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What Is Creative Problem-Solving & Why Is It Important?

Business team using creative problem-solving

One of the biggest hindrances to innovation is complacency—it can be more comfortable to do what you know than venture into the unknown. Business leaders can overcome this barrier by mobilizing creative team members and providing space to innovate.

There are several tools you can use to encourage creativity in the workplace. Creative problem-solving is one of them, which facilitates the development of innovative solutions to difficult problems.

Here’s an overview of creative problem-solving and why it’s important in business.

What Is Creative Problem-Solving?

Research is necessary when solving a problem. But there are situations where a problem’s specific cause is difficult to pinpoint. This can occur when there’s not enough time to narrow down the problem’s source or there are differing opinions about its root cause.

In such cases, you can use creative problem-solving , which allows you to explore potential solutions regardless of whether a problem has been defined.

Creative problem-solving is less structured than other innovation processes and encourages exploring open-ended solutions. It also focuses on developing new perspectives and fostering creativity in the workplace . Its benefits include:

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn more

Creative problem-solving is traditionally based on the following key principles :

1. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Creative problem-solving uses two primary tools to find solutions: divergence and convergence. Divergence generates ideas in response to a problem, while convergence narrows them down to a shortlist. It balances these two practices and turns ideas into concrete solutions.

2. Reframe Problems as Questions

By framing problems as questions, you shift from focusing on obstacles to solutions. This provides the freedom to brainstorm potential ideas.

3. Defer Judgment of Ideas

When brainstorming, it can be natural to reject or accept ideas right away. Yet, immediate judgments interfere with the idea generation process. Even ideas that seem implausible can turn into outstanding innovations upon further exploration and development.

4. Focus on "Yes, And" Instead of "No, But"

Using negative words like "no" discourages creative thinking. Instead, use positive language to build and maintain an environment that fosters the development of creative and innovative ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking

Whereas creative problem-solving facilitates developing innovative ideas through a less structured workflow, design thinking takes a far more organized approach.

Design thinking is a human-centered, solutions-based process that fosters the ideation and development of solutions. In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-phase framework to explain design thinking.

The four stages are:

The four stages of design thinking: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement

Creative problem-solving primarily operates in the ideate phase of design thinking but can be applied to others. This is because design thinking is an iterative process that moves between the stages as ideas are generated and pursued. This is normal and encouraged, as innovation requires exploring multiple ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving Tools

While there are many useful tools in the creative problem-solving process, here are three you should know:

Creating a Problem Story

One way to innovate is by creating a story about a problem to understand how it affects users and what solutions best fit their needs. Here are the steps you need to take to use this tool properly.

1. Identify a UDP

Create a problem story to identify the undesired phenomena (UDP). For example, consider a company that produces printers that overheat. In this case, the UDP is "our printers overheat."

2. Move Forward in Time

To move forward in time, ask: “Why is this a problem?” For example, minor damage could be one result of the machines overheating. In more extreme cases, printers may catch fire. Don't be afraid to create multiple problem stories if you think of more than one UDP.

3. Move Backward in Time

To move backward in time, ask: “What caused this UDP?” If you can't identify the root problem, think about what typically causes the UDP to occur. For the overheating printers, overuse could be a cause.

Following the three-step framework above helps illustrate a clear problem story:

You can extend the problem story in either direction if you think of additional cause-and-effect relationships.

4. Break the Chains

By this point, you’ll have multiple UDP storylines. Take two that are similar and focus on breaking the chains connecting them. This can be accomplished through inversion or neutralization.

Even if creating a problem story doesn't provide a solution, it can offer useful context to users’ problems and additional ideas to be explored. Given that divergence is one of the fundamental practices of creative problem-solving, it’s a good idea to incorporate it into each tool you use.


Brainstorming is a tool that can be highly effective when guided by the iterative qualities of the design thinking process. It involves openly discussing and debating ideas and topics in a group setting. This facilitates idea generation and exploration as different team members consider the same concept from multiple perspectives.

Hosting brainstorming sessions can result in problems, such as groupthink or social loafing. To combat this, leverage a three-step brainstorming method involving divergence and convergence :

Alternate Worlds

The alternate worlds tool is an empathetic approach to creative problem-solving. It encourages you to consider how someone in another world would approach your situation.

For example, if you’re concerned that the printers you produce overheat and catch fire, consider how a different industry would approach the problem. How would an automotive expert solve it? How would a firefighter?

Be creative as you consider and research alternate worlds. The purpose is not to nail down a solution right away but to continue the ideation process through diverging and exploring ideas.

Which HBS Online Entrepreneurship & Innovation Course Is Right for You? | Download Your Free Flowchart

Continue Developing Your Skills

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or business leader, learning the ropes of design thinking can be an effective way to build your skills and foster creativity and innovation in any setting.

If you're ready to develop your design thinking and creative problem-solving skills, explore Design Thinking and Innovation , one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses. If you aren't sure which course is the right fit, download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.

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Problem-solving with creativity and innovation

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Published on June 7, 2022

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How to improve your creativity and problem-solving skills.

Find out how you can harness your creativity and how it can help boost your productivity in the workplace, as well as enhance your problem-solving skills.

Improve Creativity Problem Solving

Even if your career doesn’t seem to be a particularly creative one, you’ll often find that hiring managers look for examples of creativity and innovation in their employees. Curiosity and creativity often go hand-in-hand and can lead you to flourish in your role – from solving problems, to innovation in your approach. But how do you harness this essential soft skill?

Mindfulness is one of the top tips for creativity , and it can help improve the quality of thought and mental flexibility as well, but there are other methods you can use to improve your creativity in the workplace and help your critical thinking and problem-solving. Let’s take a look at why creativity is one of the most important soft skills you can have.

