Creativity as Problem Solving for Entrepreneurs

Reprinted from Creative Oklahoma, Inc.

Creativity has been an important area of investigation since J.P. Guilford’s call for more study on the topic as the president of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1950. A few key approaches have dominated the landscape in the intervening decades such as divergent and convergent production (thinking) as conceptualized by Guilford himself in 1967 and creativity’s application in both art and science as reviewed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his 1996 book entitled Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. Researchers of note such as E. Paul Torrance and Ned Herrmann have offered widely used creativity assessments including the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT, 1974) and the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI, 1978) both in education and management training. Curiosity around the topic of creativity remains high as witnessed by one of the most popular business books of the last decade – A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink (2005) – and one of the most popular TED Talks ever – “Do schools kill creativity?” by Sir Ken Robinson (2006) – center on the role of creativity.

Eminent versus Everyday Creativity

At one point or another most of the discussion of creativity harkens back to one of two types: Big-C or little-c creativity.  The first type, Big-C creativity, is dedicated to eminent contributions of creative genius. This category is dominated by revolutionary innovations such as new natural and social science discoveries (see Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud), technological breakthroughs (see Steve Jobs and Bill Gates), and enduring works of art (see Leonardo da Vinci and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart).

The second type, little-c creativity, is focused on everyday problem solving.  While expertise within a given domain of interest is often associated with Big-C creativity, little-c creativity emphasizes such characteristics as unconventionality, inquisitiveness, imagination, and freedom.  If Big-C creativity is reserved for creative geniuses, little-c creativity is available to the layperson.  In fact, most of the measurement and assessment of creativity from Torrance to Herrmann and beyond is assessing little-c creativity.  Moreover, much of the focus is on the nebulous “creative process” or creativity as a means to an end instead of creativity as an end unto itself.

Creativity and Entrepreneurship

Any list of history’s top entrepreneurs will include of mix of Big-C and little-c creatives: Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, and Walt Disney might represent eminent accomplishment while Sir Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey are more illustrative of everyday problem solving.  In fact, Branson frequently mentions in media interviews that finding a problem and solving it is at the root of his entrepreneurial approach at Virgin. Branson’s problem-solving business model is little-c creativity at its finest.

We often become both enamored with and intimidated by eminent accomplishment. The Ray Kroc’s and Walt Disney’s of the world come along once in a generation or two or more.  Even the multi-billionaire status of individuals like Branson and Winfrey give us pause to think any one of us could ever achieve their level of success.  Fear not: Any one of us can find a problem and solve it.  Any one of us can apply little-c creativity.

Entrepreneurship is a vehicle for just such application.  At its most basic level entrepreneurship is the art of turning an idea into a business.  Those ideas could be the outgrowth of little-c creativity.  Find a problem, solve it, and turn it into a business.

Problems and Solutions

We hear about, and perhaps even complain about, problems on a daily basis.  Problems are not hard to find.  The challenge is that we get so caught up in the problem that we do not give proper attention to potential solutions.  Perhaps this subtle change in perspective is what separates the Krocs, Disneys, Bransons, and Winfreys from the rest.  They did not, or do not, get paralyzed by the problem, instead they turn their attention to solutions.  As Henry Ford, another successful entrepreneur, was famously quoted, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” and “Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.”

Recently I elected to redecorate my home office.  With the help of a family friend who specializes in interior design, all the old was removed to be replaced with the new.  Besides new paint, artwork, and window treatments was a new desk.  My old desk had a back and drawers to hide computer and other cables.  The new desk resembled a drafting table.  Thus, upon moving the new desk into the fresh new space, I was deeply disappointed to see countless cables dangling from every angle.

I wondered if it was too late to change course.  Could I bring my old desk back into this fresh, new space?  Instead of focusing on the problem, I started thinking solution.  I turned to the Internet.  Could there be an existing solution to my problem?  I found many approaches for organizing cables but no solutions to hide them.  Many of these organizing approaches called themselves channels.  A channel, in this context, is also a way to manage flow.  I turned my attention to devices to manage flow and thought about the guttering on my home.

A guttering system is a water channel to redirect rainfall to the corners of a house.  It “hides” the fallen rain from dripping straight down the roof.  This left me wondering: Could a piece of guttering hide all my technology cables?  I measured the width of my new desk and went to my local DIY home improvement store with the same question.

Upon arrival at the store, I proceeded to the guttering section.  I looked at all the varieties in stock.  A store associate asked if I needed assistance.  I told him my problem – unsightly cables – and the genesis of my solution.  He confessed that he had never heard of such an approach: rain guttering as an office cable channel.  Together we determined that I could indeed mount a piece of rain guttering on the underside of my desk with three bolts.  I gave him the desk measurements and he cut a piece of guttering four inches shorter than the desk’s width.  He helped me select the corresponding bolts, and grabbed a set for himself as he, too, planned to implement my solution at his house.

Ultimately I installed my new creative solution to cable management and painted the guttering the same color as my newly painted walls.  With all the cables flowing directly from the desktop to the guttering directly underneath, the cables are hidden and the solution is inconspicuous.  Problem solved.

In Conclusion

The opportunity was available to market an incognito computer cable channeling kit or, at the very least, make a DIY YouTube video.  Certainly I could have turned this simple little-c idea into a business, which is the merging of creativity as problem solving and entrepreneurship.  The fact that I did not does not prevent one of you from doing so.  It is important to me to be humble, down-to-earth and relatable instead of one of those potentially intimidating multi-billionaires.

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