If you’re faced with a challenge, chances are that the solution is just a little outside of the focus of your conscious attention. Dr. Win Wenger takes a look at popular methods of creative problem solving, and suggests a unique solution to improve your approach to it.

As a creativity and innovation professional, you probably have learned that you already have the best answer to whatever matter is your challenge, that it’s just a little outside of the focus of their conscious attention. You can, of course, also apply this truism to whatever issue is your own current challenge.

One way to appreciate this concept more readily is to hold your index finger up at arm’s length distance, and focus your eyes on that finger without moving them for a minute or so. That finger, of course, is about the width of one’s visual attention, and so it serves as a nice metaphor for the span of one’s conscious attention. Without moving your eyes from your finger, notice how much of the space or room around you that you can actually see and be affected by, and can make sense of. All that input becomes part of your ongoing database, affecting and coloring your choices, decisions and actions even if you never noticed that outside-the-focus information coming in. You have a lifetime’s worth of information and ideas going on within your mind.

The main problem with problem solving is that if the problem doesn’t immediately resolve based upon what we (consciously) know about the situation, chances are it will not ever be solved that way. In this case, what we consciously “know” has BECOME the problem, standing between us and the fresh perceptions needed to find good answers. There are hundreds of effective methods for innovating and for solving such challenges, many of them copies of each other but also many of them original, using different approaches and different theories as to what they are doing – but all of them joined by one common characteristic: Each of these methods is successful precisely to the extent to which it somehow moves its practitioners beyond or away from what they think they know about the matter, into fresh perceptions.

Some of these approaches:

  • Brainstorming, where you exhaust all the data you have ready on tap in the context and then have to keep on fishing for more.
  • Various ways to duck around one’s own internal “editor” long enough to have responses on the table worth sorting and processing.
  • “Capture” vehicles and practices – an “idea butterfly net” with which to notice, grasp, record, and reinforce the occasional creative thought coming through the back of your mind into a rich, profuse stream in full daylight focus of consciousness.
  • Switching some attention from your “knowledge” to your basic, most sensory, perceptions in the context. Knowledge is wonderful to have, but essentially static. Perception lets you keep your windows open on infinity and change.
  • Changing representational systems through which you are working, ranging from unused senses and forced associations to involved metaphors.
  • Mental imagery – the subtlest and most direct access to insights and information beyond your customary fixed conscious focus, useful once you have a way to accurately “read” your own internal code of metaphors.

You can find detailed instructions for modern methods, recently found or created, from each of these approaches on my website. Their emphasis is on ease of use, largely because we are now in a world where we’d all be much better off more of us went to work creatively on the problems all around us. Most of these methods resulted from a little proposition I first voiced in 1967 when I first began to study creativity, which is:

If you have a good method for solving problems, one of its best uses is on the problem of how to create better methods for solving problems. One of the best uses for those better methods, in turn, is on the problem of creating even better such methods, and so on. That simple principle, that of reinvesting your best methods into creating yet better methods, has been driving us ever since 1967 and can be productive for you as well.

What is your favorite method for innovation and solving problems? Define the challenge as being that of how to create a better such method, and set to work! You may be surprised at how rewarding this can be for you.

Win Wenger, Ph.D., is a pioneer in the fields of creativity and creative method, accelerated learning, brain and mind development, and political economy. Formerly a college teacher, Dr. Wenger is a trainer renowned around the world, and the author of 52 published books, including his latest breakthrough text of techniques to facilitate scientific discovery and technical invention, Discovering the Obvious.