Why are soft skills important?

Soft skills often refer to both character traits and to interpersonal skills – effectively meaning the ways that you can communicate and work with others in a constructive way. Effective communication and teamwork skills are essential skills to have in nearly every workplace, and employers will be on the lookout for proven examples of these.

In fact, the World Economic Forum predicted that by 2025, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity would rank among the most important soft skills to have in the workplace. Soft skills are used every day in the workplace, and developing your skillset will make you stand out to employers. Here are some of the ways that soft skills can help in the workplace:

It’s not just in the office or classroom that soft skills are important though. Outside of the workplace, soft skills are essential for creating lasting bonds with other people and communicating your needs and desires. Problem-solving and decision-making techniques can also be applied professionally and personally.

What is creativity? 

We’ve talked about creativity being an essential soft skill – but what is creativity? Essentially, creativity is the ability to consider a task or a problem in a different way. Similarly, it’s the process of using your intuition to try and formulate new ideas. It can help you solve complex problems and find different, more interesting ways to approach various tasks.

Having this openness to innovation and mental flexibility can take some time and effort. You can find out more about how you can adopt a creative mindset and overcome resistance to innovation with our Creativity and Innovation course.

Understanding creativity is about knowing how and when you can express and use this skill in the workplace. In addition, employers will take notice of candidates who can and have used it for different ways of problem-solving .

Why is creativity important? 

Being creative is often essential to problem-solving, both in and out of the workplace. Creative problem-solving will prove you have the ability to approach an issue from every angle, rather than a simple linear, logical approach. 

With such a large number of new technologies and new ways of working appearing at a rapid pace, companies have to tap into the creative energy of their employees in order to grow. Creative problem-solving will help teams to generate innovation – from uncovering new approaches to problems, developing new products, or improving existing processes.

Examples of creativity in the workplace

So how do you go about expressing your creative energy in the workplace? And how would you demonstrate your creativity in an interview or on a job application? Let’s take a look at some examples of creativity in the workplace.

Creativity in leadership

Creativity that is inspired from the top down often leads to a much more innovative mindset. In turn, this can increase employee loyalty and workplace value. A creative team leader will inspire others to be more creative in their work processes. This, in turn, will lead to members of the team feeling more comfortable with sharing their ideas. 

Within team dynamics

Everyone expresses their creativity in different ways. Knowing, understanding, and nurturing these different strengths and weaknesses of each individual team member will lead to a more creative workflow. For some people, it creates a safe space for creative expression.

Encouraging creativity 

Many employees might feel daunted by the prospect of total creative freedom. If a psychological ‘safety net’ of sorts is implemented, such as having another team ready to ‘catch’ them if they ‘fall’, then employees will feel more comfortable with expressing their creativity. After all, one of the biggest risks of creativity is failure. With this framework in place, employees will be more open to taking risks.

Asking Questions

Diversity of viewpoint is one of the most effective ways to not only tap into your creative energy, but also encourage others to think creatively and ponder solutions. Brainstorming and getting opinions from people who might not have felt like they had a voice is a really important way of inspiring creativity and solving problems.

Creativity and innovation

Creativity and innovation are the pathways to obtain better productivity , improved processes, and internal harmony within a business. Harnessing these two soft skills can lead to higher levels of success , and one complements the other – innovation requires implementation, so put your creative energies into practice and consider the results.

As with creativity, innovation can be tricky to spot in your team. Creative and innovative ideas can come from just about anywhere – it’s all about nurturing these as they come up and managing innovation when you can. But while they both can work off each other, it’s important to give them both space to grow independently from each other.

You can learn more about how you can Build a Leading Innovation Strategy with our free online course. Here, you can find out about trends in innovation, how to lead innovation projects, and how you can implement them in your workplace. It can even help you prove your innovation skills for things like job applications and interviews.

How to improve your creativity skills 

As we’ve learned, creativity skills are really desirable for employers and can be incredibly useful in the workplace. So how do you go about improving your creative skills? Let’s go through some of the different ways that you can improve your creativity.

It’s worth remembering that many of us may express and develop our creativity in different ways. While some of these points may be useful for certain individuals, others may have different (and no less valid) ways of thinking. 

Work on your self-awareness

Becoming self-aware and acknowledging the limitations of our own thought processes when it comes to creativity is the first step to becoming more creative and innovative. Know what you’re capable of and act upon it once you have this understanding.

Practise empathy

Empathy is a key element in emotional intelligence and will allow you to understand the viewpoints of customers, clients, and co-workers. Practising creative empathy will result in more valuable, creative solutions to problems that might arise.

Expand your knowledge

Become an expert in your field and you’ll understand every angle of a problem. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to consider different ways of exploring solutions to problems. You can even end up with the skill to identify issues before they arise.

Draw on your previous experiences

Look to experiences you have had in the past, and harness your personal history to give you perspective on the situation at hand. What was the outcome of that past issue? How can you achieve similar or better results? Learn from the past and apply those lessons.

Collaborate with others

This is one of the best ways of conjuring creative solutions, as well as identifying potentially obvious solutions that may not have been tried before. Learn how to Improve your Creative Collaboration , and work out your role in your team.   

What are problem-solving skills?  

We’ve touched on using creativity to help with problem-solving, but what about out and out problem-solving skills? Problem-solving and decision-making techniques can help you to come to a swift resolution for any issue that might arise, and are key skills that employers look for when hiring.

The most effective problem-solving often happens when you work as a team. With our course on Problem-Solving Techniques , you’ll explore the tools you need to work as a team to find appropriate solutions, as well as giving you the chance to experiment with design thinking. 

