Note: This article is about using creativity to improve your problem solving skills, and approximately a 20 minute read. This is the third article in a series in which I teach you useful creative techniques to help you in your problem solving skills. It is a bit abstract, and involves higher level thinking, so it may not be for you. So to be upfront, here are the bullet points for it. If you want to skip my introductory “fluff” and get right to the creative technique I will talk about in this article, feel free to skip to the subheading “Creative Technique #3: Demographic Shift”.
We are all one of a kind, and there will never be someone else who is quite like us. We all come from different demographic backgrounds, which together help form who we are, and how we go through life.
The demographic backgrounds we come from exert a sort of “conditioning” on how we go through life and perceive things.
Although the demographic backgrounds that we come form can have an empowering effect on us, they can also hinder us in making us see things in one way, limiting how we perceive and tackle problems.
Being willing to imagine what life would be like for someone from a different demographic background than us can help in expanding our awareness of how to approach a problem.
This article talks about a creative technique all about contemplating how you would approach your problem if you came from a different demographic background.
The key point is in taking inventory of the demographic background that you’re coming from, and to contemplate how differently you think you’d see things if a part of your identity was a little different. If you were of a different age, or income level, or gender/sexual identity, or income level, or personality, or occupation, or whatever. The hope here is that by imagining how someone else would approach a problem, the more solutions you'll be able to brainstorm.
We are one of a kind
Image Source Pixabay
You are one of a kind. Although there is approximately a one in 64 trillion chance that someone else will be born with your same genetic makeup, it's unlikely someone else currently exists that looks just like you. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? Additionally, there probably will never be anyone else who thinks exactly like you do. You're special because of how unique you are!
There are so many religions, nation states, sexual identities, languages, and other types of social constructs out there that we use to define ourselves. The odds of someone else sharing the same demographic background with you is quite small. Some of us are born as men, women, or feeling that how we look on the outside doesn’t reflect our true gender and sexual identity. Our journeys through life can be dramatically different than that of others.
Our demographic identities have a tremendous impact on the way we make sense of the world. The kinds of parents we have, the language we’re taught as children, and even our diet play a huge role in our problem-solving and decision making skills. We are all individuals, but the environments in which we are born into strongly influence our behavior. Our lens of the world, and consequently our locus of control is formulated by the various social groups that we are a part of. Even if we don’t “partake” of the surrounding social climate, it still has an impact on our decision making. And a big way in which we are influenced by the “pressure” of our demographics is quite subtle—unconscious biases, assumptions regarding various phenomena, value systems, milestones to strive for, and determining what are worthwhile uses of our time.
Demographics: People can be very different than one another
Demographics refers to the categorization and segmentation of people—their geographic background, culture, belief systems, and biological differences. We are similar in many ways, but at the same time, we’re not! People differ in obvious physical ways such as age, gender, sexual identity, but also in more abstract ways. They differ in terms of the language they speak, their type of personality, and even their level of political identification. People can define and be defined in almost an infinite number of ways—the concept of identity is so dynamic and vast and fantastic. Understanding how people differ in terms of their demographic background is useful for better making sense and understanding how others perceive the world. How they approach life, how they deal with adversity, and even the behaviors that they engage in. It helps in finding ways to relate and work with one another.
Cultural peer pressure has a strong impact on how we make sense of things and solve problems
We are all in charge of forming our own identity. However, the prevailing norms and customs of the environment in which we were raised and are living in have a profound impact on how we go through life.
The impact that our demographic background has on our problem solving and decision making isn’t necessarily bad. Some customs and belief systems are very empowering, and actually quite encouraging in terms of building our self-worth, willpower, strength, and intuitive skills.
An issue arises when we think we’re being objective in analyzing a situation. We might think we’re seeing a situation objectively, but actually running on unconscious biases and assumptions we’ve picked up from our social circles and associations. For this reason, it is imperative for us to “check” ourselves and question our prejudices and biases from time to time. if we’re trying to be creative when trying to solve a problem, we have to get into the habit of challenging our assumptions.
My whole point here is about the value in checking to see how your demographic background might be limiting your perspective and take on things. It’s easy for people to fall into a trap of thinking that their culture or way of thinking is the “best” one compared to others.
Image Source Pixabay
That isn’t exactly helpful to the creative and problem solving process. In fact, it’s quite detrimental, making us hold onto a way of looking at things. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with an issue because of the way we were “taught” to look at things.
