Dr Amy Climer

Episode 4: Clarify Stage of Creative Problem Solving

In this episode you will learn tools to use for the first stage of the Creative Problem Solving process – the Clarify Stage.

What You’ll Learn

  • Why the Clarify Stage of CPS is important
  • The 3 steps within the Clarify Stage
  • How to develop a challenge statement that guides the rest of the CPS process
  • Three activities to help you get clarity and develop your own challenge statement


Feel like reading instead of listening? You can read it below. Enjoy!

Amy Climer: On today’s episode, we’re going to walk through the first stage of the Creative Problem Solving Process.

Hey everyone, welcome to episode #4 of the Creative Problem Solving Process.  I’m really excited because this episode is going to be a little bit different than the past ones.  This is the first of four episodes that will make up a Creative Problem Solving Workshop to help you develop creative ideas for particular challenge you have.  Today’s episode, we’re focusing on the clarifying stage of Creative Problem Solving.

The four episodes are going to build on each other and you’ll be able to work on a real challenge you have.  You can either listen to all the four episodes first and then do the activities or do the activities as I present them by pausing the episode.  The activities will help you develop new ideas and help you implement those ideas for whatever your challenge is.  Accompanying this episode is also a free workbook that I’ve put together for you, a little bonus for you all.  You can download at ClimerConsulting.com/004.  The workbook has all the activities in there to make it easier for you to follow along.

The Creative Problem Solving Process begins with clarifying the situation, clarifying the challenge you want to focus on.  Think about a problem or a challenge that you have in your organization or that you just have personally – something that you’re interested and coming up with new ideas for.  It could be that you’re trying to develop a new product, maybe you have a product or a service that you’re looking at how to market better.  Maybe you want to engage your staff in a different way or more fully.  Maybe you want to design a really cool family vacation or perhaps you’re planning a wedding and you want it to be really innovative and interesting.

Whatever it is, pick a challenge that you want to focus on through these next four episodes.  Once you have your challenge, we’re going to start clarifying it.  The purpose of clarifying of course is to gain clarity about the situation.  You’re going to explore the background, assumptions you might have.  You’re going to look at data and ultimately you’re going to develop a specific challenge statement to focus on.  This stage of the process is important because people often don’t spend enough time clarifying and then what happens is they come up with all these ideas and they implement one or more of the ideas, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem they were originally trying to solve.  Take in some time and dig in and really figuring out “what is my real issue” will help you along the road.

In the clarifying stage, there are two steps – there is the Exploring the Vision and Formulating the Challenge.  We’re going to spend some time in each of those and at the end, you’re going to have a challenge statement that you’ll use as we go into the Ideation Stage.  We’re going to start with Exploring the Vision.  If you have the workbook, flip to that page in the workbook and you’ll see that I’ve listed a space for you to fill out 30 things.  What you’re going to do is develop 30 different iterations of your problem.  That may seem like a lot to you – and it is – but often what happens is we stop too soon and we think, “Well, there are three or four, maybe five different ways to look at it,” but I want to push you to keep going.

What you’re going to do is you’re going to answer these two sentences.  “I wish….” or “Wouldn’t it be great if…”  Answer those in 30 different ways specific to your challenge.  Let’s use the example of designing a wedding.  I think that’s something that most people have either experienced or you’ve been to a wedding, or at least if nothing else, you understand what a wedding is about.  Let’s say that you’re getting married and you really want your family and friends at the wedding to have an opportunity to get to know each other.  Perhaps you might say, “Wouldn’t it be great if at our wedding, we started developing community amongst our family and friends?” or “I wish at my wedding that my family and friends got to know each other at a deeper level.”  Those are some examples of how you might phrase the challenge.

Keep going.  You can look at this from a lot of different ways.  At this point, you might also ask yourself the 5 Why’s.  If your wish is to develop community at your wedding, then ask yourself why.  Why is that important to you?  Why do you want to do that?  Whatever that answer is, develop an “I wish” statement from that.  Maybe if you say, “Well, I really want to develop community amongst my family and friends,” and then someone says, “Why?”  You say, “Well, I really like for them to get to know each other because I feel like I have this great group of friends and my family is awesome, but they don’t know each other and that would be amazing if they got to know each other.  I think that they would really like each other.”

Then the question might be, “Is your wedding the best place to do that?”  It might push you even further where maybe it’s not the wedding that’s the place to do this.  What if, “I wish my family and friends knew each other really well.”  The wedding may or may not be the place to do that.  If your vision statement doesn’t include the wedding, you’re moving up on this ladder of abstraction.  You’re taking the problem and you’re becoming more abstract with it.  Instead of specific to the wedding, you’re now looking even broader.  Now that has pros and cons, of course.  Sometimes, you can make the vision so broad that it’s pretty diluted.  On the other hand, sometimes it could be so narrow and so specific that you’re not going to be able to generate as many ideas or the ideas you generate won’t solve the real problem.

