At the Creativity Centre, we have been researching and delivering courses on creativity development for well over 20 years and we especially value informal creativity development which may happen by accident or design in educational institutions, other organisations or everyday life.
In this paper, the focus is on four ‘formal’ or ‘deliberate’ creative problem solving programmes:
- The Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Program (CPS)
- The De Bono programme
- KJ Ho
These programmes have been selected for review because they are widely used in one or more countries and/or because they have spawned a great many related creative problem solving programmes. Here, the term ‘problem solving’ is used in its psychological sense of ‘resolving anything puzzling or unclear’. This is a key function of all thinking and active learning, equally applicable to creativity in the arts, sciences, humanities and indeed life in general. This psychological notion of ‘a problem’ is different from its everyday definition in that it doesn’t necessarily imply anything negative. The first two programmes are of US origin and have spawned thousands of other programmes. De Bono’s work has had a significant impact too and is probably the best known in the UK, whilst KJ Ho is the most popular formal programme in Japan. All four programmes have specific procedures and terminology and whilst these differ, there are some similarities as well.
A brief word on ‘tools and techniques’
Before reviewing these programmes, I just want to say something about so-called ‘creativity tools and techniques’. This is not a term I particularly like as it can suggest that all that is needed is few tricks of the trade and people will become more creative when, in fact, the process is far more complex and involves many variables. However, they can stimulate thinking along different tracks. One example is Wishful Thinking and another is Attribute Listing (VanGundy, 1988). These deliberate idea-generation strategies are very different from one another. The first is a very free, open approach which helps participants envisage their dream scenarios before considering what could be achieved in a practical sense; the second is a highly structured process in which participants identify each of the variables, or attributes, which make up a situation (or product) and then consider systematically the many different ways in which each attribute or variable could be changed and what the implications would be.
I have found that, on the whole, those who like the constraints of Attribute Listing tend to feel uncomfortable with the freedom afforded by Wishful Thinking and vice versa. I used to use these techniques as short introductory exercises to enable my students to realise just how inventive they could be in the brief time it took to carry them out. I normally asked them to work in pairs which was less threatening than working alone yet which meant that everyone had to contribute to the activity. Many of my students produced patentable ideas in the course of doing these exercises. But creativity involves much more than this.
The Synectics Programme
According to George Prince, the term ‘Synectics’ is derived from the Greek ‘syn’, meaning ‘together’, and ‘ectics’, which means ‘arbitrarily selected’. The key thinkers include William Gordon and George Prince. They parted company early on, and two somewhat different versions of the programme have evolved (see below). Prince established Synectics Inc., and Gordon set up SES Associates. Vincent Nolan, founder of Synectics UK, together with consultants and educational psychologists, set up the UK Synectics Education Initiative (SEI) later on.
The development of Synectics – Prince’s account
The following account of George Prince’s work is derived from interviews with him conducted by Caroline Fryer Bolingbroke and myself in the late 1990s, and subsequent correspondence with him. A feature on him and his work is published in this e-journal, Creativity & Human Development. This includes my review ofImagine That! Celebrating 50 Years of Synectics (Nolan & Williams, 2010) and one of his early articles (Prince, 1980) in which he talks about the origins of Synectics. We are grateful to his wife for allowing us to link to his article in Creativity & Human Development.
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