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The Problem with Problem Solving

Ok... get your scuba gear on, it's time for a deep dive.

I'm going to break down the three most common issues with #problemsolving and why #creativity is critical in complex conditions.

Let's go...

Problem solving and innovation often go hand in hand; we commonly need to fix something in order to improve it or vice versa.

Mechanics problem solve on a daily basis.

“My car won’t start, it makes funny sound but won’t turn over”…

From this information a skilled Mechanic may narrow down a diagnosis, similar to a Doctor consulting a patient.

Effective problem solving depends on your LINEAR expertise.

The more knowledge and experience you have with engines or biology, the more comprehensively you understand the respective systems.

A blindspot for problem solving is that it often relies on its own LINEAR logic.

This is the belief that the solution for the problem will always be found within the system that created it.

This logic often leads us to believe that solutions for problems are FIXED.

ie: A faulty engine part must be replaced with an identical engine part.

Relying on a LINEAR approach to problem solving is often insufficient when:

i: The problem is complex.

ie: a Doctor diagnosing a patient who feels ‘sad’.

ii: The problem is caused by the logic/system that created it.

ie: productivity and burnout.

iii: The problem is caused by a condition outside of its logic/system.

ie: COVID-19.

In complex environments, we must often move outside the system from which the problem originated.


This is where CREATIVE traits like adaptability are useful for our Mechanic (alternative parts may be suitable) and emotional intelligence is valuable for our Doctor (understanding a patient’s context is beneficial).

The most relevant example of CREATIVE problem solving in a complex environment was Michael Burry’s solution to the Global Financial Crash of 2007…

(I recommend watching the movie ‘The Big Short’).

Burry was a physician and hedge fund manager who found anomalies in the U.S mortgage bond markets.

Identifying that the system was set to fail, Burry invented a solution...

He'd invite the banks to take his bet that the surety of millions of mortgage bonds would fail, something that had never occurred in the entire history of Wall St.

Against every Experts advice, the history of Wall St. and virulent investor hostility, Burry bet billions of client investment against the ‘bedrock of American finance’.

Burry won.

The fallout was global, unprecedented and catastrophic… (sound familiar)?

This was a complex problem that could have been avoided had a flawed system not been so blindly trusted.

Burry’s process wasn’t divine intervention, genius, magic or luck.

Burry recognised a problem with i, ii, iii and employed CREATIVE SKILL SETS to proactively design an original solution.

Complex conditions + CREATIVE process = Optimal outcomes


Christopher. S. Sellers is an Expert on Creativity + Founder of the Six CREATIVE Skill Sets

Director + Lead Creative @ Black Bulb Creative


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