Leading modules


Module 5 “Can I solve problems?” – Creative problem solving

Unit 1 – What is Creative Problem Solving?
Alex Osborn’s Creative Problem-Solving model

You tried probably many times to solve a problem and got stuck in the process. The reason is that traditional problem-solving methods don’t work for all problems. Sometimes you need to become creative to move forward and find new solutions.

Creative problem solving (CPS) is a way of solving problems or identifying opportunities when conventional thinking has failed. It encourages you to find fresh perspectives and come up with innovative solutions, so that you can formulate a plan to overcome obstacles and reach your goals. It is a model to help you solve problems and manage change creatively. Alex Osborn, founder of the Creative Education Foundation, first developed creative problem solving in the 1940s, along with the term “brainstorming.” Together with Sid Parnes, he developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process. Despite its age, this model remains a valuable approach to problem solving. Osborn noted in his breakthrough book “Applied Imagination”, that Hindu teachers had been using brainstorming for over 400 years and Walt Disney encouraged it among his artists in the 1920s (later called “dreaming as a team”).

CPS is based on two assumptions:

  • Everyone is creative
  • Creative skills can be learned and enhanced

Creative problem solving isn’t just brainstorming, although that’s what many people may associate it with. It’s actually a well-defined process that can help you from problem definition to implementing solutions, according to Jeffrey Baumgartner. Creative ideas do not suddenly appear in people’s minds for no apparent reason. Rather, they are the result of trying to solve a specific problem or to achieve a particular goal. Highly creative people tend to follow the CPS process in their heads, without thinking about it. Less naturally creative people can learn to use this simple process.

There are numerous different approaches to CPS. Jeffrey Baumgartner’s approach is more focused on innovation (that is the implementation of the most promising ideas).

The core principles of Creative Problem Solving are:

Divergent (creative) and convergent (critical) thinking must be balanced. Keys to creativity are learning ways to identify and balance expanding and contracting thinking (done separately) and knowing when to practice them.

Ask problems as questions. Solutions are more readily invited and developed when challenges and problems are restated as open-ended questions with multiple possibilities. Such questions generate lots of rich information, while closed-ended questions tend to elicit confirmation or denial. Statements tend to generate limited or no response at all.

Defer or suspend judgment. As Osborn learned in his early work on brainstorming, the instantaneous judgment in response to an idea shuts down idea generation. There is an appropriate and necessary time to apply judgment when converging.

Focus on “Yes, and …” rather than “No, but.” When generating information and ideas, language matters. “Yes, and” allows continuation and expansion, which is necessary in certain stages of CPS. The use of the word “but”—whether preceded by “yes” or “no”— closes conversation, negating everything that has come before it.

CPS uses tools and techniques that make the process fun, engaging, and collaborative. It not only helps create better solutions; it creates a positive experience that helps speed the adoption of new ideas.

Watch the video about how it started, Alex Osborn’s life and the different persons who contributed to the development of Creative Problem Solving: