How Can Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking Uplevel Your Business?

How Can Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking Uplevel Your Business?

A 2017 Gallup poll revealed that only 35% of workers believe they’re given only a few opportunities per year to be creative in the office. The same study also noted that 18% of respondents thought they believed their employers allowed them to take creative risks. These numbers imply the declining value of creative problem-solving and design thinking in the workplace. 

Employees who feel like their creativity is engaged and ignited by their projects are more likely to report satisfaction in their careers and stick around for the long haul. Learning how to provide more opportunities for workers to harness their imagination and innovation leads to improved products, more compelling marketing, and an overall improved corporate culture. 

Three female colleagues discussing project details with color swatches on desk in bright office.

Defining Creative Problem-Solving

Creative problem-solving (CPS), at its core, encourages employees to find novel ways to approach their tasks. This method allows for more expansive processes than is typical in the contemporary workforce, as it takes advantage of team members’ collective strengths and insights. 

The cornerstones of a strong creative problem-solving practice include the following:

  • Divergent thinking: Divergent thinking involves breaking down an existing problem in order to find a solution in the details. CPS balances divergent and convergent thinking. 
  • Convergent thinking: Convergent thinking takes the information from a divergent thinking session and organizes it into possibilities and probabilities. It pulls together what divergent thinking takes apart, which is why both are necessary in a CPS session.
  • Abstract thinking: Abstract thinking requires looking beyond the obvious information and looking for any patterns, complementary philosophies, and other concepts that could contribute to a more robust solution.
  • Positivity: Some brainstorming sessions immediately dismiss ideas outright for the sake of saving time, though this approach actively discourages creativity and employee contributions. Strong CPS says “yes” to everything during the divergent thinking process.
  • Development: Part of saying “yes” to all possibilities also entails expanding on every idea on the table before making a decision. Resist the urge to dismiss any contributions outright to aim for efficiency. Some ideas may require a little building out before coming into their own as the most viable solution.
  • Asking questions: Great development requires asking both interpersonal and intrapersonal questions. It gives ideas room to grow and collaborators an opportunity to combine their skillsets in innovative new ways. Asking questions opens up even more possibilities for additional potential outcomes.  
  • Delaying decisions: Rushing too quickly into implementing a solution runs the risk of creating future problems down the line. Remember, “slow and steady wins the race.” CPS prioritizes due diligence over expedience. 

Over time, companies can build off of these basic building blocks to further define creative problem-solving in a way more tailored to their business needs. 

Why is Creative Problem-Solving Important?

The importance of creative problem-solving centers around its flexibility and granularity. It asks workers to consider the details before moving on to the bigger picture rather than only focusing on one particular scale. 

In addition, CPS nurtures a workplace culture that gives everyone a voice during the brainstorming process. Companies hoping to increase their employee retention rate should consider implementing CPS as a normal process. Workers who believe their input is valued are far more likely to stay at their companies. 

Other benefits of CPS include the following:

  • Stronger solutions
  • Greater innovation
  • More interdisciplinary viewpoints
  • More diversity
  • Less bias
  • Discovering new opportunities for growth
  • Recognizing potential challenges before they arise

Ultimately, the role of CPS in business is to challenge conventional thinking and create exciting, new, and inclusive paths forward for the company. Pairing this approach with a commitment to design thinking helps bring out workers’ fullest potential.

Defining Design Thinking

The definition of design thinking dovetails with creative-problem solving. Where CPS is a driving philosophy that emphasizes breaking down problems and holistically rebuilding them to form stronger solutions, design thinking is a process through which CPS can be realized. 

Pioneered at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, design thinking outlines the strategy used by successful architects, product developers, and other designers to craft the most innovative possible results. 

