Tackling the blank page – book extract published in Creative Review

Tackling the blank page – book extract published in Creative Review

I’m very excited that the iconic Creative Review is publishing extracts from In Your Creative Element over the next few months. The Feb issue has been really well received with great feedback so I thought I’d share one of the tips from the first extract where I suggest on how to identify the problem at hand and that can be applied to a diverse range of problems – from ‘I need an idea right now’ to more complex challenges.

Problem finding tool 1:

Generating an effective problem statement (Isaksen et al, 2011)

What is it? A tool from the Creative Problem Solving process to generate useful problem statements and open up ideas. Often a challenge is not written as a question, but as a statement or an objective. For example: stunt ideas to support our World Cup sponsorship or get more ‘likes’ on Facebook. You need to bridge between the client brief and an enticing creative brief. This tool helps to do that and can add specificity, constraints and ambition to your statement.

How to do it: Follow this format to create potential problem statements, informed by data and insight.

Write down your initial problem as you see it, or as per the client brief. Here’s a working example of a challenge that I see every time I take a commuter train. People often fall asleep on the train without having their ticket on display for the guard. How can we make people leave their ticket out?

 1. Start with an invitational stem – a way of asking questions that ‘opens up, or invites, many possible responses’. There are three suggested stems:How to…

How might…

In what ways might…

2. Identify an owner. This might be a specific person responsible for the problem or a company eg How might Loco Trains’ corporate communications team….In what ways might Loco Trains’ staff…. In what ways might Loco Trains’ guards…. How to encourage commuters to….

By playing with the ownership you give yourself options. You can change the gender, the demographic, the age, to give you different (divergent) avenues.

3. Have an action verb. “Identify a specific and positive course envisioned by the statement” (Isaksen et al, 2011); eg “In what ways might Loco Trains’ guards force/ encourage/ cajole/ provoke/ avoid/ reward/ persuade….
4. An objective. “Identify the target or desired outcome and direction for your problem-solving activity” (Isaksen et al, 2011).


In what ways might the Loco Trains’ guard reward customers for showing their tickets?
How to avoid awkward customer interactions on the train?
How might the Loco Trains design team create a ticket holder that people actually want to show off?
How to engage with Claire on the 6:05am London Waterloo train and encourage her to display her ticket without being prompted?

Again, changing the owner, the verb and the outcome (being specific and general) gives you different creative options and opens up different routes.

You can ask yourself whether, from all the options you generate, is there a ‘central question’? One that takes priority over all the others and that gives you a clear way into your problem?

Who is this technique for? Anyone involved at the start of the  creative process.

Good for: Ensuring that you’re asking the right question. Checking that you have a well-formed problem if you’re having difficulty generating ideas (often due to a poor question).

Not so good for: There’s really no occasion when having a well-formed question will hinder your creative efforts!

The full article is published in the Feb ‘The Age issue’ of Creative Review. To buy a copy of In Your Creative Element with a full toolkit of 25 tried and tested tools click here.

Contact Us Now and Get Our

Free Creativity Hacks

Get in touch to have a creative consultation with us to up the ante on your creativity today!

Privacy Policy