I would say most cultures have some socially approved “mechanisms” for how to deal with problems, that are subtly “encouraged” on to its members. These “mechanisms” can inform us in the amount of volition we’re permitted to believe we have, how much seriousness we can apply to a problem, and even the way we should feel about something. Some of those mechanisms are empowering. But when we deviate away from them, it’s easy to feel peer pressure from our cultural or social group.
Creative Technique #3: Demographic Shift
This creative technique is about becoming aware of your demographic background, and trying to consider how someone very different than you would see things. It's an imaginative exercise in which you contemplate how you would approach your problem if your demographic background was different—if you were born in another country, were younger, spoke a different language, followed a different religion, had a different income level, or were different in some other way. Truthfully, you can’t be completely certain how someone with a different identity than you would approach a problem, but at least contemplating it helps put you in a more imaginative and creative state. But the more open-minded you allow yourself to be, the more potential solutions you can come up for it.
Sample Problem: Figuring out which supplier for your wine production process to replace
Let’s say you run a winery, where you source different parts and components from suppliers. You’re looking to streamline and make the production process more efficient by replacing one of your suppliers. There are many steps involved in your wine production process (e.g. workers harvesting the field, harvesting the grapes, crushing them, fermenting them, bottling them, distributing them to customers), and you’re not quite sure where to start. How would you go about finding which suppliers to replace, in order to make your production process more efficient?
This creative technique calls for identifying your demographic background, and trying to imagine how differently you would approach the problem if at least one of your identity components (e.g. age, gender, sex, income, etc.) was different. You’re probably not going to be able to exactly determine how someone born on the other side of the world would approach your problem. However, contemplating it, and trying to be imaginative helps put your mind in a more creative state of mind. And the longer that you’re in a creative state, the greater the likelihood that you can brainstorm more ideas for solving a problem. Your age, gender, nationality, religion, computer literacy, etc. all have a profound impact on how you approach obstacles, and imagining what would happen if one of those aspects was altered can help you come up with a different approach for solving your problem.
Step by Step Approach
Here are some steps that someone can take in order to help them envision how someone from a different demographic background than you would approach a problem.
First, identify and determine your demographic background. Now, there’s so many ways to answer this, but let’s just focus on four main ones to help you get started. Age, sex, income, nationality. How old are you? What is your gender/sexual identity? What is your income level? What nationality are you? Let’s start with those four things at the very least.
Next, let’s start with altering one of those things from your demographic background. Let’s start with age first. For example, how would someone of a different age view your problem? What about an elderly person? How would someone who turned 21 view your problem? What if a five-year-old kid had to deal with your problem?
Then, let’s tackle gender and sexual identity next. How would someone of a different gender and/or sexual identity deal with your problem? Would someone who is gay(or straight) view your problem in any different way? How would a woman(or man) approach your problem?
Following along, let’s tweak income. How would someone who had twice as much money as you deal with and approach the problem? Ten times as much money? How about someone who had no money? Or someone in debt for 10 million dollars?
Finally, let’s play with the last dimension, nationality. How would someone born on the other side of the globe deal with your problem? How would someone who was born in one country but grew up in another deal with your problem? Would someone who recently immigrated to your country view your problem differently? What about someone who considered themselves to have no nationality, such as a “sovereign citizen”?
If you’d like to keep on contemplating how someone of a different demographic background would approach the sample problem, there really is no limit. How would someone who is vegan, religious, a marathon runner, a doomsday prepper, or a police officer, view your problem? You can obtain interesting perspectives by contemplating how people with different lifestyles than you would approach your problem. You can also look at experiential things such as computer literacy, marriage status, and political beliefs.
The Key Point
The key point here is to take inventory of your demographic background, and to try to imagine how you would see things if you had a different self-image. You’re influenced by customs and expectations to a high degree that it has an effect on how you approach and deal with problems. It’s a sort of conditioning that can be hard to turn off, and limits how you’re able to see things. Although some social conditioning based upon your demographic background can be empowering, it’s a good idea to be willing to contemplate putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Imagining how someone else would approach a problem can help you come up with more ways to solve it yourself.
Return to Problem (applying the step by step approach)
Let’s revisit the problem of trying to make the wine production process more efficient by identifying a supplier to replace. Let’s apply the five step technique I mentioned earlier to this problem.
