Creative Problem Solving

Systematic creative thinking

The Creative Problem Solving process has its beginning in the 1950´s in Buffalo, USA. The initiator was Alex Osborn, who also developed the nowadays worldwide known method Brainstorming. The
foundation for both methods was his experience of unproductive meetings in the Agency BBDO. After an analysis of a number of tape recordings of these types of meetings, he proposed a tool he called Brainstorming, in which the development and judgement of ideas were separated into two different phases and both followed certain rules. These were the basis for the ground rules of divergent and convergent thinking, as well as the basis for all creative process models.

The creation of a whole thinking process

Following the procedure of Brainstorming, which focused only on the development of ideas, Osborne, together with Sidney Parnes, developed the first version of the Creative Problem Solving process. The new process model described the entire process of approaching challenges in a creative way, and therefore also the steps before and after the idea generation phase. The graphic shows the currently used CPS model, as it was developed by Puccio, Murdoc and Mance. The visualization to the left shows a flexible model consisting of different steps, starting with the identification of a goal or vision up to the definition of concrete next steps brought together in an action plan. Each of the shown steps requires a variety of mental skills and clearly separates divergent and convergent thinking. Different thinking tools will be used for the different steps, in order to reach the specific objectives of each of them.

Unusual is the representation of this process as a circle, without a discernable beginning or end and without a specific order. The reason behind this is that creative processes need to be flexible enough to begin at different stages, depending on each situation. On the other hand, sometimes certain steps need to be repeated, if the outcome was not as desired or expected. It can also happen that some steps are left out, if they are not required for a specific problem.

The steps of the process

The flexibility of the process aside, there is a certain order that often results quite naturally when one person or a group tackles a challenge:

  1. Exploring the Vision
  2. This step is about identifying a worthwhile goal or a challenge which will be worked on in a creative way. For example: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could create really durable products, which also pay off for our company”. Often this step is left out because the goal or the challenge are already set or given by some stakeholder, but it can also be very useful to actively search for these kinds of topics.

  3. Assessing the Situation
  4. This step lies in the center of the visualization. After the goal has been set, the current situation needs to be assessed. It is about gathering as many data and facts as possible about the topic in order to get a better understanding and to decide which step of the process will be next.

  5. Formulating Challenges
  6. Once the situation has been described in detail and all the needed information has been gathered, key questions will be derived, whose answers will potentially bring us closer to the goal. In this phase not only analytical thinking is needed, but also a lot of creativity to formulate and grasp the question in such a way that new solutions begin to emerge. These kind of questions will be formulated as open questions, such as: “How might we create a feeling of variety?”

  7. Exploring Ideas
  8. In this step many ideas will be generated to answer the challenges formulated in step 3. This is the step that most people identify with creativity and creative tools, but as this process
    shows, there is a lot to be done before and after.

  9. Formulating Solutions
  10. The first ideas need to become tangible concepts. Therefore, this step is about detailing out the ideas in a way of making them more concrete. In developing the idea it often becomes clear that the original idea needs to be transformed or adapted to become feasible for the organization.

  11. Exploring Acceptance
  12. Exploring Acceptance can play an important role but is sometimes addressed in the same step as Formulating Solutions. It is about identifying factors which could hinder or ease the implementation of an idea such as people or groups. The goal of this step is to think ahead to make implementation as smooth as possible.

  13. Formulating a Plan
  14. The goal of this final step is to gather the next steps which need to be done to make the solution become reality. An action plan is developed which states who needs to do what until when.

The Creative Problem Solving method is versatile, repeatable and plannable. That’s why our Creativity Trainings and our Innovation workshops based on CPS are among the most often requested services we offer.

Thinking tools for creativity and innovation

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