Creative Problem Solving - CPS

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Criteria for idea-finding potential
Osborn's Checklist the origin of Classical Brainstorming is the root of creative problem solving (CPS). There are a variety of general structures: ‘define problem, generate possible solutions, select and implement the best’ which can be found extensively, in several different academic traditions.

However, the account illustrate here was formulated by Sidney Parnes in the 1950’s<ref></ref> and has been build upon continuously since then by various authors, e.g. Isakesen and Treffinger (1985) Isaksen, Dorval and Treffinger (1994 and 1998).

The method can be used as a training programme and has a very extensive track record linked particularly with the Centre for Studies in Creativity of the State University College at Buffalo, New York, the Buffalo Creative problem Solving Group, and with the Centre for Creative Learning in Sarasota, Florida.

In it’s most extended and formalised form it has the six stages shown below, each with a divergent and a convergent phase. However, more recent publications seem more interested in focusing on procedure and technique issues, with less weight on the full elaboration of this structure.

The following, based on Van Gundy (1988’s) description, is a very brief skeleton of a very rich process, showing it in its full ‘6 x 2 stages’ form:

  1. Stage 1: Mess finding: Sensitise yourself (scan, search) for issues (concerns, challenges, opportunities, etc.) that need to be tackled.
    • Divergent techniques include ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice If…’ (WIBNI) and ‘Wouldn’t It Be Awful If…’ (WIBAI) – brainstorming to identify desirable outcomes, and obstacles to be overcome.
    • Convergent techniques include the identification of hotspots ( Highlighting ), expressed as a list of IWWMs (‘In What Ways Might…’), and selection in terms of ownership criteria (e.g. problem-owner’s motivation and ability to influence it) and outlook criteria (e.g. urgency, familiarity, stability).
  2. Stage 2: Data finding: Gather information about the problem.
    • Divergent techniques include Five Ws and H (Who, Why, What, When, Where and How) and listing of wants, sources and data: List all your information ‘wants’ as a series of question; for each, list possible sources of answers; then follow these up and for each source, list what you found.
    • Convergent techniques again include: identifying hotspots (Highlighting); Mind-mapping to sort and classify the information gathered; and also restating the problem in the light of your richer understanding of it.
  3. Stage 3: Problem finding: convert a fuzzy statement of the problem into a broad statement more suitable for idea finding.
    • Divergent techniques include asking ‘Why?’ etc. – the repeatable questions and Five W's and H.
    • Convergent techniques include Highlighting again, reformulation of problem-statements to meet the criteria that they contain only one problem and no criteria, and selection of the most promising statement (but NB that the mental ‘stretching’ that the activity gives to the participants can be as important as the actual statement chosen).
  4. Stage 4: Idea Finding: generate as many ideas as possible
    • Divergence using any of a very wide range of idea-generating techniques. The general rules of Classic Brainstorming (such as deferring judgement) are likely to under-pin all of these.
    • Convergence can again involve hotspots or mind-mapping, the combining of different ideas, and the short-listing of the most promising handful, perhaps with some thought for the more obvious evaluation criteria, but not over-restrictively.
  5. Stage 5: Solution finding: Generate and select obvious evaluation criteria (using an expansion/contraction cycle) and develop (which may include combining) the short-listed ideas from Idea Finding as much as you can in the light of these criteria. Then opt for the best of these improved ideas (e.g. using Comparison tables).
  6. Stage 6: Acceptance finding: How can the suggestion you have just selected be made up to standard and put into practice? Shun negativity, and continue to apply deferred judgement – problems are exposed to be solved, not to dishearten progress. Action plans are better developed in small groups of 2 – 3 rather than in a large group (unless you particularly want commitment by the whole group). Particularly for ‘people’ problems it is often worth developing several alternative action plans. Possible techniques include – Five W's and H, Implementation Checklists, Consensus Mapping, Potential-Problem Analysis (PPA)