Creative Problem Solving Techniques

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This enitre unit was written and contributed by Taylor Allen, PULSE Fellow, and Associate Professor and  Chair of Biology at Oberlin College

This piece offers concise descriptions and instructions on basic tools for facilitating decision making processes. The information draws from the literature on creative problem solving, especially Hurson’s Think Better (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2008), Isaksen, Dorval, and Treffinger’s Creative Approaches to Problem Solving, third edition (Los Angeles: Sage Publishing, 2011), and Parnes’s A Facilitating Style of Leadership (Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation, 1985), as well as from the wisdom and practice of facilitators from ThinkX Intellectual Capital and KnowInnovation. These texts place the tools in the framework of productive, innovative thinking and are recommended. Preceding the description of tools is an overview of the approach offered by creative problem solving for addressing open-ended challenges or opportunities, ones having multiple solutions.

Overview of creative problem solving Creative problem solving (CPS) uncovers the optimal solution – the “global” best, rather than a “local” best, if the procedure were viewed as a graphical fitting routine – through a process that invites full and equitable participation of all persons engaged in the deliberations, thereby diminishing likelihood of participants’ perceiving unfairness or injustice. CPS clarifies the challenge, forges a solution, and develops an implementation plan through alternating divergent and convergent phases of thought. During the divergent phase, a maximally broad range of ideas is generated, and during the convergent phase, ideas are evaluated affirmatively and generatively to yield the optimal one. To create these two phases of thought, CPS relies upon certain tools that prompt the generation of ideas, as well as others that aid in evaluating and converging on the best one. In making thinking explicit and visible and in giving equal “voice” to all participants, the tools engender a sense of broad ownership throughout the group and lessen the likelihood of participants’ perceiving an injustice, as commonly occurs when individuals feel a loss of control during a process of change (ref on organizational injustice). While bringing all participants into the decision process, CPS asks of them two critical things: suspending judgment during the divergent phases of thought, and judging affirmatively and generatively during the convergent phases. For some groups, a simple mention of these two obligations is sufficient for productive collaboration. For others, additional measures might be needed. For example, a group might collectively formulate a code of teamwork by which members commit to practices such as judging affirmatively and criticizing (constructively) ideas and suggestions, not the people who offered them … (ref – Smith).

Next: Creative Problem Solving Exercises and Resources

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