This illustration identifies a paradox inherent in learning to solve problems creatively. On the one hand, more education and experience may inhibit cre- ative problem solving and reinforce conceptual blocks. Like the bees in the story, individuals may not find solutions because the problem requires less “edu- cated,” more “playful” approaches. On the other hand, as several researchers have found, training directed toward improving thinking significantly enhances cre- ative problem-solving abilities and managerial effec- tiveness (Albert & Runco, 1999; Mumford et al., 1997; Nickerson, 1999; Smith, 1998).
For example, research has found that training in thinking increased the number of good ideas produced in problem solving by more than 125 percent (Scope, 1999). Creativity in art, music composition, problem finding, problem construction, and idea generation have been found to improve substantially when train- ing in creative problem solving and thinking skills is received (de Bono, 1987, 1993; Fine, Ward, & Smith, 1992; Getzels & Csikszentmihalyi, 1976; Nickerson, 1999; Starko, 2001). Moreover, substantial data also exist that such training can enhance the profitability and efficiency of organizations (Williams & Yang, 1999). Many organizations such as IBM, General Electric (GE), and AT&T now send their executives to creativity workshops in order to improve their creative-thinking abilities. Creative problem-solving experts are currently hot property on the consulting circuit, and about a million copies of books on creativ- ity are sold each year in North America. Several well- known products have been produced as a direct result of this kind of training; for example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Velcro snaps, GE’s self-diagnostic dishwashers, Mead’s carbonless copy paper, and Kodak’s Trimprint film.
Resolving this paradox is not just a matter of more exposure to information or education. Rather, one must master the process of thinking about certain problems in a creative way. As Csikszentmihalyi (1997: 11) observed:
Each of us is born with two contradictory sets of instructions: a conservative tendenc , made up of instincts for self-preservation, self- aggrandizement, and saving energ , and an expansive tendency made up of instincts for exploring, for enjoying novelty and risk—the curiosity that leads to creativity belongs to this set. We need both of these programs. But whereas the first tendency requires little encouragement or support from the outside to motivate behavio , the second can wilt if it is
not cultivated. If too few opportunities for curiosity are available, if too many obstacles are placed in the way of risk and exploration, the motivation to engage in creative behavior is easily extinguished.
In the next section, we focus on problems that require creative rather than analytical solutions. These are problems for which no acceptable alternative seems to be available, all reasonable solutions seem to be blocked, or no obvious best answer is accessible. This situation may exist because conceptual blocks inhibit the implementation of analytical problem solv- ing. Our focus, therefore, will be on tools and tech- niques that help overcome conceptual blocks and unlock problem-solving creativity.
Two examples help illustrate the kinds of prob- lems that require creative problem-solving skills. They also illustrate several conceptual blocks that inhibit problem solving and several techniques and tools you can use to overcome such blocks.
Percy Spencer’s Magnetron
During World War II, the British developed one of the best-kept military secrets of the war, a special radar detector based on a device called the magnetron. This radar was credited with turning the tide of battle in the war between Britain and Germany and helping the British withstand Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. In 1940, Raytheon was one of several U.S. firms invited to pro- duce magnetrons for the war effort.
The workings of magnetrons were not well under- stood, even by sophisticated physicists. Even among the firms that made magnetrons, few understood what made them work. A magnetron was tested, in those early days, by holding a neon tube next to it. If the neon tube got bright enough, the magnetron tube passed the test. In the process of conducting the test, the hands of the scientist holding the neon tube got warm. It was this phenomenon that led to a major cre- ative breakthrough that eventually transformed lifestyles throughout the world.
At the end of the war, the market for radar essen- tially dried up, and most firms stopped producing mag- netrons. At Raytheon, however, a scientist named Percy Spencer had been fooling around with magnetrons, try- ing to think of alternative uses for the devices. He was convinced that magnetrons could be used to cook food by using the heat produced in the neon tube. But Raytheon was in the defense business. Next to its two prize products—the Hawk and Sparrow missiles— cooking devices seemed odd and out of place. Percy
SOLVING PROBLEMS ANALYTICALLY AND CREATIVELY