[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen“]
It has been some time since I have touched upon this topic. Recently though, I initiated a discussion at work on ways to enhance and stimulate creativity and creative thinking and presented a suite of methods for generating and refining ideas. I didn’t get into the insight-based aspects of creativity, nor the high-level kinds of synthesis you see with people who have genuine mastery over a field or domain. My focus was more on developing people’s ability to think divergently, generate or recognize novel ideas and then refine or develop them.
Therefore, many of these are active, intentional exercises or strategies. They tend to be productive but their creativity is not quite the same as what is produced, say, when a skilled musician is “jamming”, an inventor is tinkering or a painter or scientist is experimenting in the “flow“. The following are also not an exhaustive list:
Creative Problem Solving (CPS)
Developed by Alex Osborn and Sidney Parnes, CPS seeks to harness Divergent and Convergent thinking in a holistic, multi-step, learning process. In essence, the students are sequentially alternating between Generating ideas and Focusing on refining, evaluating, applying them until the “problem” is solved. This is one of the older models of instilling creative thinking and has been widely used, particularly for well-defined or technical problems.
Edward DeBono Lateral Thinking Exercises
DeBono developed a system of forced choice and association exercises that are well suited to promoting critical and creative thinking at the same time as students address a concept or activity. Lateral Thinking exercises lend themselves naturally to being made into graphic organizers or as leading questions in class or group discussion. Some examples:
PMI – “Plus, Minus, Interesting” OPV – “Other People’s Views
ADI – “Agreement, Disagreement, Irrelevant” APC – “Alternatives, Possibilities, Choices”
EBS – “Examine Both Sides” CAF – “Consider All Factors”
HVLV – “High Value, Low Value” AGO – “Aims, Goals, Objectives”
TEC – “Target, Explore, Conclude” PISCO – “Purpose, Input, Solutions, Choice”
Related to Lateral Thinking, but not the same, is Horizontal Thinking. While the former are concrete exercises, horizontal thinking is using a familiar area of knowledge to look for analogies and patterns in less or unfamiliar fields. Both Lateral and Horizontal thinking differ from the traditional model of analytical-reductionist Vertical Thinking associated with critical thinking done within a subject matter field. Vertical thinking and Lateral/Horizontal thinking complement one another
Variations on “Brainstorming”
We all have used brainstorming. There are some ways to make brainstorming more productive.
Ideational Pools – Ask a series of open-ended questions to a group that creates a much richer, single “pool” of ideas than simple brainstorming
Uses, Instances, Similarities – this is usually about a physical object and the purpose is to generate as many alternatives as possible – i.e. “How many different uses can you think of for a piece of rope?”. It is both divergent and lateral thinking as an activity.
Synectics – Extends brainstorming by taking the results and developing metaphors, similes, metonymy/synedoche that describe/explain them
Group Roles (or stages) –
- Generator: Comes up with ideas
- Conceptualizer: Organizes, categorizes, renames ideas
- Optimizer: Refines ideas with a view to action – the “How”
- Implementor Takes action
Morphological synthesis works through decomposition and forced association, There are several variations but it works best with well-defined problems. Examples.
- Define the problem or identify a thing. List all of the attributes.
- Combine and re-configure attributes in new ways
- Divide problem into parts
- Develop a solution for each part
- Combine solutions
Critical Question Mapping
A system of fast learning, developed by friend of ZP Dr. Terry Barnhart, discovers the “what” of a situation by having everyone brainstorm all of the critical questions that must be answered to find a solution. No declarative statements may be made, only questions asked. After the group has exhausted the potential questions, the questions can be organized into clusters, a learning strategy, divided for research, etc.
The use of imaginative but realistic premises for a thought experiment and discussion. Popular in the fields of futurism, alternative history and physics, they allow the students to explore reasons behind making decisions, constructing hypothetical, framing problems or as an allegorical experience before exploring the real situation or problem. Scenarios come in different forms and draw on both critical and creative thinking:
Counterfactual: Ex- “What if the South won the Civil War?”
Futurist: Ex- Imagine a world entering a new ice age – how would Illinois ecosystems be impacted by the climate change?”
Physical: Ex- “Schrodinger’s Cat”
Paradoxical: Ex – “Could a man travel through time and kill his own grandfather? Could you drown in the fountain of eternal life?”
Juxtaposing opposing or incompatible authoritative views to encourage synthesis or reflective choice. This is a favorite technique of Charles Cameron in his Hipbone method of analysis that he employs regularly here at ZP.
Like Scenarios, moral reasoning and ethical dilemmas push people to think both creatively and critically. Example:
“A madman who has threatened to explode several bombs in crowded areas has been apprehended. Unfortunately, he has already planted the bombs and they are scheduled to go off in a short time. It is possible that hundreds of people may die. The authorities cannot make him divulge the location of the bombs by conventional methods. He refuses to say anything and requests a lawyer to protect his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. In exasperation, some high level official suggests torture. This would be illegal, of course, but the official thinks that it is nevertheless the right thing to do in this desperate situation. Do you agree?”
Many ethical dilemmas and student solutions can be analyzed according to Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development but the value for creative thinking is in creating the conditions of a forced choice requiring a resolution.
What techniques do you use for creativity?