Throughout our lives, there are many challenges we must face and solve, and while some are simpler to overcome, other complex challenges can leave us feeling burnt out, stressed, and without clear answers to our problems.

To address this concern, Leadership and Career Coach Maggie DiStasi, who specializes in mindfulness-based and trauma-informed coaching, joined us for the second round of discussion during our Scala Connects webinar and invited us to explore a different approach to navigating complex problems; focusing on creative solutions rather than logical thinking.

Differentiating complex problems

The first step in addressing complex issues is recognizing and differentiating them from simple or complicated problems and to do this, there are multiple factors to consider.

“Generally with a simple or just even slightly complicated problem, an answer exists, we just have to figure it out,” Maggie told us. “The logical thinking processes of our brains will get us from point A to B, until we get to the solution, even if there are bumps and detours along the way. But if there are questions and no solutions you begin to recognize the complex problems; the kinds that are insufferable and stress you out deeply with no clear answer ahead. This is when we begin to engage in divergent thinking.”

The argument for creativity

Using creativity to help solve our complex problems may feel counterintuitive at first, but it can actually make the solving process fun and energizing. So how do we practice creative thinking to bring solutions to our complex problems? Start by recognizing both sides of the issue: the feelings of frustration and struggle as well as the parts where you may feel some lightness or ease.

“When we create space for them, we can actually start to solve and address these bigger challenges, which brings us to this question of why it is important to recognize complexity,” Maggie explained.

Planting the seeds

Next, you want to practice the “planting of seeds”, one of the seven techniques that are part of Maggie’s Listen, Sense, Grow program. “When you’re addressing a complex problem or challenge, you can still plan,” Maggie reminded us, “but your planning will have a different style than the kind of planning that we bring to a simple or complicated problem.” To plan accordingly, begin by “planting seeds” in your mind to give them creative space and an opportunity to grow. Any new ideas or thoughts that may emerge related to your complex problem should be written down.

Reflect on them but resist the urge to act on them. Acting on these ideas brings you right back into the convergent and rational thinking processes we are trying to avoid, which bypasses creativity. Let go of needing to know the answer to these big questions and instead, write them down to let the ideas percolate, connect and grow into something actionable over time. This can take days, weeks, months, or even years depending on your challenge.

“Even if you haven’t figured out the answers yet, it tends to make us feel better about ourselves, because we’re really serving and honouring our creative process,” Maggie noted. “As the subconscious mind works away, our job is to notice what emerges. This part is important: if we don’t notice it, it might just pass us by.”

Find the horizon

Ready to put this into practice?

First, write down three to five thoughts or ideas related to your complex problem. Then, take a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line across the bottom of the page and begin planting your seeds. Imagine your horizon is the sea and your seeds are boats calmly floating in the water. The things you expect to happen sooner would be closer to the horizon line while others that feel further away can be plotted out farther. Intuition is key here; let your gut instinct guide you across the paper.

Now it’s time to reflect: what are you noticing when you look at it this way? What are some concerns or results you’re seeing? You may notice patterns or ideas that connect with one another over time. Some may have a higher priority than others and yet it’s not the same as writing down a to-do list. This is its purpose: the horizon clears up your mental space and helps you “plan” through unconventional means.

It helps us understand how to move on ideas or wait when necessary, so watch your boats patiently along your horizon.  You’ll know when it’s the right time to jump into action.

Navigating complex problems can spark new ideas and solutions, if we’re willing to forgo the logic and allow for creative thinking.  Step back, plant the seeds, plot your horizon, and see what develops!

If you enjoyed Maggie’s webinar or would like to join future Scala discussions, head over to our events page for upcoming webinar dates and updates!