Creative problem-solving

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Creative problem-solving is the mental process of searching for an original and not-obvious solution to a problem. To qualify, the solution must be novel and reached independently.[1]

Creative solution types[edit]

The creative solution[edit]

Creative problem-solving usually begins by defining the problem. This may lead to a simple non-creative solution, or finding a “textbook solution." The process may also lead to the discovery of prior solutions by others. The process, in these cases, may then be abandoned, if the discovered solution is “good enough."[2][3] Typically a creative solution will have "elegant” characteristics, such as using only existing components; using the problematic factor as the basis for the solution; or involving a change of perspective (see the line through nine dots riddle).[4] A solution may also be considered creative if readily available components can be used to solve the problem within a short time limit,[5] factors typical to the solutions employed in MacGyver by the title character.

If a creative solution has broad use—that is, uses beyond its original intent—it may be referred to as an innovative solution, or an innovation. This term is also used to refer to the process of creating innovative solutions. Some innovations may also considered inventions.

"All innovations [begin] as creative solutions, but not all creative solutions become innovations."

— Richard Fobes, [1]

Techniques and tools[edit]

Many of the techniques and tools for creating an effective solution to a problem are described in creativity techniques and problem solving.

Creative problem-solving technique categories[edit]

Creative problem-solving techniques can be categorized as follows:

  • Mental state shift: Changing one’s focus away from active problem-solving; see unconscious cognition.
  • Cognitive reframing
  • Multiple idea facilitation: Techniques designed to increase the quantity of fresh ideas; based on the belief a larger number of ideas increases the chance one of them has value. An example is randomly selecting an idea (such as choosing a word from a list) and thinking about similarities with the undesired situation, which may inspire a related idea that leading to a solution; see brainstorming.
  • Inducing change of perspective: Techniques designed to efficiently lead to a fresh perspective, causing a solution to become obvious. This is especially useful for solving especially challenging problems.[2] Some of these techniques involve identifying independent dimensions that differentiate closely associated concepts[3], potentially overcoming the instinctive tendency to use “oversimplified associative thinking,” in which two related concepts are so closely associated their differences are overlooked.[4]

Creative problem-solving tools and software[edit]

Creative problem-solving tools and resources, including educational books, workbooks, activity sheets, software, etc., are widely available.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Creative problem solving for teachers An assignment for teachers on the College of Education website (Michigan State University)
  2. ^ Definition of creative problem solving on Alex Osborn's (inventor of the term and process of brainstorming) Creative Education Foundation website.
  3. ^ Problem definition in presentation on creative problem-solving, on the University of Arizona website
  4. ^ Mike Vence about the 9 dots as a corporate promotion of creative thinking at the Walt Disney Company (Creative Thinking Association website)
  5. ^ About creative problem solving in an invitation to a conference by the University of South Alabama
  • ^ Richard Fobes, The Creative Problem Solver's Toolbox: A Complete Course in the Art of Creating Solutions to Problems of Any Kind (1993) ISBN 0-9632221-0-4

Further reading[edit]

  • Alex Osborn, Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving, Creative Education Foundation Press, 1953/2001, ISBN 0-930222-73-3
  • Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking : Creativity Step by Step, Harper & Row, 1973, trade paperback, 300 pages, ISBN 0-06-090325-2
  • Altshuller, Henry. 1994. The Art of Inventing (And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared). Translated by Lev Shulyak. Worcester, Massachusetts: Technical Innovation Center. ISBN 0-9640740-1-X

External links[edit]