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CPS: Linking Creativity and Problem Solving
By: Scott G. Isaksen

Cognitive science has been defined as a contemporary field that tries to answer questions about the nature of knowledge, its development and deployment (Gardner, 1985).  Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary inquiry including psychology, philosophy, linguistics, anthropology, artificial intelligence, and the neurosciences (Gardner, 1985; Matlin, 1989; Miller, Polson, & Kintsch, 1984).  Problem solving has always been a central concept within cognitive science.  More recently, creativity has become an important construct within this field (Boden, 1991; Johnson-Laird, 1988; Schank & Childers, 1988; Weisberg, 1988).  Given the complexity of these constructs, careful thinking and inquiry will be necessary in order to develop useful and valuable applications and implications of them for future research and practice.

Some scholars have sought to draw creativity apart from problem solving (Raaheim, 1984).  Others have found these two constructs to be closely related (Kaufmann, 1988).  The purpose of this chapter is to outline some current thinking on the relationships that exist between creativity and problem solving.  In order to accomplish this, it will first be necessary to carefully define both creativity and problem solving and draw appropriate distinctions between these two constructs.

Further, by improving our understanding of the connection between these two important constructs, the conceptual foundation for Creative Problem Solving (CPS) can become more clear.  CPS is a methodological framework designed to assist problem solvers with using creativity to achieve goals, overcome obstacles and increase the likelihood of enhancing creative performance (Isaksen, Dorval, & Treffinger, 1994).  CPS has been developed over the past fifty years (Parnes, 1992) and offers a unique opportunity to bridge practical application with conceptual and theoretical issues.  Key developments will be summarized in order to explore the use of CPS for both future practice and research.

The case for creativity and creative thinking

There are many definitions and approaches to understanding creativity (Arieti, 1976; Getzels & Jackson, 1962; Hallman, 1981; Runco & Albert, 1990; Treffinger, Isaksen, & Firestien, 1983; Welsch, 1973).  There are also many reviews of creativity literature and research (Anderson, 1959a; Glover, Ronning, & Reynolds, 1989; Isaksen, 1987; Isaksen, Murdock, Firestien, & Treffinger, 1993 a & b; Grønhaug & Kaufmann, 1988; Sternberg, 1988; Taylor & Getzels, 1975; Welsch, 1975).  On the basis of most of this literature, it is most productive to view creativity as a multi-faceted phenomenon rather than as a unitary construct capable of a single precise definition.
Guilford (1950) provided an impetus for increased research into creativity.  As the creativity literature began to expand so did the number and variety of definitions used for the concept of creativity.  Only nine years following Guilford’s presidential address to the American Psychological Association, Taylor (1959) found in excess of one hundred definitions of creativity in the literature.
Despite the apparent confusion and contradictions implied by many of the definitions, there does appear to be some agreement on a few of the basic themes or strands. For example, a number of writers have pointed out the need to differentiate the kind of creativity associated with radical novelty and major significant breakthroughs from the more common notions of personal creativity.  Stein (1987) has offered the solution of big ‘C’ to describe the creativity of the genius and little ‘c’ for the more widely available type.  Boden (1991) has offered P-creative to describe psychological creativity referring to ideas that are fundamentally novel to the individual mind and H-creative for novelty applying to the whole of human history.  Both writers (and others) have apparently identified the need for a very similar definitional distinction as Maslow (1976) who identified two very different kinds of creativity: special talent and self-actualizing. Kaufmann (1993) concluded that the major creativity concepts should be seen as a coherent conceptual complex and that even if the domain was empirically immature, there is a clear conceptual basis for creativity research.

After reviewing twenty-two definitions of creativity, Welsch (1980) found significant levels of agreement of the key attributes of these definitions.  She proposed the following definition from her review of the literature:

Creativity is the process of generating unique products by transformation of existing products.  These products, tangible and intangible, must be unique only to the creator, and must meet the criteria of purpose and value established by the creator. (p.97)

Rhodes (1961) set out to find the single best definition of creativity and, in the process, assembled more than fifty-six different definitions.  Despite the profusion of those definitions, he reported that they were not mutually exclusive.  When analyzed, the content of the definitions formed four overlapping and intertwining strands.  Although each strand has a distinct conceptual identity, the four strands functionally operate in unity.  Similar conceptual approaches have been identified by a number of other scholars (Gowan, 1972; MacKinnon, 1970; Mooney, 1963).
Figure one shows the four strands of creativity in a Venn diagram to emphasize the nature of their relationship (Isaksen, 1984, 1987).  As Rhodes suggested, it is most beneficial to think of these four strands as operating together.  For example, the most comprehensive picture of the creative person can be drawn by considering not only the characteristics or traits of the person, but also the kind of environment or context in which the person is working, the kinds of mental operations being used, as well as the nature of the desired outcomes or products.  Attempting to consider all four of these strands while defining creativity supports a more ecological approach to understanding and recognizing creativity (Harrington, 1990).

