When Indian authorities announced a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the first question many asked was: How will we get our essential everyday items?

At that point, it seemed like an impossible problem. How on earth can you shop for groceries and maintain social distance?

But for every new problem that seems too difficult to solve with conventional methods, a creative solution isn’t far behind. 

The solution, in this case, was simple: white or yellow circles drawn on roads six feet apart to serve as a visual cue for people to stand away from one another. 

Over the past few weeks, several such out-of-the-box solutions have emerged to deal with problems stemming from the coronavirus crisis. 

From delivery startups to schools and perfume companies to the Railways, they’ve all found innovative ways of solving problems. Quickly. 

Creative problem-solving requires one to do some divergent thinking. You look at a problem and don’t just come up with a conventional solution. You also do the research, take stock of resources, and then find the best workable solution. Sometimes, after multiple ideas have failed. 

Harappa’s Unleashing Creativity course talks about a process called FFOE, which consists of four elements of divergent thinking for creative problem-solving: 

– Fluency 

– Flexibility

– Originality

– Elaboration

You can find all four elements in the way authorities, companies and people have handled various aspects of the coronavirus problem. Read on to learn about them and how they have helped people during the pandemic.

FLUENCY

Take the first element, fluency, or coming up with multiple ideas to solve a problem creatively. 

Initially, the message of social distancing seemed difficult and almost impossible to achieve in crowded neighborhood kirana stores. 

Many ideas were tried and failed. 

Who would have thought the solution would be that simple—white or yellow circles on pavements outside stores to keep shoppers apart.

That wasn’t the only one. When online grocers such as BigBasket, Grofers, and Amazon were forced to stop taking orders to adapt their systems to handle the massive rush, a solution came from an unlikely source: popular food delivery apps Zomato and Swiggy began offering delivery services for groceries. 

Tired of trying to find a solution to a severe decline in orders and out-of-work delivery executives, the delivery apps managed to solve not just their own problems but also those of people trying to get essentials.

FLEXIBILITY

Now let’s turn to flexibility or looking at a problem from a different angle to generate a solution. 

In a classic example of flexibility in creative problem-solving, the Indian Railways announced that it would convert 5,000 coaches into COVID-19 isolation wards. 

How does that help? Using train coaches as isolation wards means that the trains can be stationed in areas inundated with cases beyond the capacity of the hospitals. They can also serve remote areas where there aren’t enough hospitals for people. 

Neat, isn’t it?

In another example of flexibility in thinking, authorities converted the National Sports Club of India’s dome in Mumbai into a giant quarantine facility that can accommodate up to 500 people. 

Clearly, out-of-the-box thinking helped authorities think flexibly and find connections between seemingly unrelated ideas like trains and isolation wards, and stadiums and quarantine facilities. 

ORIGINALITY

Nothing beats the power of an original idea. The third element in the FFOE process is originality or finding unique ideas. 

Many original ideas have sprung up recently to solve problems creatively. Take the shortage of hand sanitizers, for example. 

When hand sanitizers began flying off the shelf and anxiety levels increased, a solution came from the unlikeliest of sources: perfume-makers and distilleries who redirected their resources into creating alcohol-based hand rubs instead. 

The most popular example was French luxury goods manufacturer LVMH, the company behind Dior and Givenchy perfumes. It used its production facilities for perfume to create alcohol-based hand gels for healthcare workers in France. 

It’s a classic case of original thinking: you take your main resources—purified water, ethanol, and glycerin—and use it in an innovative manner to solve a unique problem. 

ELABORATION

The last element in the FFOE process is elaboration in thinking: when you apply trial and error and keep working until you find a solution to your problem.

So, when face masks began running out, people soon realized that they could be made at home. Soon, DIY videos and articles began popping up on all the different ways to make masks. 

But it was confusing. What material should you use? How should the masks be stitched? As new information kept rolling out, people kept adapting—and trying to find appropriate materials and methods of stitching. 

ElementMeaningExamples

Fluency

Generating multiple ideas until you come up with one that can solve a problem

Circles on pavements for social distancing for grocery shopping and Food delivery apps delivering groceries

Flexibility

Finding connections between seemingly unrelated ideas and thinking outside the box

Indian railways using trains as isolation wards and Stadiums turned into huge quarantine facilities

Originality

Coming up with new ideas and adapting existing ideas to solve unique problems

Perfume manufacturers making hand sanitizer to match demand

Elaboration

Applying trial and error until you succeed in solving your problem

DIY masks at home to find suitable materials and ways of making them

Thinking Creatively is the answer.
So, if you’re stuck with a problem you can’t solve, think out of the box. These examples barely offer a glimpse into the many ways people and organizations are unleashing their creativity during the coronavirus crisis. 
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Any kind of change or upheaval or crisis forces us to find new ways of solving problems. And that’s what the coronavirus pandemic has done: it has forced us to think creatively. And solve problems creatively.


Enroll now for the Reasoning Logically course at Harappa Education. Click here to visit Harappa's Online Courses

Aishwarya Agarwal is an associate specialist in the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. She has studied History and Liberal Arts and moonlights as a stand-up comic. This was a well-kept secret…till her cover was blown.

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