As you move up that ladder of abstraction, eventually typically, the very top of the ladder is something like, “I want to live a happy and healthy life.”  Maybe that’s too broad so you’re going to bring it down to a little bit more specific and concrete level.  Find your sweet spot in there as you’re writing those vision statements and come up with what might be the ideal level of abstraction for you and for your situation.  If you are working on this in real time with me, you can go ahead and hit pause, work on those 30 statements, and then come back.

The next part, once you have your 30 ideas for your different angles of the vision, is you’re going to look at those and I want you to consider the 3 I’s.  This is very helpful in the Exploring the Vision stage. The 3 I’s are Influence, Importance, and Imagination.  For each of those statements, I want you to think about, “Do you have influence and ownership over this?”  It has to be something that you personally can be involved in solving.  If you don’t own the problem, don’t go through this process.  Don’t try to solve a problem for somebody else.  They most likely are not going to want your ideas.  You may want to bring them in to the process and work with them and make it more collaborative, but it’s pretty unusual to have someone just love this idea that you spent hours working on.  Make sure you can actually influence the action.  That’s the first I.

The second I is Importance.  Is this problem worth putting time into?  Obviously if it’s not, don’t do it.  Move on to something else.  The third one is Imagination.  Whatever the problem is, you want it to be something where you need imagination.  You want to think differently about it.  Sometimes, we just need a couple of ideas but we don’t really want to be that creative about something.  If that’s the case, you don’t need a creative process to solve that problem.  Choose another problem where you do want some creativity and innovation.  Make sure that your challenge meets the 3 I’s –Influence, Importance, and Imagination.  Take a few minutes.  Look at that list of 30 and perhaps circle the top couple, maybe the top three or four that look like they are going to be the best ones, and if you need to pause the episode for that.

Now that you’ve circled the best vision statements, we’re going to move on to another step, a little kind of a side step called the Data Dump.  What you’re going to do with the Data Dump is explore everything you already know about your situation.  You’re going to look at the facts, you’re going to look at the history or the background, you’re going to think about who all the stakeholders are, what opportunities arise, what’s the current state of the situation, and you’re just going to really dig in and explore all these pieces.

Part of the Data Dump is you’re going to use an approach called 5WH and this is where you’re developing a series of questions that start with either who, what, when, where, why, or how.  You can also develop a second set of questions where you add the word “else” in the end – who else, what else, when else, etc.  The first thing you’ll do is you’ll craft a series of questions beginning with those sentence stems and then you’re going to answer those questions.  You’re going to generate a ton of information about your problem.  In developing the questions, you want to think about feelings, assumptions, impressions, information, and other questions.

This is all in the workbook.  You can go to that page titled Data Dump and you’ll see a few examples.  An example for the when question is “When are impressions formed about the situation?” For instance if we’re continuing with the wedding and the wedding example, impressions about weddings are formed as early as when you get the invitation.  They are formed when you walk in the door and what’s the first thing you see.  Those are the kind of things that you’ll answer for that question.

Another example is “Where can I get more information about the current situation?”  Another example is “Why has this problem evolved?”  You’re going to come up with a series of questions and just list all the questions first and then after you have the questions, spend some time answering those questions.  You can see that this is going to take a while.  We’re going fairly deep.  We’re trying to figure out what exactly is our problem.

The next stage is the Problem Statement.  You’ve spent a lot of time Exploring the Vision and you have a better sense of what’s going on.  You’re going to hone in the Clarifying Stage by developing a specific statement.  There’s a certain formula you’re going to use to help you create the statement.  The formula goes like this: there’s a question starter or sentence stem at the beginning plus an actor, plus an action, plus a goal.  This is all in that workbook.  The question starters or sentence stems might be “How to…, in what ways might…, wouldn’t it be nice if…, how might…, I wish…, or it would be great if…”

As you’re developing the problem statement, there are some criteria that your statement needs to meet.  We call these the 3 B’s – Broad, Brief, and Beneficial.  First, the statement needs to be broad.  We’re going to move off of the wedding example but an example of a broad statement would be, “In what ways might I take the next step in my career that also provides reasonable income?”  That’s a good statement.  One that’s not broad enough is “In what ways might I get a job with a new employer?”  The reason why these two statements matter and why the crafting of the statement is important is because you’re going to get different ideas based on those two statements.

The first one, “How might I take the next step in my career?”  Maybe an idea is to start your own business or maybe it’s to go get an internship.  There are so many options that might come up with that one but if you said, “How do I get a job with a new employer?”  Those ideas wouldn’t even come up although they would probably solve your problem.  The way you craft a statement really matters.  You want it to be broad.  Of course you don’t want it to be, again, so broad of, “In what ways might I live a happy, healthy life?”  In some ways, that’s just too big.  This is going back to that ladder of abstraction.  Where do you fit within that ladder?

The next B is Brief.  You want the challenge statement to be reasonably short.  For instance, “How might I help our team be more productive?”  Great, clear to the point, we got it.  One that is not so good is, “How might I create a project plan that would help me focus the energy of my team members in a direction that is mutually beneficial and productive for all those involved and help my boss see that the energy of the group is being well used?”  That is way too long.  It’s like you can’t even track exactly what the problem is.  It’s too complicated.  You want it to brief.  “How might I help our team be more productive?”  There you go.

