In research done more than 50 years ago, Jacob Tetzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at the University of Chicago demonstrated that people who focused on FINDING problems were more creative (and were ultimately more successful in their creative endeavors) than those who focused solely on SOLVING problems.

Their test was to have a group of art students draw a still life from a selection of ordinary objects. The resulting drawings were evaluated by professional artists for the level of creativity displayed. The drawings of the students that spent more of their time considering which objects to include in their drawing and how those objects were arranged – finding the problem –  were judged to be consistently more creative than those of the students who spent the bulk of their time executing the drawing – solving the problem. “What good drawing can I produce?” won out over “How can I make a good drawing?”.

The researchers followed up with their subjects a number of years later and found that the problem finders were the ones who were more successful in their artistic and creative careers. Per Tetzels and Csikszentmihalyi, “It is in fact the discovery and creation of problems that often sets the creative person apart from others in their field”.

In working through problems associated with medical product design, perhaps you should be spending more time looking more deeply at the apparent problem. Are you sure you’re asking the right questions? Rather than jumping directly into solving mode, spend more time finding problems in the system you’re addressing. That’s where the creative solution is lurking.

Next time we’ll take a look at specific techniques you can use to help you define your medical device design problem.