Problem-solving skills involve the employee quickly identifying any issues, coming up with suitable solutions for them, implementing those solutions, and reviewing how effective they were. Businesses need people who can accurately assess potential problems, and come up with solutions.   

Why is problem-solving important?

Employers will often look for good problem-solving skills in a candidate because it shows you have a variety of different attributes. These include logic, resilience, determination, imagination, and, of course, creativity. 

People with good problem-solving skills are often the ones who come up with new ideas, and consider different or better ways of completing a task. Good problem-solving skills can also help you to explain complex issues to other employees as you end up with a better, more rounded consideration of the matter at hand.

As the world of work embraces new technologies, it’s never been more important to understand how to solve problems in a creative way. There’s more scope for more moving parts to go wrong, so if you want to get more of a handle on Problem Solving in the Digital Age , join our ExpertTrack and develop your decision-making skills. 

Examples of problem-solving in the workplace

Problem-solving is seen as a soft skill rather than a hard skill, although a lot of how you approach problem-solving can be learned. What’s more, you’ve probably already gathered these essential soft skills through previous roles and experiences. 

If you’re in need of a refresher, or want to learn more about problem-solving, check out how you can use Creative Problem-Solving in your current role, from solving everyday problems all the way through to enhancing your creativity for problem-solving. Let’s take a look at some problem-solving examples, as taken from our open step on problem-solving and employability .

Define the problem

This is the first step in problem-solving. Figuring out the issue at hand will help you to understand the steps you need to take to solve the problem. If you have spent enough time teaching yourself about the intricacies of your role, you may even be able to predict the problem before it becomes a reality too.

Generate solutions

Using any relevant previous experiences, as well as communicating with other t eam members , you’ll be able to come up with a suitable solution to the problem at hand. Working with others in a seamless and constructive way is essential in problem-solving.

Evaluate the solutions

Evaluating what you and your team have come up with is another important step, and will require you to make the final decision about the next steps in solving this problem. Which one is the most effective and most efficient solution to the issue? Thinking creatively here can help you come up with something you may not have considered.

Implement the solution

The next step involves putting the best solution into action. Working as a team will mean that you can perform this in a timely manner, and if you focus on the individual skills that each team member brings to the table, you’ll hopefully end up solving the problem quickly and easily. 

Assess the solution

How effective was the solution you decided upon? Did it solve the problem in an efficient and timely manner? Consider the choices you made, and learn from both successes and failures, so you might be able to apply your knowledge in the future.

How to improve your problem-solving skills

So how do you go about improving your problem-solving skills? Honing these particular skills is a really great way to make yourself stand out from the pack when applying for jobs and attending interviews, as it will show how you can generate creative and efficient solutions to any problems that might arise, as well as recognising what needs to be done before taking action.

Improving your problem-solving skills doesn’t have to be a lengthy and difficult process, and can actually start with something as simple as rephrasing the problem. If your problem is ‘this project can’t work without having any money’, try rephrasing it into something like ‘how can this project work without any money’. Here are some other tips on improving your problem-solving skills.

Focus on the solution, not the problem

This is easier said than done. All too often, we focus on the problem at hand, and this generates negativity, which is a stumbling block to solving problems. By merely acknowledging the problem, and instead turning your focus to the solution, you’ll be able to formulate a game plan.

Define the problem as simply as possible

Often we end up overcomplicating things that are actually very simple. Consider what caused the problem, then take every detail apart and go right back to basics. By doing this, you could end up generating a really easy solution.

Brainstorms and teamwork

Once you have defined the problem, gather your team and work out as many different solutions as you can come up with. There are no wrong answers at this stage, so be sure to keep an open mind and encourage your team to tap into their creative side. There are various techniques you can try, such as the Delphi technique and the Stepladder technique .

Learn from the past

When you’re approaching a problem, consider any similarities it might have with a problem you managed to solve in a previous role. What did you do to solve this problem? Did it work? How could you improve on it? Learn from your successes and mistakes.

Final thoughts

Creativity and problem-solving skills are more important now than they’ve ever been before. Employers will be on the lookout for any potential employee who can demonstrate their creativity and innovation skills, as well as those who also have proven critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

Improving your knowledge and understanding in these two areas can make a huge difference to how you work, and how you collaborate with others as well. Now more than ever, teamwork is incredibly important in the modern workplace. 

With LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trend Report stating that 92% of managers believe soft skills are just as important as hard skills, there’s never been a better time to improve your creativity and problem-solving skills.

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Creative problem solving tools and skills for students and teachers


Creative Problem Solving: What Is It?

Creative Problem Solving, or CPS ,  refers to the use of imagination and innovation to find solutions to problems when formulaic or conventional processes have failed.

Despite its rather dry definition - creative problem-solving in its application can be a lot of fun for learners and teachers alike.

Why Are Creative Problem-Solving Skills Important?


By definition, creative problem-solving challenges students to think beyond the conventional and to avoid well-trodden, sterile paths of thinking.

Not only does this motivate student learning, encourage engagement, and inspire deeper learning, but the practical applications of this higher-level thinking skill are virtually inexhaustible.

For example, given the rapidly changing world of work, it is hard to conceive of a skill that will be more valuable than the ability to generate innovative solutions to the unique problems that will arise and that are impossible to predict ahead of time.

Outside the world of work, in our busy daily lives, the endless problems arising from day-to-day living can also be overcome by a creative problem-solving approach.

When students have developed their creative problem-solving abilities effectively, they will have added a powerful tool to attack problems that they will encounter, whether in school, work, or in their personal lives.

Due to its at times nebulous nature, teaching creative problem-solving in the classroom poses its own challenges. However, developing a culture of approaching problem-solving in a creative manner is possible.

