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Best solutions are often found outside the box

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When was the last time you solved a problem, big or small? There are many situations where ordinary problem-solving is enough, but others call for creative solutions. Those creative and ingenious solutions require "TOTO" — thinking outside the ordinary.

I feel the best solutions are not only creative, but simple ones. In remembrance of strategic planning consultant Dr. Harvey Gellman, colleague Bob Fabian writes, "Gellman insisted that problems were not really solved until you could provide a simple solution. Harvey didn’t quit and didn’t let his colleagues quit until they had gone through complexity to reach the simplicity that lies beyond."

Here are four examples of simple creative solutions:

1. Problem: Children eating too much candy. When my children were young, I could limit the amount of candy they ate. But when they went to school, I felt they were consuming too many sweets.

Solution: Instead of hiding the candy or denying them, I used a simple creative idea from a pedodontist: Candy Day. My children stored up candy received during the week and ate it only one day a week, on Candy Day. That worked for my children, and now my grandchildren have Candy Day at their house.

2. Problem: A mother who home-schools her 10 children spent so much time with meal preparation and cleanup that there wasn’t a block of time for schooling.

Solution: Going to two meals a day. Breakfast is 10:30 a.m. and dinner at 5 p.m. At first I was horrified, wondering whether the children could survive on only two meals, but the doctor’s checkups showed they were thriving and gaining weight properly. The mother said that although they ate only two meals, they were hearty and healthful meals and not fast food or empty calories. In between meals the children could snack on fruit, yogurt or other foods that didn’t require cooking.

3. Problem: Inakadate, a remote village in Japan, was deeply in debt and needed to attract more tourists and revenue.

Solution: After months of racking his brain, the village clerk came up with the ingenious idea to plant different colors of rice plants to form words and intricate pictures in rice paddies. Last year more than 170,000 visitors came to see the paddy art.

My all-time favorite example of creative problem-solving is this:

4. Problem: At a middle school in Oregon, a number of girls were beginning to use lipstick and would apply it in the bathroom. Then they would blot the lipstick on the mirror, leaving dozens of little lip prints.

Solution: The principal called the girls to the bathroom and explained that all the lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian, who had to clean the mirrors every day. To demonstrate how difficult it was to clean the mirrors, she asked the custodian to demonstrate how he did it. The custodian took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it into the toilet and then cleaned the mirror.

Since then there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

If there’s a situation in your work or life that isn’t working and you’ve tried the usual remedies, it might be time for some creative problem-solving. Hopefully, you’ll come up with something original and simple. It will be time well spent.

Ruth Wong owns Organization Plus. Her column runs the second and fourth Mondays of each month. Contact her by e-mail at


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