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What Is Creative Problem Solving?

Educator Insights

As the world becomes increasingly complex, so do the challenges we must overcome. Because these challenges often require outside-the-box thinking, the ability to develop innovative solutions is critical.

It’s for this reason that creative problem solving (CPS) — the process of devising innovative solutions by exploring unconventional approaches — is so important and represents an integral part of our I Can Invent® Mindset, a collection of nine skills and traits that unlock creative potential.

Read below to learn more about both the history of CPS and how it helps produce more innovative solutions!


Understanding Creative Problem Solving

At the foundation of CPS are two core beliefs: everyone is creative, and creative skills can be learned and improved.

These precepts led Alex Osborn and Sidney Parnes, who met while working for the BBDO advertising agency, to conceive of CPS as a structured way to generate ideas following a brainstorming session.

Following the 1953 publication of his book “Applied Imagination,” Osborn founded the Creative Education Foundation, an organization that both promotes CPS, and studies its best practices and global relevance.

Today, there exist many variations of CPS that have evolved from Osborn and Parnes’ original work and research. At its core, however, the definition provided by the Creative Education Foundation is foundational and provides a straightforward way for people to understand the concept:

“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.”


Combining Convergent and Divergent Thinking

All variations of CPS include a combination of convergent and divergent thinking. The former embraces logic to analyze the best solution from an existing list of answers, whereas the latter involves solving a problem using methods that deviate from commonly used or existing strategies.

The two work in tandem. For example, if you want to build a vehicle that runs on clean energy, it might be tempting to dive into divergent thinking to come up with an imaginative solution. However, without using convergent thinking to first understand the problem, a great deal of time could be wasted trying solutions that have no chance of working. Powering a vehicle using cotton candy or mustard will do nothing beyond making a mess. Instead, using convergent thinking to first identify a promising area to explore (biodiesel, hydrogen, electricity, etc.) will prevent a lot of frustration and loss of time.

While this is of course an extreme example, it shows the importance of combining both convergent and divergent methods of thinking to solve complicated problems.


Providing Hands-On CPS Opportunities

National Inventors Hall of Fame®education programs give students unique opportunities to practice CPS, challenging them to engage in hands-on exploration and invention to develop their own solutions to real-world problems.

By creating their own invention prototypes, students not only build confidence in STEM subjects but also work together to overcome obstacles that lack straightforward solutions. In this way, they are able to learn the value of including diverse perspectives while collaborating to develop more creative solutions.

Through this process, students learn to think critically, experiment with new ideas and persevere in the face of adversity, honing essential skills for innovation and entrepreneurship. In this way, our approach to invention education not only enriches students' educational experiences but also equips them with the tools and mindset to become creative problem solvers in their daily lives and in any career field they might pursue.


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