In this article, we will take a look at a variety of strategies, tools, and activities that can help students improve their creative problem-solving skills.

problem solving creativity and innovation

The Underlying Principles of CPS

Before we take a look at a process for implementing creative problem solving, it is helpful to examine a few of the underlying principles of CPS. These core principles should be encouraged in the classroom. They are:

●       Assume Nothing

Assumptions are the enemy of creativity and original thinking. If students assume they already have the answer, they will not be creative in their approach to solving a problem.

●       Problems Are Opportunities

Rather than seeing problems as difficulties to endure, a shift in perspective can instead view problems as challenges that offer new opportunities. Encourage your students to shift their perspectives to see opportunities where they once saw problems.

●       Suspend Judgment

Making immediate judgments closes down the creative response and the formation of new ideas. There is a time to make judgments, but making a judgment too early in the process can be very detrimental to finding a creative solution.

Cognitive Approaches: Convergent vs Divergent Thinking

“It is easier to tame a wild idea than it is to push a closer-in idea further out.”

— Alex Osborn

The terms divergent and convergent thinking, coined by psychologist J.P. Guilford in 1956, refer to two contrasting cognitive approaches to problem-solving.

Convergent Thinking can be thought of as linear and systematic in its approach. It attempts to find a solution to a problem by narrowing down multiple ideas into a single solution. If convergent thinking can be thought of as asking a single question, that question would be ‘ Why ?’

Divergent Thinking focuses more on the generation of multiple ideas and on the connections between those ideas. It sees problems as design opportunities and encourages the use of resources and materials in original ways. Divergent thinking encourages the taking of creative risks and is flexible rather than analytical in its approach. If it was a single question, it’d be ‘ Why not ?’

While it may appear that these two modes of thinking about a problem have an essentially competitive relationship, in CPS they can work together in a complementary manner.

When students have a problem to solve and they’re looking for innovative solutions, they can employ divergent thinking initially to generate multiple ideas, then convergent thinking to analyze and narrow down those ideas.

Students can repeat this process to continue to filter and refine their ideas and perspectives until they arrive at an innovative and satisfactory solution to the initial problem.

Let’s now take a closer look at the creative problem-solving process.

The Creative Problem-Solving Process


CPS helps students arrive at innovative and novel solutions to the problems that arise in life. Having a process to follow helps to keep students focused and to reach a point where action can be taken to implement creative ideas.

Originally developed by Alex Osborn and Sid Parnes, the CPS process has gone through a number of revisions over the last 50 or so years and, as a result, there are a number of variations of this model in existence.

The version described below is one of the more recent models and is well-suited to the classroom environment.

However, things can sometimes get a little complex for some of the younger students. So, in this case, it may be beneficial to teach the individual parts of the process in isolation first.

1. Clarify:

Before beginning to seek creative solutions to a problem, it is important to clarify the exact nature of that problem. To do this, students should do the following three things:

i. Identify the Problem

The first step in bringing creativity to problem-solving is to identify the problem, challenge, opportunity, or goal and clearly define it.

ii. Gather Data

Gather data and research information and background to ensure a clear understanding.

iii. Formulate Questions

Enhance awareness of the nature of the problem by creating questions that invite solutions.

Explore new ideas to answer the questions raised. It’s time to get creative here. The more ideas generated, the greater the chance of producing a novel and useful idea. At this stage in particular, students should be engaged in divergent thinking as described above.

The focus here shifts from ideas to solutions. Once multiple ideas have been generated, convergent thinking can be used to narrow these down to the most suitable solution. The best idea should be closely analyzed in all its aspects and further ideas generated to make subsequent improvements. This is the stage to refine the initial idea and make it into a really workable solution.

problem solving creativity and innovation

4. Implement

Create a plan to implement the chosen solution. Students need to identify the required resources for the successful implementation of the solution. They need to plan for the actions that need to be taken, when they need to be taken, and who needs to take them.

Summary of Creative Problem Solving Process

In each stage of the CPS Process, students should be encouraged to employ divergent and convergent thinking in turn. Divergent thinking should be used to generate multiple ideas with convergent thinking then used to narrow these ideas down to the most feasible options. We will discuss how students go about this, but let’s first take a quick look at the role of a group facilitator.


The Importance of Group Facilitator

CPS is best undertaken in groups and, for larger and more complex projects, it’s even more effective when a facilitator can be appointed for the group.

The facilitator performs a number of useful purposes and helps the group to:

Stay focused on the task at hand

Move through the various stages efficiently

Select appropriate tools and strategies

 A good facilitator does not generate ideas themselves but instead keeps the group focused on each step of the process.

Facilitators should be objective and possess a good understanding of the process outlined above, as well as the other tools and strategies which we will look at below.

The Creative Problem-Solving Process: Tools and Strategies

There are a number of activities available to help students move through each stage. These will help students to stay on track, remove barriers and blocks, be creative, and reach a consensus as they progress through the CPS process.

  The following tools and strategies can help provide groups with some structure and can be applied at various stages of the problem-solving process. For convenience, they have been categorized according to whether they make demands on divergent or convergent thinking as discussed earlier.

Divergent Thinking Tools:

  ●       Brainstorming

Defined by Alex Osborn as “a group’s attempt to find a solution for a specific problem by amassing ideas ”, this is perhaps the best-known tool in the arsenal of the creative problem solver.

To promote a creative collaboration in a group setting, simply share the challenge with everyone and challenge them to come up with as many ideas as possible. Ideas should be concise and specific. For this reason, it may be worth setting a word limit for recording each idea e.g. express in headline form in no more than 5 words. Post-it notes are perfect for this.

