Idea Generation: What is Creative Problem Solving?

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Creative Problem Solving (CPS) is a key idea generation technique. Currently, though better service quality is important, it is not enough on its own. Without combining it with innovation and creativity, one cannot expect to achieve lasting success at the international level. Reading this article, you’ll learn these aspects about CPS: 1) definition, 2) Osborn-Parnes CPS, 3) stages and models of creative problem solving (CPS), and 4) some techniques.


In simple words, Creative Problem Solving may be defined as a problem solving technique that addresses a challenge or problem in a creative manner. The solution is creative because it is not obvious. To meet the criteria for solving a problem in a creative manner, the solution should resolve the declared problem in an original manner with the solution being reached independently. This idea generation strategy usually incorporates a team approach. This is owing to the fact that people inside the workplace are allowed to engage in the process of change in their search for creative solutions.

Coming to the more specific use of the term, Creative Problem Solving refers to the trademark
Osborn-Parnes (CPS) process of creatively solving problems. The process was crafted by Dr. Sidney J. Parnes and Alex Osborn in the 1950s. The difference between this process and other CPS strategies is that there is utilization of both convergent and divergent thinking in the course of each process step, and not only when coming up with ideas to fix the problem. Each step starts with divergent thinking, an extensive search for multiple alternatives. After this comes convergent thinking that involves evaluating and selecting. This strategy is taught at the Creative Problem Solving Institute, the International Center for Studies in Creativity, and the CREA conference. It is particularly recognized as an important influence on the Productive Thinking Model.


When describing the Osborne-Parnes process of Creative Problem Solving, one can think of no less than four models. Here, three are discussed.

1. Linear

In the linear model, each of the six stages of the Creative Problem Solving process is represented by a diamond shape. This shape signifies first, generating or diverging options, followed by a selection of a refreshed focus and then, moving on. Thinking was in straight lines, moving just one step at a time for the sake of maintaining order, channeling freedom. This model came out in the 1970s.

2. Bubble

In the 1990s, the diamond shapes changed into connected bubbles representing attitude shifts towards directed and meaningful connectedness. Channeled freedom gets wider birth. There are three unique stages in the bubble model. Visually, this indicates authorization to enter not solely at the first stage (as was the case in the 1970s model), but at any stage of the process. The linear model has diamond shapes with smoother edges, and there are arrows to give directions. The three bubbles in the bubble model let you know exactly what you should do.

3. Systemic

The Thinking Skills Model is a system with many entry points determined by the task at hand (center hub) or situation. The construction in this model is in agreement with our current web-like interrelated view of the world. It depicts the distinctive core of each stage by renaming. While the bubble and accordion (diamond) CPS models offer rational, logical approaches to CPS, providing an overt course of action, this model tells you what happens. It outlines the three key phases and charts the thinking processes utilized for each. You can see the diamonds remain, the three key focus points join in fluid colors with the beginning point varying with the situational requirement.


There are six stages in the Osborn-Parnes process of creative-problem solving. Here, the six stages are described with two examples of questions for some of the stages, to stimulate your thinking.

1. Objective Finding

Pinpointing the challenge or goal and delineating your preferred output is the basis of the CPS strategy. At times, people pay no heed to certain essential aspects about the problem or take something for granted to solve it rapidly. This causes an obscurement of the thought process, and the person fails to take note of the big picture. Delineating the goal or objective provides a lucid idea pertaining to the problem that facilitates the investigation of various possible solutions to it.

Questions: What bottlenecks or barriers exist? What is it that you wish to be better organized?

2. Fact Finding

Collecting information pertaining to the problem and associated data is essential for comprehending the problem. At this stage, make a list of key details such as what and who is involved, assumptions and perceptions, viewpoints of interested parties, feelings and facts, and so on so that you may begin the process of crafting ideas.

Questions: Who should be or is already involved? Why doesn’t/does it happen?

3. Problem Finding

Using the problem objective and gathered data as a basis, determine possible challenges that may come about and the possible opportunities that are present inside of it. This would assist you with concentrating on the problem. It is so simple to move your attention away from the aim and to come up with answers to the incorrect problems.

Questions: What is the actual problem? What is the key objective?

4. Idea Finding

Reusing a solution when we come across a problem that we possibly encountered before, is a very easy process. Our mind detects ‘conceptual blocks’ that comprise hurdles such as commitment, complacency, compression, and constancy. These hinder us from thinking creatively and developing fresh concepts or ideas. Thus, it is essential to investigate, brainstorm and determine as many probable solutions as you can.

5. Solution Finding

After you’ve done with coming up with new ideas and noting down probable solutions in list fashion, assess them to determine whether they meet your specification for success and can be executed. Improvise, reinforce and select the best idea. Make sure that the solutions are not only creative, but also useful. At times, will power is the sole solution.

Questions: Will it work? Are the technology and materials available?

6. Acceptance Finding

You have selected the best probable solution that is both actionable and satisfies the requirements for success. The next thing to do is to plan your steps for action by lucidly describing responsibilities and determining the best method to utilize the available resources. The calls for action that you put out should be comprehended by all associated with the problem solving process so that it becomes an accepted solution.


1. Synectics

Synectics is usually classified as a Creative Problem-Solving (CPS) Technique along with Brainstorming and Lateral Thinking. This problem solving methodology inspires thought processes that the subject might not be aware of. The credit for developing the technique that had its beginnings in the 1950s in the Arthur D. Little Invention Design Unit goes to George M. Prince and William J.J. Gordon.

