Searching for Creative Solutions

Once you have Identifying the real problem and gathered needed Information it is time to search for “original” creative solutions.

  • Here are several techniques to help you and your team produce original creative ideas.
  • Ideas may come from creativity, a subconscious effort, or innovation, a conscious effort.
  • The objective is to break the set patterns of thought that everyone develops (i.e., team’s thinking tends to fall into ruts).

Brainstorming (or Brainwriting) Approach

  • Brainstorming versus Brainwriting
    • All ideas are encouraged.
    • Write down as many ideas as possible
    • After a break, combine and improve ideas.
    • Delay judgment and evaluation of ideas until end…
  • Comments that Reduce Brainstorming to Braindrizzling

That won’t work It’s against our policy
That’s too radical We haven’t done it that way before
It’s not our job That’s too expensive
We don’t have enough time That’s not practical
That’s to much hassle We can’t solve this problem

Brainstorm Checklist

Before During After
Who is the facilitator and the participants/team? Review brainstorming approach and rules. Is another meeting required to continue exploring the best ideas?
Participant group is small, focused, and represent a cross-section of the disciplines and/or stakeholders. Is the objective and problem clearly defined? No – Document
Facilitator writes a clear definition of the objective along with a short brief of the problem and sends to the team. Have first principles been identified. Yes – Rinse and Repeat
Have participants done their homework/research? Explore ideas! Never reject or write down anyones idea. Always write it down after multiple team members have contributed to the evolution of the idea. Have fun.
Conference room and tools (whiteboard, projector, easel, etc.) in place Determine the next step.

The Fishbone Diagram


  1. List the major attributes or properties of a product, object, or idea – The fish bones
  2. For each attribute, Brainstorm how each of the attributes could be changed.


How can we improve the design of a cell phone?

Attribute Brainstorm
Color could be … Be Any color
Be transparent
Utilize designs such as plaid
Have a personalized design (skinit)
Material could be … Metal
Glass (Mac Funamizu)
Wood (NTT Docomo)
Hard rubber (Lux)
Input device could be … 10-push-button design
Could be lever system
Could use abacus-type system
Could be push buttons arranged in a line
Make the shape … Square

Lateral Thinking

Edward de Bono developed the lateral thinking techniques of random stimulation and using other people’s views to generate ideas during brainstorming. Lateral thinking provides new ways to come at a problem and get “unstuck.” We will look at two:

  1. Forced Relationship Technique
  2. Different Point of View

Forced Relationship Technique


  1. Take a fixed thing, such as the product or some idea related to the product
  2. Force it to take on the attributes of another unrelated thing.
  3. Brainstorm

Pro-Tip: Try this Random Noun Generator

Example – Weed Cutter

The weed cutter will be the forced object. Suppose we randomly choose an automobile wheel as the other element. Some of the ideas that may occur based upon the automobile wheel are:

A weed cutter that rolls.
A round weed cutter.
A rubber weed cutter.
A weed cutter that has spokes.
A weed cutter that has brakes.

Different Point of View

People sometimes stretch their minds by adopting different points of view.

  • Imagine yourself in the future ; “What are the characteristics of an ideal solution?” even if not technically feasible today.
  • Imagine a similar problem located on a strange planet or in free fall.
  • Try to identify with the stone that is to be crushed, or the fruit that is going to be peeled.
  • Pretend that common materials or components are not available or that certain exceptional ones are.
  • Try to project how nature would do it.
  • The methods are endless.

Lodged by Robert Frost

The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.

Overcoming Obstacles to Creative Thinking

Here are a few more specific actions and attitudes that can be employed to overcome obstacles to creative thinking:

  1. Avoid placing unnecessary constraints on the problem being solved.
  2. Search for different ways to view the problem, avoiding preconceived beliefs and stereotypical thinking.
  3. Recognize that there are non-engineering solutions to many problems. Consider approaches that other disciplines might use.
  4. Look for relationships that are remote and solutions that are unusual and nontraditional.
  5. Most creative thought involves putting experiences and thoughts into new patterns and arrangements.
  6. Divide complex problems into manageable parts and concentrate on solving one part at a time.
  7. Allow time for incubation, after periods of intensive concentration – sleep on it
  8. Be open to a variety of problem-solving strategies.

Reference Material

  1. Introduction to Engineering Design and problem Solving, The Summer Institute for Engineering and Technology Education, University of Arkansas 1995.
  2. University of Arkansas – A Collection of Engineering Design Problems [2009 Edition] This document also introduces “The Design Loop
  3. Teehan+Lax-Brainstorming-Checklist
  4. University of Michigan – Strategies for Creative Problem Solving