How the artist keeps your business from failing.

Are you still looking for the secret to avoiding failure?  Sorry, there still isn’t any magic formula, but there is more to the creative problem solving approach. Are you ready?

This series looks at the four roles of creative problem solving: explorer, artist, judge, and warrior. I discovered these roles in the book A Kick in the Seat of the Pants by Roger von Oech. It was a discovery choreographed by an artist and colleague at MY Designs. (Thanks M.Y.!)

Last week we spent time with the Explorer, searching out information and raw materials. Now it’s time to pass the torch to the next persona – the Artist.

The artist’s role in this process is to take the raw material the explorer collected and do something with it. She manipulates and ultimately transforms the raw material into something new and different. 

That artist is you.

Don’t panic. I’m not asking you to become a painter or a dancer (I’m not stopping you either!). What I am suggesting is using an artist’s approach. Which brings me to the suggestions on how YOU and I can be more like the artist.


Once you present your brain with a problem, it will continue to look for a solution until it’s solved. Over time we can reach an impasse if we keep looking at the problem (and potential solutions) in the same way. But how can we change perspective?

By breaking the pattern. 

Change the context of the raw materials and even the way you frame the problem.

Have you ever seen a photographer looking at her subject searching for the right composition? She walks all around it, steps on a ladder, squats down, moves closer and then farther away. She’s changing her perspective and as she does, the composition changes. 

How can you do that with your materials and your problem?

What about getting a completely fresh perspective? Invite someone outside of the problem to share what they see in the information or problem.  I’ve been asked a few times to look at an image, presentation, or an object and give my ideas on what it is, what it means, what I see. 

Who can you ask to provide a fresh set of eyes?


Some very interesting solutions have been raised during ‘what if’ brainstorming  sessions. Whether you have a team or just you and your imagination, using the powerful and sometimes bizarre questions that begin ‘What if…’ can break through road blocks.

It’s often not the first ‘what if’ idea, but the fifth or sixth that sparks insight. And once your brain is rewarded for the insight, it will continue to repeat whatever it is that led to the reward.

Take a look at the material you’ve collected for your problem. What if you added something? What if you took something away? What if it were used for something completely unrelated to it’s purpose? Challenge your assumptions. Be bold in your ‘what if’ ideas.

Do you know an artist? If you get a chance, spend some time with them in their studio or better yet participate in a workshop. What you’ll notice is how they add things to the raw materials to change and manipulate them into something else. 

Surprisingly, when I participated in an artist’s workshop, it was the act of taking away something from the materials and the project that resulted in insight for me. It helped me to challenge my assumption of how the material is used.

Here are a few examples:

  • What if we could carry everything in one box?
  • What if we didn’t have a waiting room?
  • What if we could talk to everyone at once?

Of course your ‘what if’ questions will related to your situation and context. Come up with at least 10 ‘What if’ questions of your own.


When two previously unconnected things are connected – it creates something new. 

Why not take what you’ve collected as the explorer and connect it to something you already have to make something new? 

One of my favorite approaches to create new ideas is using the ‘what if’ and the ‘make connections’ approach together. It’s inspired by fiction writers. To solve the problem of coming up with new and interesting stories, a writer will ask ‘what if…’ and then blends two unrelated stories into a new story. ‘What if batman lived on a spaceship?’ (ok, maybe not the best premise, but you get the idea.) 

Connections can be the solution in themselves, as in the writer’s approach, or they can be a launching pad for other ideas. 

Try connecting two unrelated concepts together and brainstorm what this could mean. This is an approach from the Kick book I found especially creative.

What would it mean to combine: 

letterbox and medicine

  • mail delivery for medical supplies (not original, i know)
  • keeping your inbox from getting a virus
  • prescriptions written in clear and plain language

crown and thermometor

  • embedded thermometer in tooth notifies of temperature variations
  • temperature gage built into rooftops transmitting weather data to central location

Crazy, but I think you get the idea. Have fun mixing and matching different concepts from your explorer’s collection and let the artist shine. 


The artist doesn’t stop at just one idea, she keeps transforming the materials and produces a gallery of ideas! 

It’s now your turn. Take your explorer’s raw material and do something. Don’t be afraid to be a little weird or different. Remember, you need to get off the well worn path if you’re going to find a new idea.