It is also quite possible that various researchers and writers emphasize certain facets of creativity in their definitions because of the focus of their work.  Some, for example, have determined that product was the cornerstone of creativity and research (MacKinnon, 1975).  Others selected the creative personality as their central concern (Barron, 1990).  The internal and external climates for creativity have been the central focus for other researchers (Amabile, 1990; Ekvall, 1987). Torrance and Torrance (1973) illustrated the close conceptual link between problem solving and creativity by emphasizing the process of:

…becoming sensitive to problems, gaps in knowledge, missing elements, disharmonies, and so on; identifying the difficulty; searching for solutions, making guesses or formulating hypotheses about the deficiencies; testing and retesting these hypotheses and possibly modifying and retesting them; and finally communicating the results. (p. 6)

Stein’s (1974) orientation to creativity also took a process focus, but included a deliberate consideration of the individual and the social context surrounding the person.  He stated:

Creativity is a process that results in a novel work that is accepted as useful, tenable, or satisfying by a group of people at some point in time.  As a process it consists of overlapping stages – hypothesis formation, hypothesis testing, and the communication of the results – all of which follow a preparatory or educational stage which is not always uniquely part of the creative process.  In each stage one may see the effects of intrapersonal and interpersonal factors.  All these factors reflect the fact that creativity occurs in a social context and it is a function of the transactional relationships between the individual and his environment – the creating individual is both affected by and affects his environment. (pp. xi-xii)

For the purpose of this paper, I will use the following definition of creativity:
Creativity is the making and communicating of meaningful new connections to help us think of many possibilities; to help us think and experience in varied ways and using different points of view; to help us think of new and unusual possibilities; and to guide us in generating and selecting alternatives (Isaksen & Treffinger, 1985).  These new connections and possibilities must result in something of value for the individual, group, organization, or society.

There are many aspects of creativity that will be of interest for those involved in the cognitive sciences.  The most salient aspect includes the emphasis on understanding and nurturing the creative process.  This focus includes consideration of mental operations, heuristics, and problem-solving strategies (among other items).  This does not mean that characteristics of the creative person are irrelevant, as individual differences in mental representations and functioning are included on the agenda for cognitive science.  Gardner (1985) argues that aspects of emotion, context and culture are generally de-emphasized within the mainstream of cognitive science.  This suggests that some aspects of the creative person and the creative place may not be as prominent as the creative process for study within this area of inquiry.  Interest in creative products or outcomes would be primarily focused on providing a sorting mechanism to discriminate individual level, capacity or style by considering the results of mental processing.  It is for these reason that Creative Problem Solving (CPS) has been chosen as a major linking construct between the broader field of creative studies and the field of cognitive science.

The case for problem solving

Problem solving has also been defined and approached in a variety of ways.  In summarizing the problem solving literature, Voss (1989) outlined five distinct viewpoints.  The descriptive approach exemplified by Dewey (1910) and Wallas (1926) involved describing problem solving as a stepwise process.  The second theoretical framework is Gestalt (Kohler, 1947; Wertheimer, 1959) and neo-Gestalt (Duncker, 1945; Maier, 1940) psychology emphasizing the perception-like process of restructuring the problem and insight.  A third approach, developed by Piaget (1954) used problem solving as a means to study the mental growth of the child.  Stimulus-response psychology provided a fourth view of problem solving.  This approach, developed by Maltzman (1955) emphasized problem solving as the occurrence of a response that initially had a low probability of happening.  A fifth approach to researching problem solving is the information processing framework (Selz, 1922; Newell, Shaw and Simon, 1958).
Voss (1989) concluded that since there exists such a variety of viewpoints, problem solving should not be considered apart from other psychological processes.  He indicated that:

… problem solving is highly interrelated with those processes usually referred to as thinking, learning, memory, transfer, perception and motivation. (p. 255)
the topic of problem solving has been approached and reviewed in a variety of ways.  Some have attempted to raise issues relevant to the teaching-learning process (Tuma & Reif, 1980).  Others have been concerned with improving our understanding of thought processes engaged in problem solving (Johnson, 1972).  Mayer (1983) suggested that a general definition of thinking included three basic ideas:

1. Thinking is cognitive, but is inferred from behavior.  It occurs internally, in the mind or cognitive system, and must be inferred indirectly.  2. Thinking is a process that involves some manipulation of or set of operations on knowledge in the cognitive system.  3. Thinking is directed and results in behavior that “solves” a problem or is directed toward a solution. (p. 7)

essentially, thinking is what happens when a person solves a problem or produces behavior that moves the individual from the given state to the goal state; or at least tries to achieve this change.
Mayer (1983) indicated that any definition of “problem” should consist of three elements.  First, the problem exists in some state with certain givens like conditions, objects, or pieces of information.  Second, the desired or goal state of the problem requires thinking to transform the given to the terminal state.  Finally, there is no direct, obvious way to solve the problem.  Although certain ways to change the current state to the goal state exist, the thinker does not have at hand the correct answer or the correct sequence of behaviors that will solve the problem.
Researchers and practitioners alike often use the term problem solving as though everyone holds the same definition.  I would like to offer the following as the definition of problem solving as it is being used in this chapter.  Problem solving is:

  1. The process of closing the gap between what is said and what is desired;
  2. Answering questions, clearing up uncertainties, explaining that which was not understood or known, or removing perplexity; and
  3. Inclusive of perceiving, thinking (cognition), feeling and behaving.

Although this particular approach to defining problem solving may be too broad for many scholars involved in the cognitive sciences, I believe that it adequately captures at least most of the conceptual breadth assigned to the terms.  The inclusion of problem solving as an important area of human activity is well explicated and accepted by those within the cognitive sciences (Gardner, 1985; Matlin, 1989).

