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February 5, 2013

Creative Problem Solving for Business Success

Have you ever tried to remember something you know you know but you can’t retrieve the information? The harder you try, the harder it is to come-up with the answer. And then, all of a sudden, while taking a shower or some other mundane activity, the answer pops into your head. It’s an amazing phenomenon and it happens to everybody. The reaction is generally one of “where the heck did that come from?” It’s insight out of the blue and most people take the experience for granted.

Teachers, parents, and instructors all drum into our heads to work harder, a fine sentiment, but sometimes, it’s smarter to work easier. The thing is, your brain never takes a vacation, it’s always working, processing, filing, sorting, retrieving and just plain whirring away until the day the lights go out for good. Sometimes leaving your brain on autopilot for a while allows it to access things that cannot be forced to the surface by sheer concentration.

Being in business is stressful and demanding, and there is enormous pressure to be focused, efficient, rational and, above all, always right. It’s hard to argue otherwise, however, there are occasions where that approach can be counter-productive. Anyone who is interested in sports knows that athletes must be relaxed to perform at their peak efficiency. Baseball players who focus on the mechanics of their swing in a game find their batting averages plummet, while those who relax and let muscle memory take over find their averages climb. Relaxation and distraction allows the brain to work on its own, filtering through the flotsam and jetsam of experience, until it finds the answer.

You Have To Be Creative To Compete

Creative firms often build in a kind of play area for employees so they can decompress and let their inner creative juices percolate, freeing their minds to find the inspiration needed to move forward. But entrepreneurs and owner-managers rarely have the time to relax, especially in today’s complex, over-stimulated, hyper-connected, mobile, social network business environment.

The dilemma is clear: to compete you must distinguish your brand through product innovation, delivery, or brand-identity and presentation, and if you’re too busy managing, tweeting and generally hustling for sales, it’s hard to find the time to develop the creative solutions needed. The obvious conclusion is to seek outside help, but tech consultants that merely parrot what you already think you know is not going to advance your cause. What’s needed is an alternative creative perspective.

Shaping Meaning: A Creative Process

Marketing is psychological persuasion; and the easiest way to advance your marketing agenda is to tap into your audience’s hardwired reptilian survival instincts. That said, many of these instincts have been buried under layers of training, indoctrination and specialization, much of which gets lost under the rubble of everyday life but that, nonetheless, forms preference, prejudice, and opinion. Memory is not eidetic, that is, memories are not photographic but rather malleable amorphous puddles of information that take the shape of continuous value-added experience. The job of marketing is to shape understanding by first creating episodic experience followed by deeper semantic meaning (conceptual understanding without reference to the original set of experiences). That is what all advertising, social media and communication needs to do.

The Uncertainty Fear Factor

Because preference, prejudice and opinion are often the detritus of living, the lingering remnants of faded experience, they are hard to change. Sales experts preach the notion of selling people on what they already think they know, an overly simplistic answer with short-term benefits for commission sales reps but with little long-term marketing value for business owners.

Executives know they must differentiate their brand and build a unique position in the audience’s collective mind. Perhaps it’s the reason why marketing and sales people often find themselves in conflict and why entrepreneurs who do not understand the difference get frustrated by strategies and tactics that fail to deliver. One approach is seemingly safe with short-term advantage for the sales department, while the other is uncertain but with long-term value for the company.

What Matters Is Not What’s Current, But What’s Next

No one in business likes uncertainty but, the truth is, uncertainty is a fact of life. Today’s high-flying corporate powerhouse is tomorrow’s Chapter 11 loser. The world of business is littered with the remains of once powerful and influential companies and products from Lotus123 to Kodak, Polaroid, Nortel and a host of others. As product development cycles turn ever faster and “Gangnam-style” pseudo-trends reach hysterical heights, one has to ask, how long can these things last? Building your business on current trends only saddles your potential with an expiry date. What matters is not what’s current, but what’s next; so you can continue to wait for things to happen and pass you by, or you can embrace uncertainty and shape a future that you create.

Without creativity, business is doomed to mediocrity. The problem is, business training and superficial self-help instruction creates mistrust in the process that leads to insight and innovation: things like the cross-pollination of ideas from different fields and the seemingly counter-productive activities of distraction and relaxation. These behaviors excite the anterior superior temporal gyrus portion of the brain, the area responsible for solving insight problems and complex puzzles.

Internet Search Is Biased Toward The Status Quo

As important as Internet search is, it is important to understand its bias. Google’s search algorithm started as a version of the method used for ranking academic articles by using citations as a score of influence. Such an approach favors the status quo, big business brands and pop culture media influence. In short, it reduces the impact and influence of the innovative, insightful and creative, by proliferating the commonplace and conventional; and worse, it encourages the lowest common denominator: a society and economy that is consumed with the banal and trivial.

Popular business-intelligence tools like Google and Trend Hunter are all aimed at what’s already happened as opposed to what could happen next. If it’s happened, it’s the past and you’re already too late. A marketing strategy aimed at turning your business into the next corporate equivalent of “Psy” will only lead you to become the next Tiny Tim, and I don’t mean the poor waif from “A Christmas Carol.”

Framing The Creative Process

The process for creative thinking and development is counter-intuitive: humor, distraction, relaxation and broad interest run contrary to concentration, focus and grinding to solve problems.

Businesses must see the value in creativity or they are not going to invest in it. Unfortunately, many agencies and creative firms exploit the misunderstood value of surveys, polls and focus groups because numbers are easier to sell than psychological and emotional persuasion. What works for analyzing a balance sheet does not help in understanding what motivates people to act.

The creative process might appear from the outside to be bizarre and even arbitrary but for those of us who understand what’s behind the curtain, the process is logical, rational and easily explained.

Jerry Bader is senior partner at MRPwebmedia, an Internet media production, website design, and marketing firm that specializes in Web-video marketing campaigns and video websites. Visit,, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.