Creative problem-solving is the mental process of searching for an original and previously unknown solution to a problem. To qualify, the solution must be novel and reached independently.
Creative solution types
The process of creative problem-solving usually begins with defining the problem. This may lead to finding a simple non-creative solution, a textbook solution, or discovering prior solutions developed by other individuals. If the discovered solution is sufficient, the process may then be abandoned.
A creative solution will often have distinct characteristics that include using only existing components, or the problematic factor, as the basis for the solution. However, a change of perspective may in many cases be helpful. A solution may also be considered creative if readily available components can be used to solve the problem within a short time limit (factors typical to the solutions employed by the title character in the television series MacGyver).
If a creative solution has broad application - that is, uses that go beyond the original intent -, it may be referred to as an innovative solution, or an innovation (some innovations may also be considered an invention).
"All innovations [begin] as creative solutions, but not all creative solutions become innovations."
-- Richard Fobes
Techniques and tools
Many techniques and tools employed for creating effective solutions to a problem are described in creativity techniques and problem-solving articles.
Creative problem-solving technique categories
- Mental state shift and cognitive re-framing: Changing one's focus away from active problem-solving and towards a creative solution set.
- Multiple idea facilitation: Increasing the quantity of fresh ideas based on the belief that a greater number of ideas will raise the chances that one of these is valuable. This may include randomly selecting an idea (such as choosing a word from a list) and thinking about its similarities to the situation. In turn, this random act may inspire a related idea that would lead to a solution.
- Inducing a change of perspective: Efficiently entering a fresh perspective may result in a solution that thereby becomes obvious. This is especially useful for solving particularly challenging problems. Many techniques to this end involve identifying independent dimensions that differentiate closely associated concepts. Differentiating concepts helps overcome a tendency to use oversimplified associative thinking, in which two related concepts are so closely associated that their differences are overlooked.
- 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