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majorettes passing out on the street,” she commented.

Table 5

Techniques for Improving Problem Definition

Baton twirler Tammy Ross said her perfor- mance was better standing still. “You can throw better. You don’t have to worry about dropping it as much,” she explained.

  • 1.

    Make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.

  • 2.

    Elaborate on the definition.

  • 3.

    Reverse the definition.

Mr. Kleindienst said community responses were favorable. “I think we’ve started a new tradition,” he said.

By reversing the definition, Sandusky not only eliminated the problem without damaging the tradi- tion and without shifting the risk to insurance compa- nies or other community groups; it added a new dimension that allowed at least some people to enjoy the event more than ever.

This reversal is similar to what Rothenberg (1979, 1991) referred to as Janusian thinking. Janus was the Roman god with two faces that looked in opposite directions. Janusian thinking means thinking contra- dictory thoughts at the same time: that is, conceiving two opposing ideas to be true concurrently. Rothenberg claimed, after studying 54 highly creative artists and scientists (e.g., Nobel Prize winners), that most major scientific breakthroughs and artistic mas- terpieces are products of Janusian thinking. Creative people who actively formulate antithetical ideas and then resolve them produce the most valuable contribu- tions to the scientific and artistic worlds. Quantum leaps in knowledge often occur.

than do other people (also see research by Blasko & Mokwa, 1986).

For our purposes, the whole point is to reverse or contradict the currently accepted definition in order to expand the number of perspectives considered. For instance, a problem might be that morale is too high instead of (or in addition to) too low in our team (we may need more discipline), or maybe employees need less motivation instead of more motivation to increase productivity. Opposites and backward looks often enhance creativity.

These three techniques for improving creative problem definition are summarized in Table 5. Their purpose is not to help you generate alternative defini- tions just for the sake of alternatives but to broaden your perspectives, to help you overcome conceptual blocks, and to produce more elegant (i.e., high-quality and parsimonious) solutions.

An example is Einstein’s account (1919: 1) of having “the happiest thought of my life.” He devel- oped the concept that “for an observer in free fall from the roof of a house, there exists, during his fall, no gravitational field . . . in his immediate vicinity. If the observer releases any objects, they will remain, relative to him, in a state of rest. The [falling] observer is therefore justified in considering his state as one of rest.” Einstein concluded, in other words, that two seemingly contradictory states could be present simul- taneously: motion and rest. This realization led to the development of his revolutionary general theory of relativity.

In another study of creative potential, Rothenberg and Hausman (2000) found that when individuals were presented with a stimulus word and asked to respond with the word that first came to mind, highly creative students, Nobel scientists, and prize-winning artists responded with antonyms significantly more often than did individuals with average creativity. Rothenberg argued, based on these results, that cre- ative people think in terms of opposites more often


Because a common tendency is to define problems in terms of available solutions (i.e., the problem is defined as a solution already possessed or the first acceptable alternative; e.g., March, 1999; & March & Simon, 1958), most of us consider a minimal number and a narrow range of alternatives in problem solving. Most experts agree, however, that the primary charac- teristics of effective creative problem solvers are their fluency and their flexibility of thought (Sternberg, 1999). Fluency refers to the number of ideas or con- cepts produced in a given length of time. Flexibility refers to the diversity of ideas or concepts generated. While most problem solvers consider a few homoge- neous alternatives, creative problem solvers consider many heterogeneous alternatives.

The following techniques are designed to help you improve your ability to generate a large number and a wide variety of alternatives when faced with problems. They are summarized in Table 6.



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