This week I spent a day with a group of IT leaders from one of America’s great companies (whose meals have made billions happy). With our goal being to make strategy recommendations to improve a technology process, I conducted a Creative Problem Solving (CPS) session to collectively harness creative thinking to address a complex challenge.
Most of the problems we face in our culture, business and lives need creativity, but few of us know about CPS, a valuable process that has been discussed, tested and evaluated for more than 50 years. Originating from the brainstorming work of advertising pioneer Alex Osborn (whose book Applied Imagination is still the bible on brainstorming), each year hundreds of educators, researchers and businessfolks gather to discuss and learn CPS at CPSI–the Creative Problem Solving Institute–held in Boston this June.
Historically, the creative process was seen in some ways as mysterious, and included “incubation,” or time away from a problem, before “illumination” or an “Aha moment” hit you (perhaps in the shower). CPS, sometimes called “deliberate creativity,” has taken a little mystery out by identifying and separating practical steps, captured in the graphic above, that are universal and that lead to the most creative solutions. We all need to learn CPS.
Two quick observations to point out about my session:
1. The first phase, Clarifying, was a key part of our work–the more time we spent understanding what the real challenge and real goals were, the more effective the solution-finding.
2. As with any creativity session, separating diverging from converging is essential, but was, as is often the case with very smart adults, not easy for this group. Pure diverging time is needed to explore as many alternatives as possible and spark unusual connections, but no matter how vocally I insisted on “no judging” and “just keep generating and posting” ideas, I often found the participants surreptitiously evaluating, debating and denying. More divergence training needed for all of us!
The power of a CPS session depends on leveraging the diversity of the group and shifting thinking styles from one phase to another. You probably don’t realize that your creative problem solving preferences are quite different from others. You can learn more by taking the FourSight assessment, which I use with teams and is available online.