You may also set a quota on the number of ideas to generate or introduce a time limit to further encourage focus. When completed, members of the group can share and compare all the ideas in search of the most suitable.

●       5 W’s and an H

The 5 W’s and an H are Who , What , Where , Why , and How . This strategy is useful to effectively gather data. Students brainstorm questions to ask that begin with each of the question words above in turn. They then seek to gather the necessary information to answer these questions through research and discussion.


●       Reverse Assumptions

This activity is a great way to explore new ideas. Have the students begin by generating a list of up to 10 basic assumptions about the idea or concept. For each of these, students then explore the reverse of the assumption listing new insights and perspectives in the process.

The students can then use these insights and perspectives to generate fresh ideas. For example, an assumption about the concept of a restaurant might be that the food is cooked for you. The reverse of that assumption could be a restaurant where you cook the food yourself. So, how about a restaurant where patrons select their own recipes and cook their own food aided by a trained chef?

Convergent Thinking Tools

●       How-How Diagram

This is the perfect activity to use when figuring out the steps required to implement a solution.

Students write the solution on the left-hand side of a page turned landscape. Working together, they identify the individual steps required to achieve this solution and write these to the right of the solution.

When they have written these steps, they go through each step one-by-one identifying in detail each stage of achieving that step. These are written branching to the right of each step.

Students repeat this process until they have exhausted the process and ended up with a comprehensive branch diagram detailing each step necessary for the implementation of the solution.

●       The Evaluation Matrix

Making an evaluation matrix creates a systematic way of analyzing and comparing multiple solutions. It allows for a group to evaluate options against various criteria to help build consensus.

An evaluation matrix begins with the listing of criteria to evaluate potential solutions against. These can then be turned into the form of a positive question that allows for a Yes or No answer. For example, if the budget is the criteria, the evaluation question could be ‘ Is it within budget? ’

Make a matrix grid with a separate column for each of the key criteria. Write the positive question form of these criteria as headings for these columns. The different options can then be detailed and listed down the left-most column.

Students then work through each of the criteria for each option and record whether it fulfills, or doesn’t fulfill, each criteria. For more complex solutions, students could record their responses to each of the criteria on a scale from 0 to 5.

For example:


Using the example matrix above, it becomes very clear that Option 1 is the superior solution given that it completely fulfills all the criteria, whereas Option 2 and Option 3 fulfill only 2 out of the 3 criteria each.

 ●       Pair & Share

This activity is suitable to help develop promising ideas. After making a list of possible solutions or questions to pursue, each individual student writes down their top 3 ideas.

Once each student has their list of their 3 best ideas, organize students into pairs. In their pairs, students discuss their combined 6 ideas to decide on the top 3 out of the 6. Once they have agreed on these, they write the new top 3 ideas on a piece of paper.

Now, direct the pairs of students to join up with another pair to make groups of 4. In these groups of 4, students discuss their collective 6 ideas to come up with a new list of the top 3 ideas.

Repeat this process until the whole class comes together as one big group to agree on the top 3 ideas overall.

Establish a Culture of Creative Problem Solving in the Classroom

Approaching problems creatively is about establishing a classroom culture that welcomes innovation and the trial and error that innovation demands. Too often our students are so focused on finding the ‘right‘ answer that they miss opportunities to explore new ideas.

It is up to us as teachers to help create a classroom culture that encourages experimentation and creative playfulness.

To do this we need to ensure our students understand the benefits of a creative approach to problem-solving.

We must ensure too that they are aware of the personal, social, and organizational benefits of CPS.

CPS should become an integral part of their approach to solving problems whether at school, work, or in their personal lives.

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Creative Problem Solving: from complex challenge to innovative solution

Dr. Hannah Rose

Even if you usually excel at finding solutions, there will be times when it seems that there’s no obvious answer to a problem. It could be that you’re facing a unique challenge that you’ve never needed to overcome before. You could feel overwhelmed because of a new context in which everything seems to be foreign, or you may feel like you’re lacking the skills or tools to navigate the situation. When facing a difficult dilemma, Creative Problem Solving offers a structured method to help you find an innovative and effective solution.

The history of Creative Problem Solving

The technique of Creative Problem Solving was first formulated by Alex Osborn in the 1940’s. It was not the first time Osborn came up with a formula to support creative thinking. As a prolific creative theorist, Osborn also coined the term brainstorming to define the proactive process of generating new ideas.

With brainstorming, Osborn suggested that it’s better to bring every idea you have to the table, including the wildest ones, because with just a little modification, the outrageous ideas may later become the most plausible solutions. In his own words: “It is easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one.”

Osborn worked closely with Sid Parnes, who was at the time the world’s leading expert on creativity and innovation. Together, they developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process. To this day, this process remains an effective way to generate solutions that break free from the status quo.

The Creative Problem Solving process, sometimes referred to as CPS, is a proven way to approach a challenge more imaginatively. By redefining problems or opportunities, it becomes possible to move in a completely new and more innovative direction.

Dr Donald Treffinger described Creative Problem Solving as an effective way to review problems, formulate opportunities, and generate varied and novel options leading to a new solution or course of action. As such, Treffinger argued that creative problem solving provides a “powerful set of tools for productive thinking”.

Creative Problem Solving can also enhance collective learning at the organisational level. Dr David Vernon and colleagues found that Creative Problem Solving can support the design of more effective training programmes.

From its invention by two creative theorists to its application at all levels of creative thinking — from personal to organisation creativity — Creative Problem Solving is an enduring method to generate innovative solutions to complex challenges.

The four principles of Creative Problem Solving

You can use Creative Problem Solving on your own or as part of a team. However, when adopted by multiple team members, it can lead to an even greater output of useful, original solutions. So, how do you put it into practice? First, you need to understand the four guiding principles behind Creative Problem Solving.