With such a broad definition of problem solving and the definition of creativity offered earlier, there is tremendous potential confusion and the opportunity for clarification.  From one end of the spectrum, creativity can be seen as a subset of the larger domain of problem solving.  It is also possible that only parts of the domain of creativity are pertinent to problem solving and others may not be relevant.  For example, the study of the creative personality may contain some elements that are within the domain of problem solving and others would not be of concern.  Specifically, Simonton (1991) found that the traits of intelligence and aggressiveness have linear positive effects on attained eminence and that these are constant across the historical period covered in his study (1642-1872).  Although intelligence would clearly be related to the area of problem solving, the aggressiveness trait may fall outside that domain but within the broad area of examining the creative personality.  In short, there would be some particular relationships between the domains of problem solving and understanding the characteristics of creative people.
Another example of the relationship between problem solving and creativity domains comes from the area of inquiry into creative products.  If they were being understood and treated as mental representations of task outcomes or results they would be of interest to those within the domain of problem solving.  If we were more concerned with the diffusion of these new products or some objective measurement of the criteria that distinguish them from more mundane outcomes, we would be working outside the concern of interest of most problem solving researchers and within an area for creativity researchers (Besemer & O’Quin, 1993; Firestien, 1993).

Within the broad area of understanding the creative environment or situation, if the focus was upon the conditions surrounding the task then there would be clear connection to problem solving.  If the major concern was with cultures, work groups, and psychological climates conducive to innovation and productivity, then creative researchers would be involved (Burnside, Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1988; Ekvall, 1987; VanGundy, 1984).  Research and inquiry into aspects of the creative situation have been referred to as “press” and include the examination and understanding the interaction of intra-individual and external forces.

Press is not the only creativity research facet involving interactions.  Each of the four strands of creativity inquiry can be analyzed and identified separately, but they operate and function together.  People interact within situations on various outcomes using a variety of processes.  What makes this even more complex are the many different interactions that are possible within and among these areas of inquiry (Isaksen, Puccio & Treffinger, 1993).  Each of the four creativity strands also offers potential interaction and conceptual relationship with the broad domain of problem solving.  The one remaining creativity facet upon which the remaining parts of the chapter will focus involves the creative process.
In attempting to relate creativity to problem solving, the review will include the concepts of the creative process, creative thinking, and creative learning.  This review will precede the description of Creative Problem Solving (CPS) as a potentially valuable framework for improving our understanding and application of the cognitive sciences.  In particular, creative problem solving would necessarily shift the conceptual focus to problem solving which also deals with problems needing new definitions, methods that need new perspectives or modification, and outcomes that are new, useful and valuable.  The following section provides conceptual support for this assertion.

Relating creativity and problem solving

Questions surrounding the relationships between creativity and problem solving have been in the behavioral science literature for more than forty years.  Many writers have attempted to outline conceptual and operational distinctions and relationships between those two constructs.  Vinacke (1952) proposed that:

Creative thought really seems to be intermediate between problem solving and imagination, occurring in special situations involving nearly indistinguishably problem-solving behavior and imagination. (p. 160).

Russell (1956) differentiated between creative and critical thinking by stating:

Creative thinking involves the production of new ideas whereas critical thinking…involves reactions to others’ ideas or to one’s own previous ideas.  Critical thinking can be creative in that it creates new insights for the individual, but these insights are concerned with previously established conditions.  Creative thinking is very close to the problem solving process…It may be described as problem solving plus.  Whenever the child or adult puts isolated experiences into new combinations or patterns we may say that creative thinking has taken place and this process does not take place in problem solving. (p. 306)

Although Russell (1956) indicated that creative thinking and problem solving are very closely related, he also mentioned that there are some very important distinctions that need to b e made.  He stated:

the difference between problem solving or reasoning and creative thinking is that problem solving is more objective, more directed toward some goal, which is usually external.  Problem solving must be more constant with the facts.  Creative thinking is more personal, less fixed.  It achieves something new rather than coinciding with previously determined conditions.  It also tends to involve more intuition and imagination than does the more objective problem solving, though this difference is clearly a matter of degree rather than kind.  The special insights of the scientist, poet, or artist differ only in degree from the insights which all personas use in solving their problems. (p. 306)
as Russell (1956) pointed out, there may be a relationship between creative thinking and problem solving, but they are not precisely the same thing.  Something that can be implied from all the literature cited above is that much learning involves a creative type of problem solving.  Hilgard (1959) discussed creativity in relation to problem solving in this manner:

there have been two major types of approaches to problem solving and creativity.  The first of these related problem solving to learning and thinking, as a type of higher mental process or cognitive process, to which problem solving certainly belongs.  The second approach, supplementary rather than contradictory to the first, sees creative problem solving as a manifestation of personality and looks for social and motivational determinants instead of (or in addition to) the purely cognitive ones.  It is not surprising that these two approaches deal also with somewhat different topics.  The approach via learning tends to emphasize problem solving in which a high-order product emerges, although not necessarily a highly original one, whereas the approach via personality tends to seek out somewhat more the elements of creative imagination and novelty. (p. 163)

Maltzman (1960) also supported the closeness of the relationship when he stated:

There is no fundamental difference in the behavioral principle determining originality and problem solving behavior…both involve the evocation of relatively uncommon responses, otherwise the situation would not be called a problem or the behavior original. (p. 232)
Newell, Shaw and Simon (1962) drew distinctions within the context of an information processing approach when they indicated that:

Creative activity appears…simply to be a special class of problem-solving activity characterized by novelty, unconventionality, persistence, and difficulty in problem formulation. (p. 63)

Rugg (1963) found himself in agreement with the position that much of what is called learning is also creative and pointed out that learning, problem solving and perception appear to be inextricably linked to the individual’s creative process.  In other words:

We look for the factors involved in precept-formation in both of the perceiver’s worlds – in his inner system of stress and in the external culture.  Each individual sees and feels the world in his own way, because each has built a unique body of traces in his organism by having lived his life and interpreted objective events in his own individualistic way throughout infancy, childhood and youth.  This accounts to saying the precepts which are traced in the unconscious electrochemistry of the cerebral cortex have been molded by the individual’s response to the culture in which he grew up, by the cumulative temperamental and physical development of body and mind which we call life style, and by the dominant wants, purposes, and needs which his individual life history has evolved.  Thus perception is much more than imprinting.  It is a creative process in itself.  The perceiver creates the field from which his precepts, signs and symbols emerge. (p. 77)

The idea that all learning is creative remains an issue to be debated.  Certainly, some types of problem solving appear to be more creative than others.  In discussing the intellectual nature of creativity, Smith (1966) concluded that:

The research and literature in this area do seem to point to some accepted conclusions regarding the creative learning process.  It can be safely concluded that creative learning is not a stimulus-response type of learning.  It is rather a cooperative-experiencing relationship where communication by both thought and feeling is essential.  It is also safe to say that creativity is a type of problem solving stretched along a continuum from very simple thinking and learning to very complex thought processes…In creative problem solving the solution offers tremendous satisfactions, not only because a problem has been solved and a job completed, but because the product has aesthetic qualities and the creator has given himself to the project – something of himself has emerged in a form which he recognizes (and which others recognize) as his own unique contribution to the solution. (p. 57)

Guilford (1977) also believed that there was a close relationship between creativity and problem solving.  He hinted that creative thinking was a subset of the more broad conceptual field of problem solving.  He indicated that:

…problem solving and creative thinking are closely related.  The very definitions of those two activities show logical connections.  Creative thinking produces novel outcomes, and problem solving involves producing a new response to a new situation, which is a novel outcome.  Thus we can say that problem solving has creative aspects. (p. 161)

MacKinnon (1978) outlined the creative process in relation to problem solving.  He stated:

The creative process starts always with the seeing or sensing of a problem.  The roots of creativeness lie in one’s becoming aware that something is wrong, or lacking, or mysterious.  One of the salient traits of a truly creative person is that he sees problems where others don’t, and it is this that so often makes him unpopular.  He insists on pointing out problems where others wish to deny their existence.  A constantly questioning attitude is not an easy one to live with, yet in its absence many problems will not be sensed, and consequently creative solutions of them will not be achieved.  It has been said of Einstein that a part of his genius, like that of all creative thinkers, was his inability to understand the obvious. (p. 47)

This link points to another level of conceptual relationship with problem finding and creativity (Moore & Murdock, 1991; Runco, 1994).
It appears that although creative thinking and problem solving are two distinguishable types of activity, there is a significant overlap of abilities, skills, and outcomes.  In fact, Kneller (1965) stated, “That some problem solving is creative is obvious to anyone.  That all creativity is problem solving is an unwarranted presupposition.”  He further specified that:

…creativity seems to involve certain mental abilities.  These include the ability to change one’s approach to a problem, to produce ideas that are both relevant and unusual, to see beyond the immediate situation, and to redefine the problem or some aspect of it. (p. 13)

many writers have provided explanations of the relationship between creativity and problem solving.  In order to better understand creative problem solving, it is necessary to draw some distinctions and clarify even further the relationships between creativity and problem solving.  Some writers, including Covington (1987), Getzels (1964) and Van Gundy (1988), have offered taxonomies of problem solving that identify types of problems requiring creativity.  In examining the variety of problem solving skills, Greeno (1980) offered a typology rather than a taxonomy because many kinds of problems involve combinations of the different types of skills.  Figure 2 outlines one way the distinctions and relationships between these 2 important cognitive constructs might be identified.

The first dimension includes the environment of the problem or task definition.  The actual content or domain of the challenge can be either well-defined and clearly structured or fuzzy, ill-defined and ambiguous.  A task like writing a research report in the history of the American presidency may offer the typical high school student quite a challenge, but it is fairly well-defined and clearly structured.  This would be identified as more of a problem solving task.  The problem of determining key characteristics for successful global leadership is much more fuzzy, rather ill-defined and somewhat ambiguous.  This challenge requires much more definition and investment in thinking which would be characterized as original or novel.  What is meant by successful?  What is global leadership?  How might we actually determine those key characteristics?

Although the distinction may be clear between the two tasks outlined above, it is equally feasible that creativity can be applied to the writing of a research report on the American presidency.  The writer could find some creative ways to illustrate the report or to add some humorous elements to the text.  It is also possible that we could apply very traditional problem solving strategies to the question of successful global leadership.  The challenge of determining the characteristics for future global leadership clearly requires a greater investment in defining the problem space and problem representation.

Another dimension focuses on the methodology, process, or strategies needed to solve the problem.  This describes the nature of the pathway toward the solution. On the one hand, a method can be well-known, a clear and standard approach is available, and the pathway is determined and simple.  An example task for this side of the dimension includes a mathematical problem like 2+X=4, for which a simple method can be applied to obtain the solution.  On the other side of the dimension are problems for which there is no known or determined method or for which the approach is extremely complex.

The third dimension to consider focuses on the nature of the desired outcome or the results obtained from problem solving.  This dimension described the goal state or future end state for the problem solver.  Some tasks require outcomes that are readily available or already exist.  The challenge for the problem solver is to discover them.  An example of this type of task would be the need to purchase a new but existing home already available in a new community.  Other tasks require the invention or active construction of the outcome.  Here, the needed outcome is not currently or readily available.  An example of this kind of task would be designing the learning center for a future space station.

