How to formulate a creative challenge

Fostering creativity and innovation within a team or organization often begins with formulating the right challenge. Many believe that simply identifying the area of ​​creativity is enough, neglecting the importance of creating a well-defined question. But does it really make a difference? Does it matter how we design a challenge? It turns out that it is extremely important.

Our brains thrive on clarity and specificity. Here we explore how to formulate a good challenge that ignites creativity and invites innovative solutions.

The power of a clear question

A vague challenge like “We need ideas to improve customer service, anyone have any?” pales in comparison to an articulate one like “How can we better understand customers’ needs before they even ask?” Here’s why the difference is crucial.

1. Clear questions produce better solutions

When the challenge is precise, participants can focus their creative thinking on a specific problem, making it easier to get started generating valuable solutions.

2. Our brains love structure

Our minds thrive on structure. Asking a clear question gives our brains something to relate our existing knowledge to, making it easier to brainstorm effectively.

How should a creative challenge be formulated?

A creative challenge should be a How-question. It should take the form “How can we ___ to achieve ___?”

Different approaches to focus your challenge

When formulating a creative challenge, you can choose from different approaches to focus your thinking:

Simple focus

Identifying a focus that no one has thought of before can unlock amazing opportunities. Use techniques like Mind Mapping to explore potential focus points, then choose one you haven’t focused on before. Many believe that it gives the wrong focus to focus on something new and different, but the fact is, that a new simple starting point often generates better ideas in other areas as well.

For example, Black & Decker shifted its focus from tools to the work surface, leading to the creation of the Workmate workbench.

Specific focus

Sometimes a specific and narrow field is the key to finding innovative ideas. Statements like “We need creative solutions to get better” are far too general and make it difficult to come up with ideas. “We need ideas for how our meetings in the small conference room can be started in a way so that everyone understands what the meeting is about” creates a clear focus for creativity.

General focus

If you want a wide range of ideas without specifying the type, you can choose a broader, more general focus, but then try to give something to trigger the thinking. “Creating ideas for restaurants in terms of how to order”, has a broader focus but still something to start the creative process around.

Targeted focus

Unlike general focus, a targeted challenge has a clear purpose. You decide what to be creative with and what goal to achieve. This may mean solving an immediate problem, improving existing solutions or exploiting potential opportunities:

  • Improvements: “How can we shorten checkout lines?”
  • Problem solving: “How can we deal with graffiti on the walls?”
  • Explore possibilities: “How can we use glue in a new way?”

Making mind maps

Before diving into idea generation, consider using Mind Mapping to identify focal points. Mind mapping provides an overview of what different focuses we can have and it becomes visually visible which focus we have not considered.

Correct level of formulation

Once you have formulated your challenge, you should think about whether it is at the right level. Many formulate questions too generally. Use methods like the why-how-elevator to make sure you end up right.


There are two shortcuts to formulations where the creative attitude itself becomes “built-in” into the formulation. They aim to weave in the “future” or ask for “completely new” solutions, in this way it says in the question itself that previous solutions are not sufficient. “What do the shopping centers of the future look like?” Or “How can you shop in a completely new way?”, are examples of questions where the creative attitude is built-in.


The ability to formulate a well-crafted challenge can be what makes all the difference in fostering creativity and innovation. By choosing the right focus, you provide a road map for creative thinking, guiding your team or organization towards breakthrough solutions.

So the next time you’re trying to spark creativity, remember: a well-formulated question is the catalyst that can ignite creativity in others.