Series on creativity techniques: CPS
My Creative Techniques Series starts with Creative Problem Solving. CPS is a process authored, safeguarded, and taught by The Creative Education Foundation, originally founded by the brainstorming expert Alex Osborne in the early 1900s and the visionary man who collaborated with Alex, adding his own dimensions, i.e., Sid Parnes. An entire institute starting from these two creative visionaries grew into a worldwide movement of creativity and problem solving now practiced by thousands of graduates.
I spent a month every summer for 8 years going to CPSI and now use its CPS process for many of my creative projects. One can use the process as is or combine it with other tools and techniques.
CPS has six phases all called "Finding" that allow a problem to evolve from definition stage through exploration of what lies behind it into totally new ideas, then selection of the best ideas to make viable solutions, and, finally, ways to tighten, solidify, and create support for the solution.
Here it is: CPS
Phase I: Objective Finding
Identify Goal, Wish or Challenge
This could be a wish or a goal. It might be the initial dissatisfaction or a desire that opens the door to using the CPS process.
Phase II: Fact Finding
Assess and review all the data that pertains to the situation at hand. Who’s involved, what’s involved, when, where, and why it’s important. Make a list of the facts and information, as well as the more visceral hunches, feelings, perceptions, assumptions and gossip around the situation. In this step, all the data is taken into consideration to review the objective and begin to innovate.
Phase III: Problem Finding
Clarify the Problem
In this step, explore the facts and data to find all the problems and challenges inherent in the situation, and all the opportunities they represent. This is about making sure you’re focusing on the right problem. It is possible to come up with the right answer to the wrong problem. Re-define what you want or what’s stopping you.
Phase IV: Idea Finding
Generating ideas is much more than brainstorming. During this step, be vigilant about deferring judgment and coming up with wild, outrageous, out-of-the-box ideas. This is where you explore ideas that are possible solutions and have the most fun. It’s also where you need to stretch to make connections, take risks, and try new combinations to find potentially innovative solutions.
Phase V: Solution Finding
Select and Strengthen Solutions
First, try to strengthen and improve the best ideas generated. Next, generate the criteria that needs to be considered to evaluate the ideas for success. Apply that criteria to the top ideas and decide which are most likely to solve the redefined problem. The best idea needs to meet criteria that makes it actionable before it becomes the solution. A creative idea is not really useful if it won’t be implemented.
Phase VI: Acceptance Finding
Plan for Action
In this step, look at who’s responsible, what has to be done by when, and what resources are available in order to realize this idea as a full-fledged, activated solution.
As Dr. Sid Parnes has taught: In applying the "steps" of CPS, what you’re really trying to do is to proceed from examining "what is" to exploring "what might be," to judging "what ought to be," to assessing "what can presently be," to deciding "what I will commit to do now," to action that becomes a new "what is."
For more information, go to the Creative Education Foundation website.
Try the sequence of six finding stages and see what happens. Take an issue, problem, goal, or situation that seems initially to be a complete "mess"...that has no good ideas, solutions, or ways to manifest itself successfully...or that you feel frustrated by--you've tried everything and nothing is working. Take the mess or issue through these six sequences. You can do it alone, with a team, or get together with another colleague. It is guaranteed that you will discover a breakthrough--something new and powerful that you had not thought possible at the outset.
Sometimes it happens that the solution is just redefining the problem. As James Wells of Toronto has suggested, "The answer is in the question." Good researchers know this but sometimes we forget or don't have time to examine the foundations of a project before we launch into it. We discover that the problem one comes in with is not the one that needs to be solved. This problem-redefinition step can save valuable time and effort, as well as eliminate days, weeks, and countless months of frustration.
A recent case history: I was doing a research project in Chicago in late December, showing new white-card concepts to focus groups segmented by two psychographic categories. There were 20 concepts, and we were trying to show at least 8 or 9 per group. It was a fast-and-furious, make-it-happen, do-it brilliantly qualitative project. Three of the ideas--each idea took 10 to 15 minutes to gain reaction to it from the group, so it was almost 30 minutes of the precious 2 hours per group--were for solutions to a well-known protein snack product that the creative team had assumed was a big problem to its users. When lukewarm response greeted each of the three concept solutions, we finally realized that there was no problem at all to solve. The original snack product was liked and accepted. Those who purchased and ate it frequently...enjoyed it just as it was. Those who didn't...were unlikely to come in through our new solutions. It was exciting to finally make this discovery, but a lot of research time was taken up trying to solve a problem that wasn't a problem.
On the other hand, the discovery of what is a problem and what is not is frequently the main purpose behind a qualitative or quantitative research study. One such study type is called Exploring Behaviors and Attitudes. Another is Diagnosing Category Needs, Problems, and Potential White Space. Both are good to conduct before starting the process of conceptualizing new ideas, creative tactics, and white card concepts.
If you don't have the budget or time for a diagnostic study, do what some brands have done-- use the CPS process to explore the issues, conceptualize new ideas, and come up with a winning solution without doing the foundational research. You can occasionally eliminate the need for research by choosing to begin with a creative methodology.