Leading modules


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

Unit 3 – How to identify possible solutions?
How to develop ideas for possible solutions?

Following the CPS stages and steps, you will now be able to generate ideas upon the challenge question you formulated before.

There exist many divergent/creative thinking techniques to do this. We will only pick out some of the main tools and explain when and how you can use them.


Introduced by the creativity theorist Alex Osborn, brainstorming is a way to generate ideas within a group. It is usually used in the beginning stages of a project, where the possibilities for the project are not clearly understood or defined. It is a tool to benefit from the creativity of a limited number of people to generate a large number of ideas. The brainstorming environment fosters an uninhibited, non-judgmental explosion of ideas, concepts, policies, decisions, and strategies. In brainstorming, all contributions are valid, and the key to a successful session is to share as many ideas as possible without evaluating them.

Brainstorming sessions can be unstructured – that is, there may not be a moderator or facilitator. Most sessions, however, are facilitated, structured discussions with guidelines to help the process move along smoothly and allow a variety of perspectives and ideas to surface.

Watch out because “Brainstorming” is often confused with different things such as meet, discuss, get together and talk in informal way, or have meetings. It is also essential to understand that there are different tools than brainstorming to come to a more effective creative problem solving.

Osborn introduced 4 basic rules for brainstorming:

1. CRITICISM is not permitted, no judgements

2. FREE-WHEELING is welcome – it is necessary to not be afraid to come with weird ideas and to say anything that comes into one’s mind

3. QUANTITY is required in terms of ideas

4. COMBINATIONS and IMPROVEMENTS to emerging ideas should be tried out.

Watch the video to understand how a brainstorming session should work when done the right way:

Remember that Idea-finding is the fourth stage in the Osborn-Parnes process not the first. Often brain-storming meetings begin at this idea-finding stage before the real problem has been identified. Furthermore, they often end here too with a list of ideas but no further action.

Mind mapping

A mind map is a diagram used for visually outlining information using connections and levels to generate ideas starting from a key word or a key idea. By creating this diagram, you can visually organize information around a problem or an issue.

Drawn as an image in the centre of a blank page, you associate representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those.

The principles to construct mind maps are few and easy to understand. The best way to learn it is by practice. After short time you will do it automatically. If it is difficult for adults because they think linearly and take notes in a linear way (using the left hemisphere of the brain). To make mind maps you have to draw ideas from the centre of the paper and move in a radial and parallel way, to do that you have to use both your creative and your logical brain. With some experience you develop your own style, your own pallet of colours, your own symbols, your own icons, etc.

Mind maps can be drawn by hand, either as “rough notes” during a lecture, meeting or planning session, for example, or as higher quality pictures when more time is available.

Mind map guidelines

Tony Buzan, a psychologist, suggests the following guidelines for creating mind maps:

1. Start in the centre with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colours.

2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your mind map.

3. Select key words and print using upper- or lower-case letters.

4. Each word/image is best alone and sitting on its own line.

5. The lines should be connected, starting from the central image. The lines become thinner as they radiate out from the centre.

6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image they support.

7. Use multiple colours throughout the mind map, for visual stimulation and for encoding or grouping.

8. Develop your own personal style of mind mapping.

9. Use emphasis and show associations in your mind map.

10. Keep the mind map clear by using radial hierarchy or outlines to embrace your branches.

Non-expert approach

Sometimes it can be helpful to bring in someone from a different area to look at the problem and its issues. A non-expert, who doesn’t know the “common” solutions you normally apply for the problem, can help you to bring in a different perspective. Another advantage is, that it will oblige you to explain to the non-expert your reasoning in order to make him/her understand the issue. This can help you to clarify your own thinking and it undercovers sometimes errors in your problem analysis.

Question assumptions/What-iffing

Often when you get stuck in trying to find a solution to a problem, it is because you are continually trying to approach it from the same starting point. The same patterns of thinking are followed over and over again by relying on solutions or strategies that are familiar, because it is easy to assume that because something was a certain way before then it always will be. You can learn to question such assumptions and look for alternative ways of approaching the situation, even if it generates more questions. By deliberately challenging your own assumptions and saying what if ……. were not true (even if it is) it can throw up new ideas that wouldn’t otherwise have been seen.


1. The business needs to be developed

2. I will get more work if I develop the business.

3. I know how to market my business.

Reversed Assumptions:

1. The business does not need to be developed.

2. I will get less work if I develop the business

3. I do not know how to market my business – maybe I need to be trained in these skills.

You can also ask the question “What if?” about a given problem or situation to help you to see things differently. It is a simple but powerful technique if you use it as the 5Whys technique, by asking several times “What if” differently.