Encouraging creative thinking

Jun 18, 2023

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Developing effective problem-framing skills can help your people think outside the box, challenge assumptions, and find innovative solutions.

Creative thinking is essential in today’s competitive world, particularly for professionals in engineering consulting dealing with complex projects that require customized solutions. It’s not enough to rely on tried and tested methods, as effective solutions require professionals to think outside the box, challenge assumptions, and find innovative ways to solve problems. Creativity is a skill that can be developed and nurtured regardless of one’s level of experience. Having come across various techniques of creative thinking, I would like to share some effective approaches to encourage creative thinking in the engineering consulting industry.

One powerful approach is known as “problem framing.” By looking at the problem from different angles, we can uncover dimensions that we often overlook or give too little attention to. It is crucial to zoom out and examine the big picture, stepping outside the technical frame we are most comfortable in. Seeing the problem from the client’s perspective is also critical. Understanding their business drivers and desired outcomes that define success relative to our scope of work enables us to develop solutions that align with the client’s goals.

Another effective way to promote creative thinking is by examining the problem at three levels – business goals, technical requirements, and individual stakeholder’s needs. By looking at the problem from these perspectives, we can develop solutions that integrate technical solutions with individual stakeholder needs while also aligning with the client’s business objectives. This multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving is vital in today’s complex and interconnected world.

While experience is undoubtedly valuable in developing creative solutions, professionals with less experience may surprise us as they may be more willing to think outside the box and explore new approaches. They haven’t been in the industry long enough to become entrenched in old habits and ways of thinking. Encouraging such professionals to take risks, challenge assumptions, and explore new ideas while also embracing failure as a learning opportunity promotes creative thinking and self-confidence. Additionally, some individuals have a natural inclination toward creative thinking, and this innate ability can be a valuable asset when evaluating a problem. Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace that values and respects different perspectives and experiences leads to effective problem solving and sound solutions.

Experienced professionals should provide the coaching, tools, and resources needed to less experienced individuals to tackle complex challenges independently, rather than merely providing them with a solution or answer to a problem. As individuals develop their problem-solving skills, they become more adept at identifying new challenges and finding well thought-out solutions. This approach can lead to greater job satisfaction and career advancement, as individuals become more valuable assets to their organizations.

In his famous quote, “A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved,” Charles Kettering, an American inventor, engineer, and businessman, stressed the importance of clearly and accurately defining or stating a problem as a crucial step toward solving it. This is a fundamental principle of creative thinking – the ability to define the real problem and approach it from different perspectives. Developing effective problem-framing skills and a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving can help engineering consulting professionals think outside the box, challenge assumptions, and find innovative solutions. 

Somshekhar Kundral, P.E. is project director at SCS Engineers. Contact him at skundral@scsengineers.com.

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