What is CPS?

CPS = Creative Problem Solving

CPS is a proven method for approaching a problem or a challenge in an imaginative and innovative way. It helps you redefine the problems and opportunities you face, come up with new, innovative responses and solutions, and then take action.

If you search the Internet for “Creative Problem Solving,” you’ll find many variations, all of which may be traced back to the work started by Alex Osborn in the 1940s and nurtured at Buffalo State College 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.

Why does CPS work?

CPS begins with two assumptions:

  • Everyone is creative in some way.
  • Creative skills can be learned and enhanced.

Osborn noted there are two distinct kinds of thinking that are essential to being creative:

Divergent Thinking

Brainstorming is often misunderstood as the entire Creative Problem Solving process. Brainstorming is the divergent thinking phase of the CPS process. It is not simply a group of people in a meeting coming up with ideas in a disorganized fashion. Brainstorming at its core is generating lots of ideas. Divergence allows us to state and move beyond obvious ideas to breakthrough ideas. (Fun Fact: Alex Osborn, founder of CEF, coined the term “brainstorm.” Osborn was the “O” from the ad agency BBDO.)

Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking applies criteria to brainstormed ideas so that those ideas can become actionable innovations.  Divergence provides the raw material that pushes beyond every day thinking, and convergence tools help us screen, select, evaluate, and refine ideas, while retaining novelty and newness.

Divergent Thinking

Brainstorming is often misunderstood as the entire Creative Problem Solving process. Brainstorming is the divergent thinking phase of the CPS process. It is not simply a group of people in a meeting coming up with ideas in a disorganized fashion. Brainstorming at its core is generating lots of ideas. Divergence allows us to state and move beyond obvious ideas to breakthrough ideas. (Fun Fact: Alex Osborn, founder of CEF, coined the term “brainstorm.” Osborn was the “O” from the ad agency BBDO.)

Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking applies criteria to brainstormed ideas so that those ideas can become actionable innovations.  Divergence provides the raw material that pushes beyond every day thinking, and convergence tools help us screen, select, evaluate, and refine ideas, while retaining novelty and newness.

To drive a car, you need both the gas and the brake.

But you cannot use the gas and brake pedals at the same time — you use them alternately to make the car go. Think of the gas pedal as Divergence, and the brake pedal as Convergence. Used together you move forward to a new destination.

Each of us use divergent and convergent thinking daily, intuitively. CPS is a deliberate process that allows you to harness your natural creative ability and apply it purposefully to problems, challenges, and opportunities.

But you cannot use the gas and brake pedals at the same time — you use them alternately to make the car go. Think of the gas pedal as Divergence, and the brake pedal as Convergence. Used together you move forward to a new destination.

Each of us use divergent and convergent thinking daily, intuitively. CPS is a deliberate process that allows you to harness your natural creative ability and apply it purposefully to problems, challenges, and opportunities.

The CPS Process

Based on the Osborn-Parnes process, the CPS Model uses plain language and recent research.

The basic structure is comprised of four stages with a total of six explicit process steps. 

Each step uses divergent and convergent thinking.

Learner’s Model based on work of G.J. Puccio, M. Mance, M.C. Murdock, B. Miller, J. Vehar, R. Firestien, S. Thurber, & D. Nielsen (2011)

Explore the Vision. 
Identify the goal, wish, or challenge.

Gather Data. 
Describe and generate data to enable a clear understanding of the challenge.

Formulate Challenges.
Sharpen awareness of the challenge and create challenge questions that invite solutions.

Explore Ideas.
Generate ideas that answer the challenge questions.

Formulate Solutions.
To move from ideas to solutions. Evaluate, strengthen, and select solutions for best “fit.”

Formulate a Plan. 
Explore acceptance and identify resources and actions that will support implementation of the selected solution(s).

CLARIFY

Explore the Vision. 
Identify the goal, wish, or challenge.

Gather Data. 
Describe and generate data to enable a clear understanding of the challenge.

Formulate Challenges.
Sharpen awareness of the challenge and create challenge questions that invite solutions.

IDEATE

Explore Ideas.
Generate ideas that answer the challenge question

DEVELOP

Formulate Solutions.
To move from ideas to solutions. Evaluate, strengthen, and select solutions for best “fit.”

IMPLEMENT

Formulate a Plan. 
Explore acceptance and identify resources and actions that will support implementation of the selected solution(s).

Core Principles of Creative Problem Solving

  • Everyone is creative.
  • Creative skills can be learned and enhanced.
  • Divergent and Convergent Thinking Must be Balanced. Keys to creativity are learning ways to identify and balance expanding and contracting thinking (done separately), and knowing when to practice them.
  • Ask Problems as Questions. Solutions are more readily invited and developed when challenges and problems are restated as open-ended questions with multiple possibilities. Such questions generate lots of rich information, while closed-ended questions tend to elicit confirmation or denial. Statements tend to generate limited or no response at all.
  • Defer or Suspend Judgment. As Osborn learned in his early work on brainstorming, the instantaneous judgment in response to an idea shuts down idea generation. There is an appropriate and necessary time to apply judgement when converging.
  • Focus on “Yes, and” rather than “No, but.” When generating information and ideas, language matters. “Yes, and…” allows continuation and expansion, which is necessary in certain stages of CPS. The use of the word “but” – preceded by “yes” or “no” – closes down conversation, negating everything that has come before it.

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