The first principle is to look at problems and reframe them into questions. While problem statements tend to not generate many responses, open questions can lead to a wealth of insights, perspectives, and helpful information — which in turn make it easier to feel inspired and to come up with potential solutions. Instead of saying “this is the problem”, ask yourself: “Why are we facing this problem? What’s currently preventing us from solving this problem? What could be some potential solutions?”

The second principle is to balance divergent and convergent thinking. During divergent thinking , all options are entertained. Throw all ideas into the ring, regardless of how far-fetched they might be. This is sometimes referred to as non-judgmental, non-rational divergent thinking. It’s based on the willingness to consider all new ideas. Convergent thinking, in contrast, is the thinking mode used to narrow down all of the possible ideas into a sensible shortlist. Balancing divergent and convergent thinking creates a steady state of creativity in which new ideas can be assessed and appraised to search for unique solutions.

Tangential to the second principle, the third principle for creative problem solving is to defer judgement. By judging solutions too early, you will risk shutting down idea generation. Take your time during the divergent thinking phase to give your mind the freedom to dream ambitious ideas. Only when engaged in convergent thinking should you start judging the ideas you generated in terms of potential, appropriateness, and feasibility.

Finally, Creative Problem Solving requires you to say “yes, and” rather than “no, but” in order to encourage generative discussions. You will only stifle your creativity by automatically saying no to ideas that seem illogical or unfeasible. Using positive language allows you to explore possibilities, leaving space for the seeds of ideas to grow into applicable solutions.

How to practice Creative Problem Solving

Now that you know the principles underlying Creative Problem Solving, you’re ready to start implementing the practical method devised by its inventors. And the good news is that you’ll only need to follow three simple steps.

Creative Problem Solving is a great way to generate unique ideas when there appears to be no obvious solution to a problem. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a seemingly impossible challenge, this structured approach will help you generate solutions that you might otherwise not have considered. By practising Creative Problem Solving, some of the most improbable ideas could lead to the discovery of the perfect solution.

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The Basics of Creative Problem Solving – CPS

problem solving creativity and innovation

By: Jeffrey Baumgartner

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. Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity were not sudden inspirations. Rather they were the result of a huge amount of mental problem solving trying to close a discrepancy between the laws of physics and the laws of electromagnetism as they were understood at the time.

Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison and other creative geniuses have always worked in the same way. They do not wait for creative ideas to strike them. Rather they focus on trying to solve a clearly stated, at least in their minds, problem. This is just like important TED talks to ideate for business innovation specifically discussed to get a better solution for existing problems.

This approach has been formalized as Creative Problem Solving (CPS). CPS is a simple process that involves breaking down a problem to understand it, generating ideas to solve the problem and evaluating those ideas to find the most effective solutions. Highly creative people tend to follow this process in their heads, without thinking about it. Less naturally creative people simply have to learn to use this very simple process.

A 7-step CPS framework

Although creative problem solving has been around as long as humans have been thinking creatively and solving problems, it was first formalised as a process by Alex Osborn, who invented traditional brainstorming, and Sidney Parnes. Their Creative Problem Solving Process (CPSP) has been taught at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo College in Buffalo, New York since the 1950s.

However, there are numerous different approaches to CPS. Mine is more focused on innovation (that is the implementation of the most promising ideas). It involves seven straightforward steps.

How to Turn Crowdsourced Ideas Into Business Proposals

In October 2020, Pact launched AfrIdea, a regional innovation program supported by the U.S. Department of State. This was geared towards unlocking the potential of West African entrepreneurs, social activists, and developers in uncovering solutions to post-COVID challenges. Through a contest, training, idea-a-thon and follow-on funding, they sought to activate a network of young entrepreneurs and innovators from Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and Togo to source and grow innovative solutions. Learn their seven-stage process in the AfrIdea case study.

Get the Case Study

Let us look at each step more closely:

1. Clarify and identify the problem

Arguably the single most important step of CPS is identifying your real problem or goal. This may seem easy, but very often, what we believe to be the problem is not the real problem or goal. For instance, you may feel you need a new job. However, if you break down your problem and analyse what you are really looking for, it may transpire that the actual issue is that your income does not cover your costs of living. In this case, the solution may be a new job, but it might also be to re-arrange your expenses or to seek a pay rise from your existing employer.

Five whys: A powerful problem-definition technique

The best way to clarify the problem and understand the underlying issues is to ask yourself – or better still, ask a friend or family member to ask you – a series of questions about your problem in order to clarify the true issues behind the problem. The first question to ask is simply: “why is this a problem?” or “why do I wish to achieve this goal?” Once you have answered that, ask yourself “why else?” four more times.

For instance, you might feel you want to overcome your shyness. So, you ask yourself why and you answer: “because I am lonely”. Then ask yourself “Why else?” four times. You answer: “Because I do not know many people in this new city where I live”, “Because I find it hard to meet people”, “Because I am doing many activities alone” and “Because I would like to do activities with other people who share my interests”. This last “why else” is clearly more of the issue than reducing shyness. Indeed, if you had focused your creative energy on solving your shyness issue, you would not have actually solved the real problem. On the other hand, if you focused your creative energy on finding people with whom to share activities, you would be happier without ever having to address the shyness issue.

More questions you can ask to help clearly define the problem

In addition, you can further clarify your problem by asking questions like: “What do I really wish to accomplish?”, “What is preventing me from solving this problem/achieving the goal?”, “How do I envision myself in six months/one year/five years [choose most relevant time span] as a result of solving this problem?” and “Are my friends dealing with similar problems? If so, how are they coping?”

