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four separate and sequential stages: defining a prob- lem; generating alternative solutions; evaluating and selecting the best solution; and implementing the chosen solution. This model, however, is mainly use- ful for solving straightforward problems. Many prob- lems faced by managers are not of this type, and fre- quently managers are called on to exercise creative problem-solving skills. That is, they must broaden their perspective of the problem and develop alterna- tive solutions that are not immediately obvious.

We have discussed and illustrated eight major conceptual blocks that inhibit most people’s creative problem-solving abilities. Conceptual blocks are men- tal obstacles that artificially constrain problem defini- tion and solution and that keep most people from being effective, creative problem solvers.

Overcoming these conceptual blocks is a matter of skill development and practice in thinking, not a matter of innate ability. Everyone can become a skilled creative problem solver with practice. Becoming aware of these thinking inhibitors helps individuals overcome them. We also discussed three major techniques for improv- ing creative problem definition and three major tech- niques for improving the creative generation of alterna- tive solutions. Certain suggestions were described that can help implement these six techniques.

We concluded by offering some hints about how to foster creativity and innovativeness among other peo- ple. Becoming an effective problem solver yourself is important, but effective managers can also enhance this activity among their subordinates, peers, and superiors.


Below are specific behavioral action guidelines to help guide your skill practice in problem solving, creativity, and fostering innovation.

  • 1.

    Follow the four-step procedure outlined in Table 1 when solving straightforward prob- lems. Keep the steps separate, and do not take shortcuts—define the problem, generate alter- native solutions, evaluate the alternatives, and select and implement the optimal solution.

  • 2.

    When approaching a difficult or complex prob- lem, try to overcome your conceptual blocks by consciously doing the following mental activities:

Use lateral thinking in addition to vertical thinking.

Use several thought languages instead of just one.

Challenge stereotypes based on past experi- ences.

Identify underlying themes and commonali- ties in seemingly unrelated factors.

Delete superfluous information and fill in important missing information when study- ing the problem.

Avoid artificially constraining problem boundaries.

Overcome any unwillingness to be inquisitive. Use both right- and left-brain thinking.

  • 3.

    When defining a problem, make the strange familiar and the familiar strange by using metaphors and analogies, to first focus and then to distort and refocus the definition.

  • 4.

    Elaborate problem definitions by developing at least two alternative (opposite) definitions and by applying a checklist (e.g., SCAMPER).

  • 5.

    Reverse problem definitions by beginning with end results and working backwards.

  • 6.

    In generating potential problem solutions, defer any judgment until many solutions have been proposed. Use the four rules of brain- storming:

Do not evaluate alternatives as they are sug- gested.

Encourage wild or unusual ideas. Encourage quantity over quality of ideas. Build on others’ ideas.

  • 7.

    Expand the list of current alternative solutions by subdividing the problem into its attributes.

  • 8.

    Increase the number of possible solutions by combining unrelated problem attributes. Morphological synthesis and relational algo- rithms may be helpful.

  • 9.

    Foster innovativeness among those with whom you work by doing the following: Find a “practice field” where individuals can experiment and try out ideas and cre- ative problem-solving techniques. Put people who hold different perspectives into teams to work on problems together. Hold people accountable for innovation. Use sharp-pointed prods to stimulate new thinking.

Recognize, reward, and encourage the par- ticipation of multiple roles in the innovative process, including idea champions, spon- sors, orchestrators, and rule breakers.




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