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Each day, we face situations at work or within our personal lives that require us to think on our feet to solve problems and issues.  Please review the past two weeks within your job.  What problem(s) did you encounter?  Using the Creative Problem Solving Process, please map out the issue (in a list format).  After, how did you solve the problem?

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These are the 8 steps

Contrary to popular belief, creative ideas do not suddenly appear in people’s minds for no apparent reason. Often, they are the result of trying to solve a specific problem or to achieve a particular goal.

History has shown that Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and other creative geniuses 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 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 hesitation, others have to learn to use this very simple process.

An 8-step CPS framework

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

Problem solving is a mental process which is the concluding part of the larger problem process that includes problem finding and problem shaping where problem is defined as a state of desire for the reaching of a definite goal from a present condition that either is not directly moving toward the goal or is far from it.

Higgins describes eight basic stages in the creative problem solving process:

  1. Analyzing the environment
  2. Recognizing a probelm
  3. Identifying the problem
  4. Making assumptions
  5. Generating alternatives
  6. Choosing among alternatives
  7. Implementing the Chosen Solution
  8. Control

1 – Analyzing the environment

You need to be constantly searching for problems including opportunities. Being able to recognize problems and opportunities as they arise are essential for success. This phase involves gathering information on the organisation, market, competition, economy, customers, personnel, processes, assumptions, weak signals, internal and external organisation environments. What is happening that might lead to problems or opportunities? Remember that the SWOT analysis can best be used in this step.

2 – Recognizing a problem

Using the information gathered in the first step an awareness of problems or opportunities is formed.

3 – Identifying the problem

This stage involves ensuring that efforts are directed to solving the real problem rather than merely eliminating symptoms, and establishing the objectives of the problem-solving process. What will constitute evidence that the problem has been solved? The outcome of this stage is a set of decision criteria for evaluating various options. Rational and Intuitive thinking will be used at this stage. Remember this is where you ask questions such as Who?What?Why?Where?How? etc.

4 – Making assumptions

It is necessary to make assumptions about the condition of future factors in the problem situation, eg state of the economy. Assumptions can be a major constraint on the potential success of a solution, or overestimating the potential of an alternative.

5 – Generating alternatives

Generating alternatives involves cataloging the known options (a rational act) and generating additional options (a rational and intuitive act. It is at this stage where most of the creativity processes are found. It is important to generate many alternatives for the next stage of choosing among alternatives. Techniques can be grouped into individual techniques and group techniques. The more you generate, the better the opportunity to find a good solution.

6 – Choosing among alternatives

This stage should be based on a systematic evaluation of the alternatives against the criteria established in the third stage. A rational part of this exercise is determining the possible outcomes of the various alternatives.

7 – Implementing the Chosen Solution

Once you have a clear idea of what you want to do and a plan for accomplishing it, you can take action. Set goals, target dates, gain support from others and map out the detailed steps. Implementation is a series of problems and opportunities.

8 – Control

Evaluating results is the final, and often over-looked state in the creative- processing process. The purpose of this stage is to determine how well the actions you took have solved the problem, and can feed directly back into the environmental analysis stage, beginning a new cycle of creative problem solving. It is important to recognise deficiencies in your own solutions if necessary. There are no specific techniques. Refer back to the first technique of Analysing the Environment.