The process was gathered from tape recorded (starting with audio with video coming later) meetings, assessment of the outcomes, and experiments with other methods of coping with the barriers to achievements, in the meeting.

The term “Synectics” has its origins from the Greek language and means the combining of different and supposedly irrelevant elements. Though Synectics is a trademarked name, it has turned into a standard word for delineating Creative Problem Solving that takes place in groups. This idea generation technique approaches problem solving and creativity in a rational manner.

In Gordon’s opinion, Synectics research has to do with three key assumptions:

  • It is possible to describe and teach the creative process;
  • Invention processes in science and arts are analogous and propelled by the same “psychic” processes;
  • Creativity at the level of individual and group is analogous.

In short, if people comprehend the working of creativity, they can improve their ability to be creative.

2. TRIZ methodology

TRIZ (or TIPS – Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) was created by Genrich Altshuller and his coworkers. It is a Russian method of problem solving. This strategy is meant to cultivate the creation of patentable inventions. However, the technique is also helpful for developing non-product solutions.

In the beginning, following the invention of bulletproof glass, a trade off happened. Though the glass would prevent the bullet from entering, the former would crack to such an extent that the vision of the pilot or driver behind the glass would be obscured. TRIZ has a considerable list of principles for settling trade offs. In this particular case, the pertinent principle was segmentation for which the solution was to create a huge pane of glass from smaller panes. This was to ensure that the cracks were limited to the one small pane. If you are capable of articulating your trade off, the chances are high that TRIZ has methods to triumph over it that have proved successful with respect to other problems.

3. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is an individual or group activity by which attempts are made to determine a conclusion for a particular problem by collecting a list of ideas that its members spontaneously contributed. Alex Faickney Osborn popularized the term in Applied Imagination, a 1953 book.

4. Mindmapping

This creativity technique both reframes the situation and cultivates creativity. A mind map is a representation of concepts and ideas in a graphical manner. This visual thinking tool assists with structuring information, assisting with better analysis, synthesis, comprehension, recall and engendering of new ideas. The power of the mind map is traceable to its simplicity.

5. Reversal of problem

This approach is about coming up with ideas to solve problems by way of a different/opposite perspective (turning it around: upside-down, inside-out or back to front).

6. Look beyond something’s common function

Split an object into all its individual parts. If you have a description suggesting a function (just like the function of a prong is transporting electricity), describe it in a more generic manner by way of shape, size and the make-up of the material (such as rectangular, flat, small piece of metal). If you call an item an electric plug’s prong, the description may conceal the fact that the item could also turn into a screwdriver if required.

Here’s an example of looking beyond a thing’s common function: Imagine that the passengers of the luxury liner Titanic had considered the iceberg to be a huge floating surface instead of an object that hits ships. If they had thought so, perhaps many lives could have been saved by using the ship as a lifeboat because the iceberg would not sink.

7. Lateral thinking

Lateral thinking is a manner of thinking that looks for a solution to an obstinate issue through unorthodox elements or methods that would usually be disregarded by logical thinking. To be more precise, “lateral thinking” may be defined as a way to solve problems by a creative or indirect approach, utilizing reasoning that may not be obvious straight away or incorporating ideas that cannot be gathered by utilizing only conventional step-by-step logic. The term was coined by Edward de Bono, a foremost creativity practitioner, in 1967. De Bono created two different models pertaining to creativity thinking namely “parallel thinking” and lateral thinking. The creativity practitioner created the two models over many years with “Mechanism of the Mind” – his book, coming out in print in 1969.

Parallel thinking has to do with pondering over an issue in a single state of mind at a time as against confusing ourselves by attempting to process several issues differently in a single go. Coming back to lateral thinking, the concept makes you realize that coming up with breakthrough ideas doesn’t necessarily have to spring from a shotgun effort or luck. The method provides a systematic and most importantly, deliberate process for which the outcome is innovative thinking.

Creative thinking is no talent but rather, a learnable skill. It empowers those who adopt it by strengthening their natural abilities, which enhances innovation and creativity, which in turn leads to a boost in efficiency and profit.

Challenge, alternatives, and provocation and movement are three examples of lateral thinking techniques.


The basis for SCAMPER is the belief that everything new is a variation of something already in existence. SCAMPER is an acronym, and each letter indicates a different method by which the person can toy around with the features of whatsoever it is that is challenging him to come out with new ideas. The letters and their full forms are as follows:

S = Substitute

C = Combine

A = Adapt

M = Magnify

P = Put to Other Uses

E = Eliminate (alternative is Minify)

R = Rearrange (alternative is Reverse)

To utilize the SCAMPER technique, start by stating the problem you wish to solve or the thought you wish to develop. This thought/idea can be anything: a product, process or service you wish to improve, a challenge in business, or other problem. Once you have identified the challenge, you need to come up with questions. Utilize the SCAMPER checklist for guidance. Here’s a sample:

S: What to substitute in my process of selling?

C: How do I blend selling with other activities?

A: What to copy or adapt the selling process of another person or company?

M: What do I put more weight on or magnify when selling?

P: What other uses can I put my selling to?

E: What do I eliminate or make easier in my process of selling?

R: How do I change, reverse or reorder my manner of selling?

With the help of these questions, you are pushed to a different viewpoint with respect to your problem and ultimately come up with original solutions.

Whether at business or in your personal life, Creative Problem Solving can help you see aspects and solutions that you may never have realized when you only permitted your mind to move the conventional path. So embrace it!

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