Now, on a practical note, which process do you follow when solving a problem or generating ideas for some specific purpose?
Usually we use some strategies and techniques we know without thinking about it too much. It is not necessary to stop thinking about how you are going to do it, what is the best way for you to do it (the way with better outcomes or the way you enjoy it the most=.
On one side we can use different type of activities to generate ideas, such as brainstorming or analogies. On the other side, we can follow a problem solving model that we are used to, consciously or unconsciously.
Imagine you are trying to solve a problem and you are thinking about some steps, such as analysing the present situation and the situation where we want to be, gathering the information, using creative techniques to generate, combine or improve ideas, using some decision making tools to choose what to do among the options and how to do it. In each of the steps can be used different tools and different timing. In fact, we can repeat each step independently till we feel satisfied.
We could just try to solve a problem and observe how much time we spend on each step and doing what. There could be a timmer that every 5 minutes remind us to record what we are doing, thinking or feeling. At the end we could have an idea about how much time we use in some of the steps and decided to change them. For example, we can spend much more time thinking about the problem, about the situation, its causes and implications.
"A problem well defined is a problem nearly solved"
Charles F. Kettering
When we read a book we can change the way we read according to the purpose of the reading. Some times we can read it very fast, slowing down when there are things that are more interesting or complex. We can decided to avoid some chapters or to underline and take notes in others. When we listen, we can follow other steps such as feeling the sound coming, attaching some meaning to the sound, thinking about what to do according to the information perceived and do something about it.
When we think, we can think aloud, recording our process of thoughts. When thinking about usability, people can be given some task to do and record their process of thought while using it. For example, they could be using some new website and at the same time they could mention the thoughts they are thinking, the difficulties, the objectives they are trying to achieve with this website, etc.
It is interesting how we can "guess" what other people are thinking by listening to what they are saying. There is some more information about the "Think aloud protocol" and the "Talk aloud protocol" in the next links:
Example of Thinking aloud protocol