Design thinking involves five steps to ignite creativity: 

  1. Empathize – Center the target audience’s needs first and foremost. Make sure all aspects of the design process as well as the final design promote comfort. 
  2. Define – Strong designs require strong points of view. The define phase asks thinkers to come up with detailed breakdowns of the problem at hand and the different possible routes toward a solution.
  3. Ideate – Ideation is just another way to phrase “brainstorming.” Workers in ideation sessions craft and explore all the possibilities before narrowing them down to the most promising actions.
  4. Prototype – A prototype, whether it be a role-playing scenario, product mock-up, or even a simple mind map, provides insight into which possible solutions on hand offer the most satisfying returns. This phase requires a lot of experimenting and may involve dipping back into ideation mode. 
  5. Test – Once a couple of prototypes have been properly solidified, it’s time to start putting them to the test. Ask members of your target audience to examine the available prototypes and provide feedback on improvements or additional features that would suit their needs even better. 

Design thinking is a cycle. Employees may find themselves “going back to the drawing board” at different points in order to gain greater clarity on the possibilities at hand. It’s important to note that these instances are opportunities, never setbacks. 

Some design thinking examples include the following:

  • AirBnb: AirBnb is one of the most prominent examples of successful design thinking. The company started out as a struggling startup. A trip to New York, a camera, and talking to individuals interested in renting out their homes to travelers yielded the insight that users wouldn’t click on listings with poor-quality photos.
  • Netflix: Netflix’s agility when utilizing design thinking makes it another major example of creative design thinking in action. They made the jump to offering a streaming service when DVD rentals started falling out of style. After noticing patterns in the sort of content subscribers preferred, Netflix again made the jump to offering original programming.
  • Monash Health: This Australian mental health clinic wanted to reduce the number of patient relapses that mainly resulted in drug overdoses and suicide attempts. Monash worked closely with patients to understand all of the factors that went into relapsing and realized that sometimes the “best practices” in the mental health industry aren’t always “best practices” for every patient. They crafted a more personalized, patient-centric approach to care with the data gathered and lowered the number of relapses over time.

These successful design thinking examples span entirely different industries; creativity is not relegated exclusively to the creative sector. Harnessing the power of creative problem-solving and design thinking as a complementary set of mindsets applies to any company structure in any industry. 

How Does Design Thinking Work with CPS?

Design thinking helps underscore why creative problem-solving is important. The structured processes that drive design thinking are themselves inspired by the philosophies of creative problem-solving. 

In other words, think of creative problem-solving as a prix fixe menu outlining the chef’s desired theme for the evening. Design thinking would be the recipes themselves in this analogy. Nothing about creative problem-solving and design thinking’s cores contradict one another. 

A company could apply CPS principles to problems at hand while not necessarily using a design thinking framework, just as it could work within a design thinking framework without creative problem-solving as the overarching outlook. However, creative problem-solving and design thinking work best when working together. 

CPS Pitfalls to Avoid

Organizations hoping to infuse creative problem-solving into their corporate culture must research how to implement it in order to avoid the most common CPS challenges. Poorly-planned CPS can harm a company’s ability to find the right solutions. During problem-solving sessions, leaders tasked with overseeing the sessions should keep their eyes and ears out for the following issues that impede genuine progress: 

  • Negativity
  • Inaccessibility
  • Rigidity
  • Rushed pacing
  • Pressure
  • Perfectionism
  • Not providing the correct training or resources 
  • Not addressing bias
  • Invalidating feedback
  • Falling back on rigid thinking patterns
  • Unclear communication

CPS, as well as design thinking, requires openness to thrive. Any bad habits that promote an inflexible environment actively damage productivity. Although leadership is responsible for organizing and moderating meetings, it takes every participant in a creative problem-solving and design thinking session to contribute to a healthy, innovative workspace. 


Combining the tenets of creative problem-solving and design thinking opens companies up to their employees’ fullest potential. Creativity is meant to be nurtured, never boxed in, and fostering an environment where flexible thinking and decision-making are valued leads to stronger solutions and workers alike. Innovation will not and can not thrive with rigid, stale approaches to problem solving. 

KnowledgeCity provides courses in Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking to help you and your company improve how you look at problems and craft the best solutions. Challenge yourself to start perceiving the world in truly innovative ways.

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