Visual Creative Thinking Problem Solving Examples

Using my how to create a home-based business “problem” to generate creative thinking problem-solving examples seemed like a no brainer, after all, it’s the work that I’ll be doing anyway, so why shouldn’t I be sharing it with you. As a very analytical person, creating lists and other “wordy” techniques is well within my comfort zone, therefore to start this off I decided to push myself into the visual side of creative problem-solving techniques where I am less comfortable.

creative thinking problem solving examples

The act of stepping outside of your comfort zone is another way of increasing your creativity because you have already pushed yourself outside of what you know well. Creativity, and by extension innovation, is all about being able to look at the world in a different way.

So, I am well and truly outside my comfort zone here. On top of using two visual creative problem-solving techniques and the in-progress examples that I am going to show you today, I have leaped from my job before I had a defined plan. Part of this leap was strategic, if failure isn’t an option I will have to figure out how to succeed under pressure, creatively!

Firstly – A refresher, why use visual creative techniques?

Creative techniques or creative models can be used to help break our brains out of its standard patterns of thought, these are often referred to as mental tramlines.

I’ve discussed my most recent encounter with the constraints imposed by habitual thinking patterns in my How to Create a Home Based Business for Beginners post.

Visual creative techniques combine both words and symbols or pictures. This makes it accessible to people who are more comfortable in one or the other of these techniques without becoming overwhelming. Visual techniques also have a basis in neuro-linguistic programming and can be used to program the subconscious mind – so if you’re using your visual creative technique to map a path to success like I am doing, it can be seen as an instruction to your subconscious.

As a top tip – I find it very helpful to “dump” the things that I’m currently thinking about onto the page or screen which than seems to let my brain stop focusing on them and look for other areas to mull, muse or develop secure in the knowledge that the important information won’t be lost.

If you want a quick overview, consider the Bitesize Resource Introduction to Creative Techniques.

A word on creativity, Adam Grant an organizational psychologist, professor at the Wharton School and author of numerous books and papers on creativity suggests that more ideas are better, as he has found that to maximize on creativity you need around 200 ideas. He cites a study by Brian Lucas and Loran Nordgren of Northwestern University that found that in general the first 20 ideas people generated were fairly conventual, original ideas started appearing in the next 15 as the brain has exhausted what it already knows. You can read more from Adam in his paper, How to Build a Culture of Originality, or one of his books – I’m a particular fan of Originals: How non-conformists changed the world.

Visual Techniques

Creating a Mind Map

It is a personal choice whether you use an online tool (I use SimpleMind+ to create free mind maps on my iPad- they look like the one below, although they also have online and app based software for apple and Android devices), or doing it offline using pen and paper.

It is worth considering that there has been some research across European and Asian universities suggesting that information retention is better when note taking is done using pen and paper rather than via an electronic medium. It was noted in this study that there are some distinct cultural differences which may also be generating retention differences between individuals. It is possible that pen and paper versus electronic medium differences may also extend to increases in creativity; however, that is something that you can try out and decide for yourself.

To start a mind map it is customary to start in the center, of either the page or the screen. With a word or phrase that encompasses the central theme of your mind map. In my case I chose to use the name of this website because it accurately reflects what I’m trying to achieve.

The secondary branches show sub-themes with sub-sub-themes coming off of them. With a traditional mind map, like the one pictured) there is an outward flow from the central theme. Within this version, the structure doesn’t provide any indications of theme importance and doesn’t allow for explicit cross connections or links between the concepts.

Creating a free mind map

One advantage of using pen and paper you are not constrained to this downward flow of themes, you can create cross-connections between concepts, position them to indicate importance (in general people choose to make items close to the center the most important). It is also possible to add illustrations, small diagrams, sketches and colours to help distinguish and categories elements. Going one step further takes us to the realm of rich pictures.

What is a Rich Picture?

A rich picture is a pictorial representation of the “big picture” view. They have the advantage of being great fun for groups to create together (just get a very large piece of paper and lots of pens). Rich pictures are a particularly useful form of laying out ideas for multiple reasons:

  • The cartoon nature makes Rich Pictures low stress, there are no defined images that you have to use and combinations of pictures, diagrams and words are effective.
  • No need to be an artist to create a Rich Picture.
  • Working by yourself, no problem, they are equally effective when used solo or by groups.
  • Rich Pictures are fluid and ongoing, so easy to add to and adjust as new ideas occur.
  • As a form of visualization, they are effective in engaging the sub-conscious in the problem to be solved.

A rich picture can be used to define the initial framework of a view, perspective or problem, and because they are so cartoony in style they are something that you can keep adding to as more ideas come to mind. It is useful to keep your Rich Picture and pens available to you so that you can add to it as ideas occur to you.

