Over the last 40 years, I have taught more people to lead the Creative Problem-Solving process than anyone else in the world.
When I step back and view the field from this perspective, I have observed that there are five “pillars” that support the successful use and implementation of the creative behaviors embedded in the Creative Problem-Solving (CPS) process. These pillars have been validated by impact research and have consistently surfaced in conversations I have had with students and clients over the years.
These pillars are behavioral, but they are significant factors in developing an attitude that fosters a creative life.
Pillar 1: The language we use to describe a problem will determine how we solve that problem.
Most people associate creative thinking with the generation of many ideas. However, I have found that the most important stage of the creative process is when the real problem is identified.
To identify the real problem, it is crucial to generate many creative questions.
For example, “We don’t have time to cover that material.” Is this a good or bad question?
Answer: Bad question. In fact, it’s a statement.
“How might we find the time to cover this material?” “How might we integrate this material into other parts of our curriculum?”
These are good and creative questions. Questions framed in this way provoke your mind to search for solutions. They tell your brain to begin to look for ideas.
Describing a problem as, “We don’t have time to cover that material,” blocks your thinking and sends a message to your brain: “there aren’t any ideas out there; don’t bother looking.”
A creative question puts forth what you want to create. Not what you want to avoid. To learn more about creative questions, watch this short video.
Pillar 2: Generate lots of ideas so that you can choose the best ones.
The most important behavior to practice when you are generating ideas or creative questions is to deliberately separate your imaginative thinking from your judgmental thinking. Don’t judge your ideas while you are generating them.
Because an idea is just an idea.
It is not an action.
It is not a decision.
It is not a conclusion.
It’s just an idea. That’s it.
Write down every idea. Don’t try to change it or modify it. Just write it down.
Pillar 3: “Force connections” to create new ideas.
Most breakthroughs come by connecting things that are not usually considered connected. Often these connections occur as if by chance. For example, you are working on a tough problem, and you are struggling for a solution, so you take a step back. Then, you see something unrelated to your problem, and you make a connection. Voila!
Unfortunately, you had to wait to make that connection. What if you could make those connections on demand? In the world of Creative Problem-Solving, we have a technique for this. It is called Forced Connections.
Forced Connections is the essence of creativity; the practice of combining ideas that don’t appear to be related in any way. This method helps you get ideas flowing when you’re stuck. And, if you want to see how this tool works in action, check out this link.
Here are three examples of making connections to create new ideas:
The connection that inspired the original Nike waffle trainer sneaker was, yes, you guessed it, a waffle iron.
The connection that led to the pacemaker was a flashing traffic hazard signal.
And the connection that led to the printing press was a wine press.
Pillar 4: When evaluating ideas, look for the strengths in the idea FIRST.
After you have selected the best ideas for solving a problem, the key is to evaluate those ideas to build up the idea instead of destroying it in the process of evaluation. The method that I have used for years, and invented with my colleagues Diane Foucar-Szocki and Bill Shepard, is called Pluses, Potentials, and Concerns, or PPC for short.
List at least three good things about the idea. These three traits are the pluses of the idea. They are the strengths or positive aspects of the concept.
List the potentials. Potentials are spinoffs, speculations, or possible future gains that might result if the idea were implemented.
List the concerns about the idea. Concerns must be worded as a creative question if this technique is to work. Use the phrase, “How to…”
Overcome your concerns about the idea. After you have listed your concerns, generate ways to overcome each one of them, one concern at a time.
As a result of overcoming the concerns about the idea, the idea gets better, more refined, and is often ready to be implemented. To watch PPC in action, click here.
Pillar 5: The Big One: Take personal responsibility for your own creativity.
Creativity is not something that can be mandated. So, as a principal or a superintendent or a teacher, if you believe creativity is important, then you have to be creative. Show your staff and students that it is OK to struggle with crazy ideas and to make mistakes. That it’s OK to fail. Your staff and students will watch your lead, they will follow it, and your school and school district will be stronger for your willingness to lead by example.
There it is. Forty years and 5 pillars. If you are able to implement these pillars, I guarantee you will live a fulfilling and creative life. It has worked for me. It will work for you.