rats in the house? How to trap rats? Or even, how to prevent rats from breeding?) Select one of these new definitions according to its possibility of giving more challenge to your creativity; using various creativity techniques, develop many, many alternative solution—ideas regardless of their practicability; apply or analyze advantages and disadvantages of each along with your criteria for choosing and finally, select one solution for implementation. The selected solution, which may not be a perfect one, may need further solution-finding to any negative elements resulting from the chosen solution and the same process is now repeated to this narrower problem. Usually,
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