By the time you have answered all these questions, you should have a very clear idea of what your problem or real goal is.

Set criteria for judging potential solutions

The final step is to decide what criteria you will eventually use to evaluate or judge the ideas. Are there budget limitations, timeframe or other restrictions that will affect whether or not you can go ahead with an idea? What will you want to have accomplished with the ideas? What do you wish to avoid when you implement these ideas? Think about it and make a list of three to five evaluation criteria. Then put the list aside. You will not need it for a while.

2. Research the problem

The next step in CPS is to research the problem in order to get a better understanding of it. Depending on the nature of the problem, you may need to do a great deal of research or very little. The best place to start these days is with your favourite search engine. But do not neglect good old fashioned sources of information and opinion. Libraries are fantastic for in-depth information that is easier to read than computer screens. Friends, colleagues and family can also provide thoughts on many issues. Fora on sites like LinkedIn and elsewhere are ideal for asking questions. There’s nothing an expert enjoys more than imparting her knowledge. Take advantage of that. But always try to get feedback from several people to ensure you get well-rounded information.

3. Formulate one or more creative challenges

By now, you should be clear on the real issues behind your problems or goals. The next step is to turn these issues into creative challenges. A creative challenge is basically a simple question framed to encourage suggestions or ideas. In English, a challenge typically starts with “In what ways might I [or we]…?” or “How might I…?” or “How could I…?”

Creative challenges should be simple, concise and focus on a single issue. For example: “How might I improve my Chinese language skills and find a job in Shanghai?” is two completely separate challenges. Trying to generate ideas that solve both challenges will be difficult and, as a result, will stifle idea generation. So separate these into two challenges: “How might I improve my Chinese language skills?” and “How might I find a job in Shanghai?” Then attack each challenge individually. Once you have ideas for both, you may find a logical approach to solving both problems in a coordinated way. Or you might find that there is not a coordinated way and each problem must be tackled separately.

Creative challenges should not include evaluation criteria. For example: “How might I find a more challenging job that is better paying and situated close to my home?” If you put criteria in the challenge, you will limit your creative thinking. So simply ask: “How might a I find a more challenging job?” and after generating ideas, you can use the criteria to identify the ideas with the greatest potential.

4. Generate ideas

Finally, we come to the part most people associate with brainstorming and creative problem solving: idea generation. And you probably know how this works. Take only one creative challenge. Give yourself some quiet time and try to generate at least 50 ideas that may or may not solve the challenge. You can do this alone or you can invite some friends or family members to help you.

Irrespective of your idea generation approach, write your ideas on a document. You can simply write them down in linear fashion, write them down on a mind map, enter them onto a computer document (such as Microsoft Word or OpenOffice) or use a specialized software for idea generation. The method you use is not so important. What is important is that you follow these rules:

Write down every idea that comes to mind. Even if the idea is ludicrous, stupid or fails to solve the challenge, write it down. Most people are their own worst critics and by squelching their own ideas, make themselves less creative. So write everything down. NO EXCEPTIONS!

If other people are also involved, insure that no one criticizes anyone else’s ideas in any way. This is called squelching, because even the tiniest amount of criticism can discourage everyone in the group for sharing their more creative ideas. Even a sigh or the rolling of eyes can be critical. Squelching must be avoided!

If you are working alone, don’t stop until you’ve reached your target of 50 (or more) ideas. If you are working with other people, set a time limit like 15 or 20 minutes. Once you have reached this time limit, compare ideas and make a grand list that includes them all. Then ask everyone if the have some new ideas. Most likely people will be inspired by others’ ideas and add more to the list.

If you find you are not generating sufficient ideas, give yourself some inspiration. A classic trick is to open a book or dictionary and pick out a random word. Then generate ideas that somehow incorporate this word. You might also ask yourself what other people whom you know; such as your grandmother, your partner, a friend or a character on you favourite TV show, might suggest.

Brainstorming does not need to occur at your desk. Take a trip somewhere for new inspiration. Find a nice place in a beautiful park. Sit down in a coffee shop on a crowded street corner. You can even walk and generate ideas.

In addition, if you browse the web for brainstorming and idea generation, you will find lots of creative ideas on how to generate creative ideas!

One last note: If you are not in a hurry, wait until the next day and then try to generate another 25 ideas; ideally do this in the morning. Research has shown that our minds work on creative challenges while we sleep. Your initial idea generation session has been good exercise and has certainly generated some great ideas. But it will probably also inspire your unconscious mind to generate some ideas while you sleep. Don’t lose them!

5. Combine and evaluate ideas

After you have written down all of your ideas, take a break. It might just be an hour. It might be a day or more. Then go through the ideas. Related ideas can be combined together to form big ideas (or idea clusters).

Then, using the criteria you devised earlier, choose all of the ideas that broadly meet those criteria. This is important. If you focus only on the “best” ideas or your favorite ideas, the chances are you will choose the less creative ones! Nevertheless, feel free to include your favorite ideas in the initial list of ideas.

Now get out that list of criteria you made earlier and go through each idea more carefully. Consider how well it meets each criterion and give it a rating of 0 to 5 points, with five indicating a perfect match. If an idea falls short of a criterion, think about why this is so. Is there a way that it can be improved in order to increase its score? If so, make a note. Once you are finished, all of the ideas will have an evaluation score. Those ideas with the highest score best meet your criteria. They may not be your best ideas or your favorite ideas, but they are most likely to best solve your problem or enable you to achieve your goal.

Depending on the nature of the challenge and the winning ideas, you may be ready to jump right in and implement your ideas. In other cases, ideas may need to be developed further. With complex ideas, a simple evaluation may not be enough. You may need to do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis or discuss the idea with others who will be affected by it. If the idea is business related, you may need to do a business case, market research, build a prototype or a combination of all of these.