These three dimensions summarize much of the literature describing the relationships between problem solving and creative thinking.  The dimensions can help to draw distinctions regarding the relative focus on problem solving or a more creative kind of problem solving.  Knowing that we are talking about a task, process or content that is more oriented toward problem solving or a more “creative” kind of problem solving can clarify our own thinking.  It also makes room for an appropriate consideration of creativity within the broad field of cognitive psychology.  The three-dimensional approach illustrated in Figure 2 illustrates at least some of the major conceptual linkages between these two important constructs.

Defining Creative Problem Solving

Creative Problem Solving (or CPS) is a broadly applicable process providing an organizing framework for specific creative and critical thinking techniques to help design and develop new and useful outcomes for meaningful and important challenges, concerns and opportunities (Isaksen, Dorval & Treffinger, 1994).  CPS is an operational  model for a particular kind of problem solving where creativity is applicable for the task at hand.
The first major component in this operational model is called Understanding the Problem which includes a systematic effort to define, construct, or formulate a problem.  Although many researchers have focused on problem finding as a process separate from problem solving, such a distinction may be arbitrary especially within the context of a flexible or descriptive approach.  It is not necessarily the “first” step in CPS, nor is it necessarily undertaken by all people in every CPS session.  Rather than prescribing an essential problem finding process, Understanding the Problem involves active construction by the individual or group through analyzing the task at hand (including outcomes, people, context, and methodological options) to determine whether and when deliberate problem-structuring efforts are needed.

The Understanding the Problem component of CPS includes the three stages of Mess-Finding, Data-Finding, and Problem-Finding.  A mess is a broad statement of a goal or direction that can be constructed as broad, brief, and beneficial.  The Mess generally describes the basic area of need or challenge on which the problem solver’s efforts will be focused, remaining broad enough to allow many perspectives to emerge as one (or a group) looks more closely at the situation.  Data-Finding includes the generating and answering of questions to bring out key data (information, impressions, observations, feelings, etc.) to help the problem solver(s) focus more clearly on the most challenging aspects and concerns of the situation.  Problem-Finding includes the seeking of a specified or targeted question (Problem statement) on which to focus subsequent effort.  Effectively worded problem statements invite an open or wide-ranging search for many, varied and novel options.  They are stated concisely and are free from specific limiting criteria.

The Generating Ideas component includes the generating of options in answer to an open-ended or invitational statement of the problem.  This component has only one stage called Idea-Finding.  During the diverging phase of this stage, the person or group produces many options (fluent thinking), a variety of possible options (Flexible thinking), novel or unusual options (original thinking), or a number of detailed or refined options (elaborative thinking).  The converging phase of Idea-Finding provides an opportunity for examining, reviewing, clustering, and selecting promising options.  Although this stage includes a converging phase, its primary emphasis is divergent.

The Planning for Action component of CPS is appropriate when a person or group recognized a number of interesting or promising options that may not necessarily be useful, valuable or valid without extended effort and productive thinking.  The need may be to make or develop effective choices, or prepare for successful implementation and social acceptance.  The two strategies included in the component are called Solution-Finding and Acceptance-Finding.

During the Solution-Finding stage of CPS, promising options may be analyzed, refined or developed.  If there are many options the emphasis may be compressing or condensing them so that they are more manageable.  If there are only a few promising options, the challenge may be to strengthen each as much as possible.  There may be a need to rank or prioritize a number of possible options.  Specific criteria may be generated and selected upon which to evaluate and develop promising options or select from a larger pool of available alternatives.  Although there may be some divergent thinking in this stage, the emphasis is primarily convergent.

The Acceptance-Finding stage of CPS involves searching several potential sources of assistance and resistance for possible solutions.  The aim is to help prepare an option or alternative for improved acceptance and value.  This stage helps the problem solver identify ways to make the best possible use of assisters and avoid or overcome possible sources of resistance.  From considering these factors, a plan of action is developed and evaluated for implementation.

Although the primary emphasis of CPS is within the process dimension of creativity, it is most fruitful to also consider the people who are using the process, the situation or environment within which it is being used, and the nature of the product or outcome of the problem-solving efforts.  Isaksen, Puccio & Treffinger (1993) have referred to this as taking an ecological approach to CPS.

Although CPS can be taught and learned, it is best suited for the solution of real-life problems requiring creativity.  Renzulli (1982) identified a set of parameters for determining whether or not a problem was “real”.  He asserted that since a real problem involves an emotional or affective commitment as well as an intellectual or cognitive one, it must have a personal frame of reference.  Second, it must not have an already existing solution.  Third, merely naming something a “real” problem does not necessarily make it so for a particular individual or group.  Finally, the purpose of a “real” problem is to contribute something new or bring about some sort of change to the sciences, the arts or the humanities.  Thus, there may be a continuum from unreal, realistic, to real kinds of problems.

Isaksen & Treffinger (1985) identified a parallel concept of ownership as important for selecting challenges for CPS.  Ownership can occur on a variety of levels, including those that are like sole proprietorships, partnerships and corporations.  For example, challenges owned by a single individual are like sole proprietorships.  Other challenges may have corporate or global ownership and be shared with others.
Ownership for a challenge means that the problem solver has some degree of influence, authority, and decision-making responsibility for implementing the solutions.  It also means that the problem owner is motivated and willing to submit the challenge to systematic problem-solving efforts and is interested in following through on the results.  Finally, in order for someone to have ownership in a challenge for CPS, there must be a deliberate and explicit search for something new.  In short, in order for ownership to exist, there must be influence, interest and imagination.

