Creative thinking, innovation and problem solving by Stephen Walker of Motivation Matters


Creativity, invention and improvement are the essential components of progress. It is mankind’s ability to be innovative, to be creative that marks us apart from the other animals with which we co-habit this planet.

Not that other species do not innovate as recent research on birds has shown, indentifying tool use. Apes as our nearest relative might be expected to show creativity and studies have shown a wide use of tools and problem solving capability.

There is clearly a link between creativity and superiority. The ability to improve your circumstances depends on your ability to create, invent and make progress.

There are creative thinking skills that will improve your ability to innovate and improve your performance.

A great deal of research has been done over the centuries on the nature of creativity.

It is neatly summarised in a five stage model based on Wallas’s work:

* Preparation

* Incubation

* Intuition

* Illumination

* Verification

This blog will give some ideas on how to improve your creativity.

Thinking styles

Anyone who has been around a young child at play knows they have an unstructured mind and tend to do things as the mood takes them. The development of structured drawing follows from the mind being trained to create a representation of reality – a representation of what already exists.

Those of us who are old enough to remember exercise books in school will know that neat writing and the ability not to waste paper in big scrawls was highly regarded. We were taught to calm our childish unstructured mind and produce neat writing in neat lines. Lists were the order of the day. “Make a list of your ideas on….” as if the ideas were queued up ready to marshal themselves on the page!

“Systems thinking” is about Rich Pictures and getting back to drawing representations of thoughts, ideas and relationships. It is a part of Action Learning methodology and Rich Pictures help us to show so much more than two dimensional lists.

More than that, the Soft Systems methodology which embraces “systems thinking” helps us to tap into the creative ideas that are constantly created in our subconscious. The Rich Picture allows us to record these thoughts in their full illogicality and wealth of connectivity.

Managing innovation

To me the idea of managed innovation is an oxymoron, along the lines of instructions to volunteer.

While it may not be sensible to manage innovation in a structured way, there are clear examples of facilities providing a hotbed of creativity.

These facilities provide a seed bed where delicate seedlings of ideas can plant themselves and flourish. Usually the seedlings are transplanted once established, to avoid depleting the seedbed of nutrients.

These seedbeds are kept warm and provide all manner of support mechanisms to allow the free rein of thought and creativity.

So much in life tends to drag us back to basics and inhibits creativity. Everything, from the computer not working today to the latest twenty-page form that needs filling in, causes a loss of creativity.

To be able to tap in to our subconscious and the rich mix of ideas therein we need to be calm. Meditation is a good method. Sitting with closed eyes and calming yourself is a good second choice. With practice, you can slip into a semi-conscious state where you can tap into your subconscious and observe what is there.

Does anyone work in an environment where they can close their eyes and think?

Your subconscious mind

How many of us have woken with a start, in bed not at work, with a fantastic idea or solution in our head?

How many of us do not have a pad or recorder by the bed so by the time we are awake and up the idea has gone? Is that a familiar story to you? The solution is obvious.

You can also pose yourself questions as you go to sleep. The questions need to be answerable from your experiences and knowledge. I would not be able to pick the winner of the 3.30 at Haydock Park but no doubt, a horseracing aficionado would have more success.

You can also ask yourself repeat questions as you answer the question one layer at a time.

There is no need to stop working just because you are asleep. It can be your most productive time.


Brainstorming, essentially a technique to tap into several unconscious minds, is a difficult process to do well.

We learn to be structured and sensible but are now asked to be innovative and share those daft ideas that keep poking out from our minds.

Any attempt to ridicule any idea at the initial stage will stop the free flow of ideas. All ideas, however serious or wacky, must be treated equally.

Someone has to be responsible for recording the ideas and it is unlikely they will contribute to the brainstorming ideas. They have a structured job to do to collect the ideas for later analysis.

After the brainstorming, the ideas can be analysed. An idea, even though rejected, may spur a further thought and lead to rapid evolution of ideas.


Sometimes the thoughts will not come. When this happens to me, it is usually something about the structure of the situation that is making me blind to ideas. My viewpoint needs to move.

There are three good ways to achieve a shift in viewpoint.

Firstly, instead of thinking of good ideas, think of bad ones. Instead of trying to make things better think what would make things worse.

Secondly, think along the lines of causes and effects. What would have to happen to produce that effect? What would that effect cause to happen?

Finally, you can look at ideas from a completely different environment to your situation. I still recall with admiration the soap-manufacturing person I met at a Defence Industries exhibition.

His reason for being there was he might learn something that he could apply to his operation. A bar of soap is 50p, a frigate several hundred million pounds – who is innovating?

Emergent properties

An essential part of the soft systems methodology is that complex systems have emergent properties. This means that the sum of the parts yields behaviour you wouldn’t imagine beforehand. A new property emerges from the complex system.

An example is the behaviour of people in crowds and individually. How would you guess people would join in looting because everyone else was doing it?

A Rich Picture helps you glimpse emergent properties for further thought.


Creative thinking is a skill to be learned and honed through practice.

There is a structure to the thinking process resulting in good innovative results.

The correct environment is vital to effective creative thinking practice.

Motivation Matters offer a workshop in Creative thinking and Mind Maps that encompasses all you need to be better at thinking up new ideas.

Details of the workshop are available here

Further workshops are available through our website


One thought on “Creative thinking, innovation and problem solving by Stephen Walker of Motivation Matters

  1. Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thanks, However I am encountering problems with your RSS.

    I don’t understand why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody else having similar RSS issues? Anyone that knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanks!!

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