Also, keep in mind that you do not need to limit yourself to one winning idea. Often you can implement several ideas in order to solve your challenge.

6. Draw up an action plan

At this point, you have some great ideas. However, a lot of people have trouble motivating themselves to take the next step. Creative ideas may mean big changes or taking risks. Some of us love change and risk. Others are scared by it. Draw up an action plan with the simple steps you need to take in order to implement your ideas. Ideas that involve a lot work to implement can be particularly intimidating. Breaking their implementation down into a series of readily accomplished tasks makes these ideas easier to cope with and implement.

This is the simplest step of all. Take your action plan and implement your idea. And if the situation veers away from your action plan steps, don’t worry. Rewrite your action plan!

CPS and innovation

Any effective innovation initiative or process will use CPS at the front end. Our innovation process does so. TRIZ  also uses elements of CPS. Any effective and sustainable idea management system or ideation activity will be based on CPS.

Systems  and methods that do not use CPS or use it badly, on the other hand, tend not to be sustainable and fail early on. Suggestion schemes in which employees or the public are invited to submit any idea whatsoever are effectively asking users of the system to determine a problem and then offer a solution. This will result not only in many ideas, but many different problems, most of which will not be relevant to your strategic needs. Worse, having to evaluate every idea in the context of its implied problem – which may not be clear – is a nightmare from a resource point of view.

Systems and methods which are based on CPS, but in which creative challenges are poorly defined, also deliver poor results either because users do not understand the challenge or the problem is poorly understood and the resulting challenge stimulates ideas which in themselves are good, but which are not actually solutions to the true problem.

That said, CPS is a conceptually simple process – but critical to any innovation process. If you do not use it already, familiarize yourself with the process and start using it. You will find it does wonders for your innovativeness.

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

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Creative Problem Solving Process

Creative Problem Solving Process

Learn more about this cps innovation methodology here..

When it comes to developing innovative solutions to unique organizational challenges or your own life, using tried and true methods to brainstorm ideas and find the best possible solution can be a great way to achieve your goals. One such methodology is creative problem solving, which will be defined and explored in this latest article from Innovation Training.

Creative problem solving is a method for solving problems or identifying opportunities in an innovative way. The methodology was developed by Alex Osborn and Sid Parnes in the 1940s as the “Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process”. This initial thought process has led to later models, including the 2011 Creative Problem Solving (CPS) Learner’s Model from the Creative Education Foundation. Despite its long history, creative problem solving is still incredibly valuable today and is used in many creative pursuits and industries. 

Why you may want to use creative problem solving

Overcoming challenges and finding new ways of doing things is difficult and can be costly. Using a trusted approach like creative problem solving can help you develop the ability to find these innovative solutions and generate many different ideas to use in your project or challenge. 

CPS helps you think in new ways by separating divergent and convergent thinking. While divergent thinking, or brainstorming, generates lots of potential possibilities, convergent thinking involves evaluating and choosing the most promising one. Oftentimes, we suffer by combining these two processes into one, stifling idea generation. By thinking of them as separate processes, you can generate more ideas and evaluate them more fairly later on. 

Four principles of creative problem solving

CPS is based on a few key assumptions:

This last principle refers to the idea that it is better to use language such as “yes and” that allows continuation and expansion, versus a word such as “but” that negates and closes the conversation. 

How to use creative problem solving techniques

The simplest form of the creative problem solving process involves four steps:

From an innovator’s perspective, we tend to add a few more steps in the mix that help further establish the problem and allow for evaluation and experimentation of ideas. The process therefore can look like this:

Creative Problem Solving Process Conclusion

In this article, we explored the creative problem solving process (CPS) and how to use the technique to solve your own innovation challenges. Want personalized help using this method in your workshop or innovation event? Reach out  to us online today about a creative problem solving training workshop .

Top Creative Problem Solving Questions

In a future post we will provide more problem solving tips and answer 10 of the most common questions people ask about creative problem solving:

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Teaching Innovation and Problem Solving

Business leaders are calling for workers who can solve problems and innovate solutions, but how can educators teach such abstract skills? After all, isn't every problem unique? Doesn't every solution differ? Yes. But the fundamental tools of problems solving are common to all situations, and they can be taught. The two most important mental tools are critical thinking and creative thinking.

problem solving creativity and innovation

Critical thinking is convergent. It focuses intently on a topic, paying careful attention to logic and rules. Critical thinking breaks a subject into its parts and investigates how the parts relate to each other: categorizing, sequencing, comparing, ranking. It is in-the-box thinking.

problem solving creativity and innovation

Creative thinking is divergent. It sees a topic as a whole and imagines it as an analogy for something else: envisioning, improvising, riffing, wondering. Creative thinking reaches out to explore possibilities and defies convention and rules. It is out-of-the-box thinking.

Teaching Both Types

Just as students can learn specific strategies for convergent, analytical thinking, they can learn specific strategies for divergent, expansive thinking. Once students have gained these specific mental strategies, they can combine their critical and creative thinking to solve problems.

Problem solving starts with critical thinking—analyzing a problem—and then shifts to creative thinking—imagining solutions. To plan a solution requires more critical thinking, while applying the solution is a creative process. By shifting back and forth between the two types of thinking, students eventually arrive at a solution that works.

Problem-Solving Process

problem solving creativity and innovation

Rob King Explains Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, and Problem Solving

In the following video, Rob King, author of Inquire: A Student Handbook for 21st Century Learning,  explains how to teach critical and creative teaching and how to combine them in problem solving.

Teacher Support:

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The State Standards provide a way to evaluate your students' performance.

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