First, let’s identify and determine your demographic background. We can use me as an example. I’m 31. I’m an American straight male, who lives in Washington State. Let’s say my income level is about $50,000 USD a year. There are more things that make up my demographic background/identity but we’ll just focus on my age, gender/sex, income, and nationality for this example.
Next, begin by considering how someone from a different demographic background than you would see your problem. Let’s start with age here, and use my age(31) as an example. How would someone twice my age, 62 view the problem of finding a cheaper wine supplier for a winery production process? They might focus more on finding cheaper labor. How would someone a few years younger (e.g. 21 years) than me view the problem? They might focus on the distribution method—how the wine gets to someone. How would someone five years old view the problem? They might focus on something visual or obvious, like the wine bottles themselves. In this step, by altering how someone of a different age demographic than us would approach the problem, we’ve been able to come up with 3 distinct approaches for solving the problem: focusing on the labor supplied, the distribution method, and the wine bottles themselves.
Let’s continue going through the other 3 demographics from my previous step by step method. Let’s focus on gender and sexual identity (straight cis-male) next. How would a straight woman view the problem? They might focus on asking their friends what aspect of the wine production process could be made more efficiently without damaging the wine’s quality. What about someone who is queer or gay? Someone who is queer/not straight might approach the problem by focusing on replacing the supplier that is the most difficult to deal with. In this step, by altering how someone of a different gender/sexual identity demographic than us would approach the problem, we’ve been able to come up with 2 distinct approaches for solving the problem: focusing on replacing the supplier that is the most difficult to deal with, and asking other people for advice.
Let’s continue with the demographic dimension of income. How would someone who had ten times as much money as you (e.g. $50,000) approach the problem? They might focus on getting a supplier that could deliver long-term economic gains. How would someone who had very little money approach the problem? They might focus on identifying suppliers with the lowest transaction costs to switch to. How would someone heavily in debt view the problem? They might focus on identifying a new supplier that does not require a credit check or any sort of financial approval process. In this step, by altering how someone of a different income than us would approach the problem, we’ve been able to come up with 3 distinct approaches for solving the problem: focusing on supplier change transaction costs, suppliers that do not focus on credit checks, and the long-term economic gains from changing to a new supplier.
Finally, let’s look at the last dimension. Nationality. How would someone born in China approach the problem? They might focus on going to the manufacturing location itself where parts for the wine production process are made, and asking for product samples. How would someone who recently immigrated to the US approach the problem? They might focus on identifying a new supplier that is large enough to deal with international clients, and can handle dealing with people from diverse nationalities. How would someone who considers themselves part of no nation, and/or a “sovereign citizen”, approach the problem? They might focus on the supplier that respects it’s clients privacy the most and asks the least amount of questions. In this step, by altering how someone of a different nationality than us would approach the problem, we’ve been able to come up with 3 distinct approaches for solving the problem: focusing on the degree to which a supplier respects privacy, how good it is with dealing with different cultures/customs, and their geographical location.
As you can see, looking at the problem of trying to replace a supplier to make a wine production process more efficient, by contemplating how someone of a different demographic would approach it, gets you to think of a diverse variety of potential solutions. All the examples used approach the problem from different angles, and get you thinking about the problem in radically different ways. Even “mundane” things like someone's gender or sexual identity can have a significant impact on how someone can go about trying to solve a problem.
In this example, we’ve been able to come up with over a dozen different approaches by imagining what someone from a different demographic background might do. However, this may not be enough for more complicated and difficult problems.If we needed to, we could keep engaging in this exercise, contemplating how people that differed from us in even more ways would approach the problem.
For example, someone with very high computer fluency might focus on using search engines to identify suppliers that could be replaced. Someone who is a Democrat might focus on suppliers with a high amount of social responsibility. An avid marathon runner would probably look to tackle the most challenging component of the entire wine production process.
Your demographic background(and the groups of people you choose to associate with) has a strong impact on how you approach solving problems. It’s a sort of conditioning that influences your behavior regarding the “proper” way to experience and interpret things. Belonging or identifying with a group of people can empower us with a variety of benefits, but can also hamper us in how we think we should deal with problems. Mundane, simple, repetitive problems don’t require much to solve, but when we come up against much more challenging ones, we need to consider changing our approach. What might be useful is to think about how you would see your problem if you had a different self-image, came from a different demographic background, or walked in someone else’s shoes for a while.