Here is the start of my rich picture, which I will keep adding to as more ideas occur.

what is a rich picture

Consolidating Visual Techniques

Creativity is a process, attempting to sit down and knock out any form of creative thinking in a short timescale will not generate the most innovative and creative solutions. You have to be patient with yourself and leverage some consolidation time.

Solo Consolidation – Trading time for Group Stimulation (Notebook technique)

Keeping the output of the mind map (or any visual technique) on display for a few days in an area where you’ll see it. You want it to both stimulate new ideas or interpretations and prompt discussions with others around you.

Note down ideas at any point of the day or night when they occur to you, and apply any problem solving methods you know while particularly stimulated by other activities. Feel free to add to the visual model, if you’ve done it electronically consider creating a hard copy to take with you throughout the day. Or go wild and combine electronic media and annotate your hard copy with doodles, colours and ideas as they occur to you.

Don’t judge the value of any ideas you have at this point, just note them down.

Or Leverage the power of the Group

Consider trying a group approach. Getting ideas from others can assist with the creative process; but stick with some basic ground rules to get the most out of the experience.

1. Protect the less vocal

To make sure that the less vocal among your group can get their ideas heard make sure that everyone gets a chance to contribute

2. Stimulate creativity in advance – or get everyone to do their homework!

Get everyone to write down ideas separately in advance, remember the first 20 are not likely to be tapping into the individual’s creativity, so encourage your group to bring long lists!

3. All ideas have value

Appreciate your group, all ideas have value no matter how silly or irrelevant they may seem. Ideas which do not initially seem to have value can be used to stimulate discussion or may link to other ideas for a truly innovative solution. Avoid judging or letting others judge to create to a positive stimulating environment.


These visual creative thinking examples are a work in progress. I will continue to develop them in line with the Notebook (Solo Consolidation) technique. As you can see I am in excess of 20 ideas, but not yet close to the 200 ideas that Adam Grant suggests are optimal. I also have some work to do on looking at the consolidation of ideas and looking at potential linkages within.

If you’d like a bit more detail in a visual form, why not take a look at the video introduction to creative techniques?

I’d love to hear about your experiences with visual creative techniques, what are your preferred methods? I’d really appreciate any comments you care to leave!

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6 thoughts on “Visual Creative Thinking Problem Solving Examples”

  1. A very well written article and extremely interesting.

    I can relate to this technique as I spent many years as a freelance software developer using many different methodologies.

    I love the visual free-handed technique you so clearly describe here. Gives you the freedom to add things whenever.

    Thanks for sharing


    1. Hi Mick,

      Thanks for your comments. I also enjoy the easy ability to add to freehand techniques, although I will admit I do sometimes take it to extremes. I have previously had to make sure all my visual techniques were drawn in a waterproof pen, as I kept them on the bathroom wall for, umm “enforced contemplation” and the steam from the shower kept ruining them!

      I have just started to get on with the combined techniques, although printing, annotating and rescanning is a bit more paper-intensive then I would truly like to be.


  2. Hey,

    This is a great post. I use creative visual thinking with my team, and I am encouraging them to do the same when they are problem solving. I have forwarded your post onto my team as I think this is a really great explanation of how to do it, and how it can benefit each of us.

    I have advised them to comment on your article, but also to get in touch with you if they need any clarification on anything.

    Thank you for sharing this, you are doing amazing work.

    All the best,


    1. Hi Tom,

      Thank you, I really appreciate your comments and I am very happy to engage with your team on any element of creative problem-solving!

      As you can appreciate I’ve selected a small sample of the creative problem-solving methods that I regularly use that were the most appropriate to this situation, but I am more than happy to go through more and different examples if there are any that your team would particularly like to see.

      Kind Regards,

  3. Lisa, I loved this thought you shared “Creativity, and by extension innovation, is all about being able to look at the world in a different way”. I also found the info from the Univerisyt “…that in general the first 20 ideas people generated were fairly conventional, original ideas started appearing in the next 15 as the brain has exhausted what it already knows.” very interesting. Thanks for the suggestion of using SimpleMind+ for creating a mind map and your suggestions on that as well as what a “Rich Picture” is and how to use it. This is all very different to me and gives me something to think about. -Thank you -Shirley

    1. Hi Shirley,

      Thank you for your comments! I really appreciate knowing when someone has found my posts to be helpful.

      I love the idea that the first 20 ideas are quite run of the mill, and it makes perfect sense – my brain always needs to “dump” what it already knows before it can get onto the new and exciting stuff, but further on from that it is suggested in Adam Grant’s HBR paper How to Build a Culture of Originality that:

      “There’s evidence that quality often doesn’t max out until more than 200 ideas are on the table.”

      I think I need to get more ideas down on my mind maps and rich pictures! This gives me opportunities to explore additional creative techniques to stimulate idea generation which I look forward to reporting back on.

      Kind Regards,

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