The History of Creative Problem Solving

By Russell A. Wheeler, MS

“The most direct way to develop creativity is by practicing creativity…by actually thinking up solutions to specific problems.”
Alex F. Osborn

In an effort to better understand the multi-faceted phenomenon known as creativity, Rhodes (1961) set out to find a universal definition of creativity. He believed that creativity “when analyzed, as through a prism, the content of the definitions form four strands” (p. 307). These four strands Rhodes refers to are person, product, process and press. This framework for understanding creativity has become a ‘cornerstone’ for previous and current research conducted by the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College – State University of New York.

Osborn (1953/1979) introduced the structure of Creative Problem Solving (CPS) as a method for solving problems creatively. The first CPS process depicted three distinct stages: Fact-Finding, Idea-Finding and Solution-Finding. The concepts of deferred judgment and quantity yielding quality were also explored. Imaginative and judicial thinking were brought forth to demonstrate that people engage in both types of thinking. These fundamental beliefs set forth by Osborn have prompted those who followed to continue to research and develop the CPS process. The CPS process would evolve from three to five stages, to include Problem-Finding and Acceptance-Finding (Noller, 1977; Noller, Parnes & Biondi, 1976; Parnes, 1967; Parnes, Noller & Biondi, 1977). The Problem-Finding stage was developed to discover the broad perspective of the situation; and Acceptance-Finding allows individuals to consider how an idea or option will succeed or fail.

Isaksen and Treffinger (1985) introduced a revision in the framework of CPS. This modification introduced the sixth stage of Mess-Finding and renaming the stage Fact-Finding to Data-Finding. Prior versions of CPS described rules for divergent thinking (Noller, 1977; Noller, Parnes & Biondi, 1976; Parnes, 1967; Parnes, Noller & Biondi, 1977); however, Isaksen and Treffinger (1985) strengthened the concept of “dynamic balance.” They believed that “in CPS, we learn to use effective methods for generating and evaluating ideas, and we try to accomplish a reasonable balance between ‘diverging’ and ‘converging.’…We talk about this as the ‘dynamic balance’ that makes CPS powerful and productive” (p. Two-5).

Isaksen, Dorval and Treffinger (1994) further revised the CPS framework by describing it in three distinct components and six stages. The three components were described as “Understanding the Problem, Generating Ideas and Planning for Action” (p. 60). The authors also introduced the step of Task Appraisal. Isaksen, Dorval and Treffinger argued “to get the most from using CPS it is necessary to understand the people who are involved; the situation or context within which the challenge or concern is located; and, the task upon which CPS will be used” (p. 137).

Vehar, Miller and Firestien (1999) another revision of the CPS process. This CPS version depicts the same three components and six stages described earlier; however, the language used to describe CPS was modified to become “easier to learn and use” (p. 91). The language of the divergent and convergent guidelines was also changed, and a fifth convergent thinking rule was added.

Puccio, Murdock and Mance (2007) introduced the latest revision of the CPS process. The structure of this version of CPS is described as follows:

  • working from the outside inward, comprises of three conceptual stages, six explicit process steps with six repetitions of divergence and convergence within each, and one executive step at the heart of the model to guide them all (p. 35).

The three conceptual stages are related to one’s natural creative process. The stages are:

  • Clarification – to identify what needs to be resolved.
  • Transformation – the ability to generate ideas and develop them into feasible solutions.
  • Implementation – select the solutions with the most potential and produce a plan of action.

These conceptual stages relate to the beginning, middle and end, respectively. Individuals tend to move through problem solving naturally whether one is conscious of it or not.

Interested in Creative Problem Solving?

Russell is an expert practitioner of the Creative Problem Solving process. If you are interested in having your next meeting facilitated or would like more information, please talk to Russell today. Thank you for your interest!


  • Isaksen, S. G., Dorval, K. B. & Treffinger, D. J. (1994). Creative approaches to problem solving. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.
  • Isaksen, S. G., & Treffinger, D. J. (1985). Creative problem solving: The basic course. Buffalo, NY: Bearly Limited.
  • Noller, R. B. (1977). Scratching the surface of creative problem-solving: A bird’s eye view of CPS. Buffalo, NY: D.O.K.
  • Noller, R. B., Parnes, S. J., & Biondi, A.M. (1976). Creative actionbook. New York: Scribner’s.
  • Osborn, A. F. (1953/1979). Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of creative problem-solving. New York: Scribner’s.
  • Parnes, S. J. (1967). Nurturing creative behavior. New York: Scribner’s.
  • Parnes, S. J., Noller, R. B., & Biondi, A. M. (1977). Guide to creative action. New York: Scribner’s.
  • Puccio, G. J., Murdock, M.C., & Mance, M. (2007). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Rhodes, M. (1961). An analysis of creativity. Phi Delta Kappan, 42, 305-310.
  • Vehar, J., Firestien, R., & Miller, B. (1999). Creativity unbound (2nd ed.). Williamsville, NY: Innovation Systems Group.

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