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June 01, 2021

Top tips for solving real-life problems

What’s your top tip for identifying a creative solution to a real-life problem? What’s one example of a time you came up with a creative solution to a real-life problem?

Denise Tran, Planner, New Product Launch, Apotex Inc.

Just because something already works or is ‘good enough’ doesn’t mean it can’t be improved on or revamped completely. Think to yourself: If it could be done better, you can take the first steps in the changes that you want to see.
For example, at my workplace we used to take physical measurements of inventory and catalogued the data for logistics and warehouse purposes – labour intensive and not so time-efficient. In a collaborative effort, this manual process has since been updated to an automated system: by confirming the components that make up the finished good, the software will automatically aggregate and provide the measurements and weight of the finished product as well as at each stage of packaging.
It did take some time to develop initially, but has been a big timesaver in the long run!
Jo-Ann Conrod, Executive Assistant, Deloitte LLP

My 'top tip' for identifying a creative solution to a real-life problem is to pay attention to your target audience. I once owned and operated a specialty coffee franchise and was a franchisee. The franchise company didn't appreciate nor understand regional differences when it came to marketing promotions. I decided to target promotions that would benefit my target audience.
Kajal Palan, Sr. Director, Operations Finance & Strategy, Apotex Inc.

When innovating, always ask yourself what problem you're trying to solve. Is there a real need for it? Don't just innovate because you have an idea and think others will like it too.
For example, we had some products we could make in three different factories. So how do I choose where to make them? What if none of the factories can make all the products I want, so I need to select at least two?
I had to come up with a process to help me solve the problem of what to make and where to make it. That is neat, because I saved a lot of money for my company by finding the best solution. And we can use this app again and again. Cool!”
Michele Colley, Transit Advisory Consultant, Stantec Consulting Ltd.

Ask questions that make you think about the problem in a different way: What if? What's the worst that could happen? Can I apply a solution from somewhere else to solve this problem? How can I learn from past successes and failures? What unique perspective can I bring? How can advancements in technology change how things are done?

I come up with creative solutions to real-world problems every day in my job as a Transit Planner. Not all communities have the same needs and not every neighbourhood has enough demand to fill traditional buses. I use advancements in technology and real-time data to develop solutions that are tailored to each community and change the way people think about mobility.
What if we use smaller vehicles? What if we eliminate schedules? Can we borrow ideas from ridesharing companies (Uber, Lyft, etc.) and apply them to public transit? These are the exciting questions I explore daily while collaborating with transit agencies and my colleagues to find solutions.
Caleigh Silmser, Senior Manager, Brand, Cadillac Fairview

Keep an eye out for "workarounds" – things people do in the process of completing a task without even realizing it. For example, we found out that managers working in Cadillac Fairview shopping centres would walk the mall to poach other great retail workers (i.e., lure them away from another store to come work at theirs). We took this insight and built a recruiting platform called CF Front Door to help connect retail managers with job seekers. 
Allison Pasique, Senior Manager, Campus Recruitment, CPP Investments

Give yourself time and space to problem solve. Do not multitask, focus just on solutioning.
Apurva Kumar, Security Researcher, Lookout

What’s your top tip for identifying a creative solution to a real-life problem? What’s one example of a time you came up with a creative solution to a real-life problem?

Top tip: Innovation doesn't have to be complicated -- in fact, it's often the simple solutions people don't think about! Solving problems come naturally when we think carefully about a problem and don't let your insecurities hold you back from speaking up!

For example, I've thought about innovative solutions to problems at work, but didn't mention them out loud thinking they were silly or "too easy." Surprisingly, the easiest solutions are usually the best, and sometimes the most difficult to see. When trying to find solutions, remember to take a step back or take a break before tackling the problem.
Caleigh Meehan, Director, Organizational Development, CPP Investments

Speak with many different people and ask tons of questions to get a wide array of perspectives and ideas. When COVID hit and all our employees had to work from home, I led an initiative to redesign a training program for new graduate employees. It has previously been a one-week, interactive in-person program and we had a relatively short window (and limited technology capabilities) to make it entirely virtual. It wasn't without its glitches and great lessons learned, but we did it!
Lexy Weinberg, Rotational Analyst, Fundamental Investments, CPP Investments
Speak to as many members of the population that is most impacted by the problem as possible to ensure you really comprehend the nuances of their experience. Once you have an idea or a prototype, gather feedback and iterate, continuously considering the opinions and thoughts of the target market.
One example of a time I came up with a creative solution to a real-life problem was when I was pro-bono consulting for a start-up through the Ivey Community Consulting Project at the Ivey Business School. My team and I designed a tailored go-to-market strategy based on extensive primary research for an app-based mental health product enabling the start-up to ensure a successful launch. 
Paula Myrick, Office Experience Manager, Lookout
People often say 'think outside the box.' I say think outside your own brain! :)

My favourite solution-finding method is asking friends and work colleagues their thoughts on a problem. It's even better if they have a wide variety of life experiences. Often our brains will keep taking us down the familiar path and we will keep making similar mistakes. An external perspective can give you new insight and maybe even a working solution.