The third B is Beneficial.  A good problem statement might be, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could maintain my health?” versus “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could avoid being sick?”  Again, the way you word it is going to impact the type of ideas you come up with.  “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could avoid being sick?”  Remember that movie about the boy in the bubble, you could just stay in your room, stay in your house all the time.  You could wear a little mask on your face and never leave and don’t actually interact with anyone else.  You probably wouldn’t get sick but I wouldn’t say you’d be very healthy.  “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could maintain my health,” we come up with very different ideas than “wouldn’t it be nice if I could avoid being sick.”

Another example would be “wouldn’t it be nice if I had a great relationship with my roommate” versus “wouldn’t it be nice if my roommate and I didn’t argue.”  Well, if you don’t want to argue, just draw a line in the middle of the room and don’t talk to each other.  That’s not necessarily what’s going to solve your problem.  Perhaps what you really want is to have a great relationship with your roommate and that’s going to be a lot more fulfilling.  Those are some examples of challenge statements with the 3 B’s.  I want you to spend some time now looking at your data, looking at the vision, and craft a challenge statement that meets those 3 B’s.

I’m going to give you a few more examples in case that’s helpful.  How to prioritize the use of my work time? Or perhaps you work in a hospital, how do I design a work schedule for our staff that allows nurses to work 8-hour shifts instead of 12-hour shifts?  In what ways might we develop our staff’s creativity?  Because I was recently doing some travelling, how might we design our airports so that people enjoy the experience?  How to increase the sales of our new product?  Let’s say you work in a summer camp, wouldn’t it be nice if we had new unique, creative in-camp programs this year?  Spend a little time writing your challenge statement and I would suggest writing several statements and then narrowing in on the best one.  Go ahead and pause the episode and work on that.

Now that you have your challenge statement, you’re going to kind of do a little bit of gut check with that statement or with that question, and ask yourself this, “If we answer this challenge statement, would our problem be solved or would our troubles go away?” Think about that.  If your answer is, “Yeah, if we answered this, it would be awesome,” then you probably have a pretty good challenge statement.  Sometimes though, you might realize, “Well, actually if we answered this specifically, we’re going to still have this other problem.” Think about how do you really get at the root of the problem, what really is your problem?  Spending time in the clarifying stage will make the rest of the creative problem solving process so much better and so much more worthwhile.

I hope that this is helpful.  I hope that you will all work through this.  It takes time and it takes work.  If you’re working with a team, it probably will take even longer.  It’s worth it, though.  Play this episode for your entire team.  Walk through each of the steps.  Share that workbook with your team.  You’re welcome to use that.

Here’s your challenge for the week.  I want you to develop your challenge statement, to go through the clarifying stage of the creative problem solving process.  This episode is airing on June 18, 2015.  If you email me your challenge statement by Monday, June 22nd, or if you put it in the show notes in the comment section, I will share at least a couple of ideas related to your challenge in episode #5, which is the Ideation Stage.  That will be the following week.  Send that to me via email or in the show notes by Monday and if I get that, I will be sure to come up with a few ideas to share with you.

My email address is Amy@ClimerConsulting.com or you can go directly to the show notes, which is also where you can get the workbook and some other resources.  That is ClimerConsulting.com/004.  The other thing that I’ll put in the show notes is some books about Creative Problem Solving.  If you’re interested in learning more about this, I’ll put them in there.  I got some of these activities from the books that I will list.  I’ll put them in there if you just want to dig in and learn more.  If you have any questions about the clarifying stage, shoot me an email.  I would be more than happy to respond and answer those questions.  Also if you do go to my website, you can sign up for my newsletter where you will get more great content about creativity and innovation.

Thank you so much for listening to the Deliberate Creative podcast.  I’m really excited to hear your challenges and what you’re trying to work on.  I hope this helps you be more creative both individually and with your team.  Go out and be creative.  Clarify your problem! I will talk to you next time.  Bye y’all.

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Rave Reviews

  • Amy Inspires Creativity Growth in Everyone
    January 5, 2022 by cjpowers7 from United States

    Amy Climer’s show helps all of us grow our creative muscles. She is authentic and cares about her listeners. Amy empowers us with tools that work in the office, training sessions, and our communities. The best part is her ability to make what feels out of reach, something that can be accomplished with simple steps forward.

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    Love listening to Amy’s podcast! Her guests are awesome and conversations are full of inspiring information.

  • A must for people who want to think better
    May 26, 2019 by Dhensch from United States

    Amy Climer hit a home run with this podcast and continues to get hits with every episode. I was hooked with the first one and binge-listened to the four solo episodes about the Creative Problem Solving process. Her knowledge of the subject of creativity and innovation is incredibly deep. And, she makes it easy for others to learn and apply. I have listened to other "expert" podcasts and Amy's is different in that she holds nothing back. Episode after episode offer practical insights, tips and tools. She has a generosity of spirit that is contagious.

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