Defining CPS this way offers an important extension to most standard academic conceptions of problem solving.  In particular, this extends Raaheim’s (1984) orientation to problem solving relying on utilizing past knowledge and experience to close the current gap or decrease ambiguity in the present.  The emphasis on reconciling the present with the past ignores the potential importance of the future.  An anticipatory goal state that focuses thinking toward a possible and desired future can be a powerful motivator and initiative for human problem solving.
Raaheim, like a few other scholars, opposes the very concept of creative problem solving, suggesting that if the task is entirely novel, the only appropriate strategy is trial and error.  This position ignores the wealth of information from introspective and biographical accounts that indicate the importance of intuition generally (Anderson, 1959b), in the sciences (Eyring, 1959), in art (Polanyi, 1981), in mathematics and psychology (Garder & Nemirovsky, 1991), and in basic research (Selye, 1988).  This is an important issue from a practical point of view in light of recent evidence that managerial decision making in new task environments calls upon intuition (Blattberg & Hoch, 1990; Mitchell & Beach, 1990; Taggart & Valenzi, 1990) and despite challenges presented to a rationally oriented information processing model of cognition (Kaufmann, 1988; Russ, 1993).

Simply dumping the construct of creative problem solving off the deep end of trial and error is inconsistent with the argument that Schank and Childers (1988) put forth regarding the importance of asking questions about new tasks to actively construct explanations and generalizations.  In fact, they suggested that by acknowledging the existence of scripts, the key to creative thinking is making an analogical leap to recall another event explained in a similar way.  Similar arguments for the existence and importance of this analogical kind of thinking have been called Janusian (Rothenberg, 1971), the magic synthesis (Arieti, 1976), and bisociation (Koestler, 1964).  Finally, Boden (1991) dismissed trial and error as a reasonable explanation for creativity by asserting that these random kinds of mental processes generally produce only first time curiosities, rarely radical surprises that account for major discoveries, inventions and creative works.

In addition, the nature of the tasks within the research paradigm proposed by Raaheim (1976) may not really have a good fit with a more creative mode of problem solving.  The tasks used in research following this approach (Raaheim & Kaufmann, 1972; Kaufmann & Raaheim, 1973; Raaheim, Kaufmann & Kaufmann, 1979; Raaheim, Kaufmann & Bengtsson, 1980) may be unfamiliar, but they also lack the features of interest and influence.

The emphasis on using the past to adjust intelligently to the present misses another important aspect of creativity.  There is also a strong theme in the creativity literature that supports the use of the unfamiliar to provide insight and bring novelty into a task (Koestler, 1964).  These insights are not necessarily produced by trial and error.  Gardner & Nemirovsky (1991) described thematic components that operate tacitly to provide generative schemes for learning, thinking and creative work.  These robust frameworks function as “unarticulated intuition” in guiding the creator’s thinking in a variety of content domains.  Rather than being outside of present knowledge and thinking power, creativity in problem solving extends the threshold of efforts to understand human adjustment and change.

We can now find a rightful place for the opportunity focus that the future image can provide.  The future may provide a powerful “pull” for problem solving.  CPS can also provide a practical framework from which to examine possible tasks and mental activity, as well as an applied research context for studying different kind of mental representations and activities.

The Many Versions of CPS

There have been a dozen different versions of CPS developed over the past fifty years by those who have shared a common framework for practice and theory.  It might be helpful to consider these different versions like the different updates of various software packages.  This analogy may work because much like any particular software package, CPS has undergone some fundamental changes through continuous updating (Isaksen & Dorval, 1993a; Isaksen, Dorval, Noller, & Firestien, 1993; Treffinger, Isaksen & Dorval, 1994).
The very first versions of CPS focused on making the creative process explicit and deliberate.  Alex Osborn’s (1952, 1953, 1957) original description of CPS outlined the seven-step CPS model.  Osborn (1963, 1967) provided a revised description that condensed the seven steps into three major stages of CPS.

The next major revision to the CPS model came during the preparation for an eclectic creativity instructional program.  Parnes (1966) developed an instructors’ manual for institutes and programs outlining the Osborn-Parnes CPS five-stage CPS process.  Parnes (1967a & b) provided one of the earliest graphic depictions of the CPS model illustrated as a spiral.  Noller, Parnes & Biondi (1976) and Parnes, Noller & Biondi (1977) outlined the horizontally framed series of diamonds.

Treffinger, Isaksen & Firestien (1982) built upon the Osborn-Parnes approach to CPS by modifying the graphic of the model so that it was in a vertical position.  In addition, they provided a greater emphasis on and explication with the converging phases in order to bring an improved balance to the instructional program as well as an increased clarity to the social roles of facilitator, client and resource group.

Parnes (1988) continued to advance the five-stage version of CPS in a variety of graphic styles and deliberately linked CPS to imagery.  Parnes (1992) also provided a fifty-year summary of the literature surrounding the deliberate development of creativity.

The Osborn-Parnes approach to CPS has also provided rich historical base for research.  Some of the earliest studies conducted by Parnes and his associates evaluated the effects of creative problem solving programs and methods (Meadow & Parnes, 1959; Meadow, Parnes & Reese, 1959; Parnes, 1961, 1963; Parnes & Meadow, 1959, 1960).