Another favourite technique is to STOP working on the problem and do something completely different for a while. Often solutions will pop up while I'm out for a walk or sleeping. Our subconscious can sometimes problem solve for us when we stop trying to force an answer.
Ashley Vogeli, Director, Strategic Communications, CPP Investments
Focus on your own experience – you know it the best! You are much more likely to solve a problem that will have lasting benefit and have the greatest impact on others if it is an authentic problem you're trying to solve. So often, we get caught up and forget that many of us have similar challenges. Don't forget that other people may be facing similar obstacles that they want to see solved.
Candace Harris-Parker, Delivery Project Manager, Cadillac Fairview
I have two tips:
  1. I'd encourage you to seek help.  It is a great opportunity to collaborate with your peers.  Seek people who will give you different perspectives. Have a group session and brainstorm or talk though the problem and potential solutions. 
  2. Sometimes it helps to step away from the problem and take a break.  Take your mind off it and do something relaxing or fun; then return to the issue at a different time when you are more likely to approach it with a fresh/relaxed frame of mind. It will be easier to identify a solution. 
​Catalina Vargas, Manager, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives, BMO
Don't hold back during brainstorming and avoid doing this alone. Sometimes the craziest of ideas can happen and they could come up during conversations. Bring people into the ideas to crowd-source solutions. Sometimes just speaking the problem out loud leads to a solution.

With all the things happening on a daily basis, sometimes it's hard to remember things. I used to have a ton of sticky notes around or in my agenda but now I've switched to an electronic to-do list. To make things even simpler, I create shared notes with my husband and my family for food shopping, books – all so we can share our lives, work on the little things together, and leave more time for the more important things every day.
Dale Baker, Senior Relationship Manager, BMO
There are no bad or "silly" ideas! No idea that is too big, or too small, to create a change, solve a problem, or improve something. There is power in numbers and teams, and adding creativity to brainstorming will improve results. Look for simple issues that need solving, or gaps with a product or service, and figure out how to improve it! That is innovation and creativity.

I don't like waste/garbage, so a creative solution I'm working on is developing a reusable system for grocery stores or supermarkets to dispense products into reusable containers, rather than the manufacturers creating more plastic waste, which ends up in landfills.
Elisa Costa, Associate Architect, Stantec
Find a way to investigate the problem from many angles to find the optimal solution. In trying to design the ideal hospital bedroom we set up real-life 3D mock-ups to help doctors and nurses test out the room.
Jeff Simmonds, Senior Manager, National Specialty Leasing, Cadillac Fairview
My top tip is to learn what it means to "start with the end user in mind." In order to fully understand the problem, it's best to go to the end user – those affected by the problem – to pinpoint the problem and help uncover pain points that you can then solve for. 
An example of this would be at Cadillac Fairview where we went to our retailers and identified that there was a lack of break rooms / staff rooms in retail.  Understanding this pain point, we set out and created the "CF Lounge," a location for retail employees to take their break, heat their lunch, grab a glass of water, etc. We utilized unused shopping mall space to pull the idea together and it was a roaring success.
Natalie Selfe, Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Intern, Deloitte
Stepping back from the problem and taking note of possible solutions by brainstorming on a piece of a paper. Last week I was building a table that seemed to have a lot of missing parts. Instead of following the instructions, I took note of what parts I did have access to. This made it way easier to build the table and compare what parts I had with the instructions.
Nicole Tryhorn, Sr. Manager Project Lead, BMO
I had a toilet leak and needed to get a bolt off, but I couldn't seem to stop it from spinning and didn't have help. I found a binder clip in the house and used that to hold onto the washer to remove the bolt.
Erica Chan, Senior Advisor, Campus Recruitment, CPP Investments
The biggest obstacle to creativity is ourselves. Get out of your own way. Don't take the problem at surface level. We want to look at it in great depth! Try to focus on discovering other solutions versus the instant one.
Sheli Gelman, Personal Banking Associate, BMO
My best tip for finding a solution to a real-life problem is to evaluate what the ‘Big Picture Problem’ is and then identify the ‘Detailed Challenges’ that are involved. This helps you assess whether you need to nitpick at one or a few small aspects of the problem, or simply overhaul your entire approach to the task at hand.
I love to use the Big Picture Problem vs. Detailed Challenge method when I create and collaborate with other people on music. When I was in a band, the music writing process was pretty straightforward most of the time – one person would write lyrics and a basic melody, they'd present it to the rest of the band members, and then everyone would add onto the song with their own instrument.
If something didn't sound right, we'd often home in on a few specific notes that one or a few of the band members were playing and then slowly work out different notes for those parts to bring it all back to cohesion.
Every once in a while we'd get stuck doing this over and over again to no avail, with the song still having a sound that none of us was happy with. We started to realize that each time we got stuck like that, we were better off just scrapping everything we already had and coming up with a totally new melody, or lyrics, completely from scratch!
No matter what, in the end we'd always end up with a song we were all happy with. One approach wasn't always specifically better than the other, but it was important for us to recognize when we had a Big Picture Problem or a Detailed Challenge on our hands to be able to continue making great music.
Nicole Tryhorn, Sr. Manager Project Lead, BMO
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