Seven Ideas for Creative Problem Solving and Five Examples

Foster Creative Problem Solving

  • Howie Fenton
  • |
  • December 10, 2019

The idea for this post came from answers to interviews in a recent IPMA research report that shows how some in-plant leaders are trying new answers to old questions. This article describes five "out of the box" solutions in-plants have used and offers seven ways to help you get outside your "box."

Five Examples of In-plants Thinking "Outside the Box"

Here are five examples of some in-plants who are thinking "outside the box" from the recent IPMA research report, "The Next Generation Tactics and Strategies for In-plant Service Providers" *:

Q – How do you deal with poorly prepared files that take time to repair?

A –Tammy Golden from the State of TN said: "If we get a bad file, we redesign it from scratch and offer it to the client free. It often takes less time and it allows us to add more value."

Q – How can we hire skilled staff when our salaries are uncompetitive?

A – John Yerger from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln takes salary studies from industry associations and gives the information to HR to add to their calculation matrix.

Q – How can we find the next generation of staff to hire?

A – Chuck Werninger from the Houston Independent School District has procured the digital files of brochures from The Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation (PGSF) and sends them to high school counselors to give to high school students looking for jobs.

Q – How can I find more work?

A – Kelly Hogg from the University of Virginia has access to information about the work that is outsourced. He monitors the outsourced print, and then asks if he can bid on the work the next time it is needed.

Q – How do I start and succeed with promotional product sales?

A –Richard Beto (University of Texas at Austin) and John Yerger (University of Nebraska- Lincoln) both succeeded after hiring professionals to manage and build the business.

Seven Ways to Think "Outside the Box"

When struggling with a problem everyone knows that they should think "outside the box," but we often can't see the box to even think about getting outside of it. Here are seven ideas to help you think "outside the box."

  1. Brainstorm. Work with a team and encourage them to call out every possible answer. It does not matter how silly or impractical- this helps to open the thinking. This type of exercise must be encouraged because you don't want to dismiss the impractical or unrealistic suggestions.
  2. Let the question percolate. For many people thinking creatively requires time. Some people say that they come up with their best ideas in the gym, others in shower, and a few claim to get ideas from dreams. So, if you give people time you might discover the best ideas will come the day after you ask for answers.
  3. Take a different view. Often when you look at a problem, it occurs as a specific issue. In those cases, consider looking at the bigger picture and see if different ideas surface. The opposite is true, too. Sometimes the issue is high level and diving into the details can provide a different perspective.
  4. Look at another industry. While graphic arts and print/mail operations are unique, many of the financial and operational issues exist in other industries. Looking at other industries such as car manufacturing can provide great insights into measurements and continuous process improvement strategies. In addition, marketing and sales issues and answers are often similar across many industries.
  5. Learn more about it. Few things provide greater insight then learning more about the problem. Simple Google searches can provide expert insight from blogs or videos that can point you in a different problem-solving direction. Meeting with or calling peers can also provide unique insights.
  6. Draw a simple picture. Sometimes a simple picture will help you see things that you never saw before. The most obvious examples are flowcharts or process maps. Start with simple flowcharts. You don't need to get in-depth; just draw the simple steps in the progressions and include decision boxes for tasks that can split in different directions. Once done, redesign it from scratch. This is called a "whitepaper" approach or the current state vs future state analysis.
  7. Create a more complicated drawing. While simple pictures can help spur new ideas or different solutions, so can creating more complicated pictures by expanding on some of the simple drawings described above. Here are a few examples:
    • Create flowcharts that look like swim lanes and show the communication or inter-relations across different lanes
    • Superimpose workflow charts over the plant layout; identify bottlenecks and quality control issues
    • Superimpose the workflow over the organizational chart. Are certain areas in your workflow or org chart creating more bottlenecks (i.e. waiting for approval from supervisors or managers)?

Leaders Think "Outside the Box"

During the 12 years I worked with Andy Paparozzi at NAPL we worked to identify how leaders acted differently. One leader attribute is problem solving. Leaders measure and monitor performance better, identify problems earlier and work the problem to find more permanent solutions. If your performance is suffering due to troublesome work arounds or band-aid type solutions, then consider reexamining those issues with the approaches outlined above.

Contact IPMA for more Information

"The Next Generation Tactics and Strategies for In-plant Service Providers" is available from the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA).  Contact for more information.


About the Author

Howie Fenton

Howie Fenton is an independent consultant and trusted advisor to in-plant printers. He recommends equipment, best practices and workflow automation tools to streamline operations. To learn more about measuring performance, benchmarking to leaders, and improving your value e-mail

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