Creative problem solving

The last step of creative problem solving is the “Aha!” moment. The moment when the long-awaited solution to a difficult problem seems to just appear to you. Suddenly. And with a sense of obviousness about it. (Elementary, my dear Watson!)

It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.

– John Steinbeck

What Is Creative Problem Solving?

Let’s start with a definition.

Creative Problem Solving (CPS) is a method for solving problems in a creative way by following three main steps: clarification (identifying what needs to be solved), transformation (generating ideas and developing them into feasible solutions), and implementation (selecting the solution with the most potential and producing a plan of action).


Creative problem solving process

The Creative Problem Solving Process – Origins and Evolution

The term was first coined in Alex Osborn’s book from 1953: Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of creative problem-solving.

In the initial process, there were only three steps:

  • Fact-finding
  • Idea-finding
  • Solution-finding

Later on, the creative problem-solving process was enriched with two more steps:

  • Problem-finding: added with the purpose of discovering the broader perspective of the situation
  • Acceptance-finding: let us consider how an idea or option will succeed or fail

A further revision of the creative problem-solving process summarized it as follows: “The creative problem-solving process consists of the following steps: understanding the problem, generating ideas, and planning for action”.


Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Two main elements of the Creative Problem Solving model are two distinct kinds of thinking, essential for generating new ideas:

  • Convergent Thinking: Evaluating options
  • Divergent Thinking: Generating lots of options

We are using both types of thinking on a daily basis without thinking too much which kind of “thinking” we are using at a certain moment.

Convergent Thinking is:
* critical thinking
* comes up with the correct answer
* is the opposite of divergent thinking
* evalutates the outcomes of divergent thinking


Divergent Thinking is:
* creative thinking
* generative thinking: you generate many ideas
* explorative thinking: you ask “what if” and try to come up with many solutions
* generates input for convergent thinking
* is non-linear
* is free-flow
* is the opposite of convergent thinking


The secret to creative problem solving resides in not using both types of thinking at the same time. You first start with divergent thinking, generate new ideas (even the craziest idea is allowed during this stage), and switch to convergent thinking afterward to decide which idea is the best for the given situation.


The “Aha!” Moment – The Creative Solution

The whole point of using the creative problem-solving model is to come up with new and innovative solutions to difficult or old problems (“we’ve always done it this way ’round here” tune).

In a structured process, the solution is selected as the most feasible solution from the list of ideas generated in the previous steps.

In real life, however, we go through the same process somehow in a not very conscious way. And that’s when the “aha!” moment happens.

This phase is preceded by a restructuring of the representation of the problem and a deeper understanding of it. These two phases usually happen when our brains are in a relaxed state.

That’s why you need distance yourself from the problem, to step away from it, and take a break. Take a nap (“sleep on it”, right?), go to your favorite backyard playground and allow your brain to do the work.

The “Aha!” moment will “magically” happen.


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Isaksen, S. G.Creative approaches to problem solving

Noller, R. B., Scratching the surface of creative problem-solving: A bird’s eye view of CP

Puccio, G. J., Murdock, M.C., & Mance, M., Creative leadership: Skills that drive change

Osborn, A. F.Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of creative problem-solving