The Creative Studies Project built upon this earlier work and established an important academic instructional program.  The project began with a pilot program at the State University College at Buffalo (SUCB) in 1969, and included a four-semester series of creative studies courses for the experimental group.  This two-year experimental project provided enough empirical support for the undergraduate coursework to enable the college to approve the addition of the courses to regular credit-bearing elective status in 1972 (Noller & Parnes, 1972; Parnes & Noller, 1972 a, 1972b; Parnes & Noller, 1973; Parnes, 1987; and Reese, Treffinger, Parnes, & Kaltsounis, 1976).  This instructional program has become known as the Osborn-Parnes approach to creative problem solving and is well established in the research activities of other scholars (Basadur, Graen & Green, 1982; Buijs & Nauta, 1991; Cramond, Martin & Shaw, 1990; DeSchryver, 192; Geschka, 1993; Rose & Lin, 1984; Torrance, 1972, 1986, 1987; Shack, 1993).

Beyond Osborn-Parnes CPS

There were many important and significant contributions as a result of the Osborn-Parnes tradition of CPS.  A deliberate process was developed for nurturing creative behavior.  The CPS process was tested and proven to be effective and powerful.  An academically-based instructional program was established to continually improve CPS.  A large network of informed professionals who practice CPS was developed through the annual Creative Problem Solving Institutes and other programs.  A variety of support materials and resources were developed and disseminated.  Finally, the Osborn-Parnes tradition was founded and developed with the balanced and productive involvement of both researchers and practitioners.
There were also a number of important challenges facing the Osborn-Parnes tradition of CPS.  The entire approach was seen as divergently focused and sometimes even equated with the brainstorming technique.  CPS was identified as good for all problems and revered by many of its proponents to the level of a religion or panacea. Some practitioners or facilitators were naturally better than others in effectively applying the methodology with little concern or ability to go beyond the intuitive aspects of skilled CPS performance.  Despite admonitions to the contrary, CPS was ‘run through’ as a complete linear sequence of stages. The broad applicability noted for general but weak methods was questioned as many users of CPS were discounting the method but reporting effective use of a few stages or techniques where and when needed.  By far, the most significant challenge facing the tradition was the need to better understand what methods, techniques, and approaches worked for whom, and under what circumstances (Isaksen, 1987; Stein, 1974).

Despite the major advancements made during the first wave of research and development, the CPS process had remained fundamentally unchanged in conceptual design and approach since 1967.  Isaksen & Treffinger (1985) began to modify the Osborn-Parnes approach to CPS by adding a deliberate Mess-Finding stage on the ‘front end’ of CPS.  The purpose of this added stage was to include an emphasis on personal orientation of the problem solver.  This was a deliberate and explicit link to considering the person engaged in the process.  Including aspects of the person in the process was the primary goal of the cognitive styles project (see Isaksen & Dorval, 1993b).  The Mess-Finding stage also included an emphasis on the situational outlook when working with CPS.  Deliberately including the aspects of people and situation provided the foundation for taking a more ecological approach when applying CPS.

In addition, Isaksen and Treffinger (1985) introduced the concept of ownership as a part of the CPS process itself.  The degree of interest, influence, and imagination the problem solver has for the task under consideration was identified as an important aspect for productive use of CPS.  Ownership became a screening construct which could help the problem solver or facilitator decide not to use the methodology (or at least modify the approach so that there was some level of ownership).

Isaksen & Treffinger (1987) broke the six stages of CPS into three major components in an effort to make the revised methodology more usable and to reflect how practitioners were actually using the CPS process (see Figure Three). Lessons from experiences with many organizations and from impact studies were calling for more flexible learning and applying of CPS.  The three components provided a convenient organizer for the uses of the method and for the application sessions.  These changes were reported in some articles, chapters, and course materials (Isaksen, 1989; Isaksen & Treffinger, 1991; Treffinger & Isaksen, 1992).

The Current Approach to CPS

Despite the organization of CPS into three major components and six specific stages and continued admonitions to the contrary, the use of the model still followed a predetermined pathway.  Furthermore, the graphic depiction of the model sent the message that the problem solver started at the top, with Mess-Finding, and ended with Acceptance-Finding.  However, when Pershyn (1992) analyzed over 150 drawings of individuals who successfully met creative challenges, he found that they were able to be organized and classified on a continuum ranging from linear, orderly and targeted processes at one end, to random, spontaneous and complex processes at the other.  Most individuals chose to illustrate their natural creative process by means of a flow chart.  Some could be characterized by using a step-by-step approach while others used amore hop-skip-step and restep process.  Others were somewhere in between.

Further, these observed differences in graphic depictions of natural creative problem solving were related to individual differences in cognitive style (Isaksen & Pershyn, 1994).  For example, we found that Kirton’s innovators (Kirton, 1987) more frequently described their process as non-linear, more complex, random, and contiguous.  Their processes contained more stages and multiple end points.  In a few cases, innovative processes contained infinite iterations with no perceivable end points.  Adaptors were more likely to draw processes that were linear, orderly, and targeted.  They also tend to have fewer stages as well as fewer end points.
These findings suggested that effective Creative Problem Solving took on a variety of forms and that the graphic depiction of CPS we used needed to take this into consideration.  As a result, the graphic depiction of CPS was altered in its representation.  Given the dynamic nature of natural CPS, it was important that the new depiction be more representative of a wider array of problem-solving approaches.  Isaksen & Dorval (1993a) broke the prescriptive view of CPS into a descriptive graphic and approach providing different pathways through the process (see Figure Four).

