Creativity Under Stress

Nora Guerrera
3 min readMar 1, 2024

The role, and importance, of creative problem solving in high stress situations.

This week begins a 5-part series on Creative Problem Solving. We welcome Andrew Lebowitz, a graphic designer, brand strategist, and innovation consultant turned EMT.

Creativity and creative individuals have long had a powerful impact on our species and our planet. Unfortunately, the term “creativity” is often reserved for those who seem to exhibit extraordinary creative abilities. I am here to say that creativity is not something for only a select few. Rather, it is the most human characteristic shared by each and every one of us.

Creativity is a matter of survival.

Creativity is a matter of survival, bred into our evolution from our time in the wild, drenched with the sweat and blood of our ancestors. Those who survived and thrived were the best creative problem solvers of their time. The same holds true today.

Creativity is vital in emergency scenarios.

According to creativity researchers Michael Mumford, Kimberly Hester, and Issac Robledo from The University of Oklahoma, “the kind of problems that call for creative thought display five key characteristics: ill-defined, novel, demanding, complex, exploitable.”

If that doesn’t sound like an emergency scenario, I don’t know what does.

Having had a full career as a traditionally “creative” professional, it was a pivot into emergency medicine that drove home the power of creativity for me, especially in high-stress and emergency scenarios. In the back of an ambulance, we rarely know exactly what we are walking into, and while not every call is novel, they can all be demanding and complex, and it’s our job to figure out the best course of action.

In this article, I’m going to introduce my perspective on creative problem-solving and set up a framework for how to build your creative problem-solving abilities in high-stress scenarios.

What is creative problem-solving?

Creative problem-solving is the ability — whether as an individual, a group, or an organization — to solve ill-defined, novel, complex, demanding, and exploitable challenges.

This definition, however, does not provide us with a foundation to start understanding how to build our skillset and practice around creative problem-solving. To better understand how this skill works, let’s break it down into its two primary components: Cognitive Flexibility and Applied Learning.

Cognitive flexibility refers to our ability to enter into and switch between different modes of thought, including divergent, convergent, lateral, emergent, and analogous.

Applied learning, as opposed to just “learning,” is the ability and the need to learn something in order to apply it. We can learn all sorts of things for our own amusement and joy, but we don’t always use what we learn (a feeling I’m sure many of us share regarding our primary and maybe even secondary education).

We’ll go deeper into each of these in the coming weeks, focusing on:

  1. Cognitive Flexibility
  2. Applied Learning
  3. Building Your Creative Problem-Solving Practice
  4. Applying Creativity Under Stress

Join us and embrace your own creative problem-solving skills!

Andrew is a graphic designer, brand strategist, and innovation consultant turned EMT. Now, he is applying his own creativity to help those in their moments of greatest need.

If you are interested in discussing or developing your creative problem skills further, Andrew is available for training, coaching, and consulting for individuals and teams. You can message him directly here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/witzcreative/

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Nora Guerrera

Strategist, Leader, Coach, Teacher. I help clients explore, create and use digital to bring game-changing experiences to their businesses and their customers.