What is Creative Problem Solving?

CPS is a proven method for approaching a problem or a challenge in an imaginative and innovative way.

It’s a process that helps you redefine the problems and opportunities you face, come up with new, innovative responses and solutions, and then take action. The tools and techniques used make the process fun, engaging, and collaborative. CPS not only helps you create better solutions, it creates a positive experience that helps speed the adoption of new ideas.

Noted CPS educator and practitioner, Ruth Noller, described CPS as the sum of its parts:

  • Creative specifies elements of newness, innovation, and novelty.
  • Problem refers to any situation that presents a challenge, offers an opportunity,
    or represents a troubling concern.
  • Solving means devising ways to answer, to meet, or to satisfy a situation by changing self or situation.

C = fa(K,I,E)

The CPS Process

If you search the Internet for “Creative Problem Solving,” you’ll find evidence of many variations, all of which may be traced back to the work that was started by Alex Osborn in the 1940s, developed with Sid Parnes in the 1950s, and nurtured at SUNY Buffalo State and the Creative Education Foundation.

The diversity of approaches to the creative problem solving process that have developed since is a testimony to the power of the idea.

Learn more about the CPS Process.

Divergent and Convergent Thinking: The Dynamic Balance of Creativity

Alex Osborn, in his breakthrough book, Applied Imagination (1953), noted two distinct kinds of thinking that are essential to being creative:

  • Divergent Thinking: Generating lots of options
  • Convergent Thinking: Evaluating options, making decisions

Each of us engages in both kinds of thinking on a daily basis. The secret to creating new ideas, however, is to separate your divergent thinking from your convergent thinking.

This means generating lots and lots of options before you consider evaluating them.

Learn more about Divergent Thinking.
Learn more about Convergent Thinking.


Originally coined by Alex Osborn (The “O” from the ad agency BBDO), brainstorming is often misunderstood as the entire creative problem solving process. However, it is not. Brainstorming is the divergent thinking phase of the CPS process. It is not simply a group of people in a board meeting coming up with ideas in a disorganized fashion. Brainstorming at its core is generating lots of ideas in a clean, divergent method. This can be done as an individual, group, or crowd-sharing process.

Learn more about Brainstorming.

Want to learn more about Creative Problem Solving? Join us at the world’s longest-running creativity conference – the Creative Problem Solving Institute – where we have been teaching deliberate creativity and innovation processes and tools for more than 60 years!