Isaksen, Dorval & Treffinger (1994) replaced the prescriptive model with the current graphic depiction to specifically include task appraisal and process planning to respond to the need for conscious decision making regarding when to use CPS, where to enter and exit the process, and what to do next.  This development helped to resolve the content versus process argument.  Many constructivists have claimed that the only way to construct process is from within a particular domain of knowledge (Brooks & Brooks, 1993).  Others have criticized the search for or use of general all-purpose creativity heuristics and suggested narrowing the search for creativity skills to particular tasks within specific domains (Baer, 1991). The current view of CPS offers a compromise position in that knowledge, information, and other data surrounding the task is instrumental for effective planning and application of process strategies as well as useful within the process itself.
The recent development of task appraisal and process planning as a deliberate mechanism of CPS relates very well with the emerging concern of metacognitive and learning strategies (Duell, 1986; Flavell, 1976; Resnick & Klopfer, 1989; Yussen, 1985).  These developments also provide substantial opportunities for linking with other constructs and approaches including situated cognition (Greeno, 1989) and problem based learning (Stepien, Gallagher, & Workman, 1993).


Future Implications

The current approach to the CPS framework (version 5.2) is deliberately linked to our program of research (Isaksen & Puccio, 1992; Isaksen, Puccio & Treffinger, 1993).  This is the first time in the more than twenty-five year history of the Center for Studies in Creativity that our research, development and dissemination agenda and activities are connected with the practical and developmental skillbase and technology of CPS (Isaksen, in press).
When we learn something from pursuing our ecological program of research, it will readily be applied to the practice of CPS.  As a result of direct observation from experience and of CPS, we can develop testable questions and developmental priorities.  The potential synergy for future development and learning has been greatly increased.  I believe that these conditions offer unprecedented potential for the future of the field.  Not only will the level and quality of generative research and practice improve, it will be easier to pursue a transdisciplinary approach for future creativity research (Isaksen & Murdock, 1993).  Many questions and developments will require the disciplines of anthropology, business, economics, engineering, social psychology, sociology and others.  This will involve necessarily interdisciplinary assistance and collaboration (beyond the traditional reliance on psychology) for the emerging field of creativity studies (Magyari-Beck, 1993).
In responding to papers presented as a part of a conference on problem solving and education, Reif (1980) pointed out a major gap.  He claimed that there were two very different groups with very different perceptions about their common interests in problem solving.  The cognitive scientists were described as thinking analytically in formulating explicit theoretical models.  Their methodology usually mirrored that of the natural sciences or engineering by carrying out detailed experimental tests in order to validate their theoretical models.  He stated:

…cognitive scientists are usually not concerned with questions of direct educational interest.  Thus, in pursuing their quest for basic understanding, cognitive psychologists may justifiably investigate puzzles, games, or other academic problems only remotely relevant to practical education.  Similarly, although workers in artificial intelligence may have practical applied interests, their concern is usually primarily with computer implementation rather than with human subjects. (p. 42)

The educators are on the other side of the problem-solving gap.  They were described as more concerned with realistic teaching and instructional endeavors involving real human students.  They often approach their tasks in more intuitive ways than the cognitive scientists.  They often prefer using “rules of thumb” rather than analytic methods.  Their instructional designs and programs are infrequently based on specific or explicit theoretical models.  The criteria they use for educational success are often fuzzy and ill-defined which also limits their productive use of many assessment approaches.
Reif (1980) asserted that the gap between educators and cognitive scientists was both enduring and wide.  Although the differences in approaches are understandable for historical and sociological reasons, he believed that the persistence of the gap is detrimental to future progress.  He indicated:

Thus work in education and problem solving could profit substantially if this gap were bridged, if people interested in practical education would build upon the insights and methods of the cognitive scientists, and if educators were to adopt modes of analytic thinking and quality standards of the kind prevalent in other sciences. (p. 43)

Using CPS could offer a bridge for both educators and cognitive scientists to continue to narrow the gap.  As Weisberg (1988) noted, cognitive psychologists have, for the most part, devoted their efforts to the study of various laboratory problems and have simply assumed that creative thinking would be illuminated.  Traditional tasks utilized by cognitive researchers could be broadened to include those of more interest to educators and trainers concerned with providing programs with impact.  Future developments in designing or developing practical CPS methods and techniques could be based on an appropriate level of prescription (Scriven, 1980).  CPS might even be developed to serve as an option for human cognitive engineering (Reif, 1980).


Philosophers were asking questions about the distinctiveness of human minds, the characterization of mental states, the relationship between mind and body and how minds learn about the physical world well before the disciplines of cognitive science, cognitive psychology, theoretical linguistics, artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and anthropology arose (Bechtel, 1988).  Our technology has currently evolved to a point where we can almost pinpoint the specific neural processes responsible for mental actions.  Raichle (1994) has indicated that this ability:

…stems from developments in imaging technology that the past few years have seen, most notably positron-emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging.  Coupled with powerful computers, these techniques can now capture, in real time, images of the physiology associated with thought processes.  They show how specific regions of the brain “light up” when activities such as reading are performed and how neurons and their elaborate cast of supporting cells organize and coordinate their tasks. (p. 58)

Just as current scientific technology can shed light on questions that are centuries old, working to understand, recognize, nurture and develop creativity can expand thinking and knowledge within the domain of problem solving and help move cognitive science forward.

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Source: Published in Kaufmann, G., Helstrup, T., & Teigen, K. H. (1995).  Problem solving and cognitive processes: A festschrift in honour of Kjell Raaheim (pp. 145-181).