Creative Problem Solving (CPS) is a structured process for solving problems or finding opportunities. Use it when you want to go beyond conventional thinking and arrive at creative (novel and useful) solutions.


Creativity is novelty that is useful. It is disruption with a purpose. It is the first stage of any innovation and change initiative: creativity is generating something novel and useful, and innovation is putting that something to work.

You can, of course, choose to solve problems in conventional ways. Indeed, most problems are solved using known solutions. Creativity is solving problems in new and better ways. Creativity is how your organization becomes truly innovative, and how it and uncovers new, different, and market-making opportunities.


The word "creative" in the title refers to the results you seek: novel and useful solutions, not just tried and true and traditional ones. But is CPS itself creative? It is not new - it has been is use since the 1950s - but it remains novel when compared to other problem-solving models. CPS uses both divergent and convergent thinking at every stage of the process. Most other processes reserve the divergent thinking for the generating ideas stage, but use it nowhere else. CPS multiplies the power of divergent thinking by making it part of the entire process.

Using CPS also has an interesting side effect: it makes you re-think the way you thiink, and not just when you are solving problems



Creative Problem Solving (CPS) is a structured process for solving problems or finding opportunities, used when you want to go beyond conventional thinking and arrive at creative (novel and useful) solutions. (You can see an illustration of the model here.)

When facilitating CPS, the most important word in the description above is "structured." Whenever CPS is used, someone is responsible for facilitating the process; that is, for making process-related decisions, for using the structure correctly and effectively, and for assuring that the goal is reached - that a novel, useful, and implementable solution is found.

An important distinction in CPS facilitation is between process and content. Process concerns the use of the process to achieve the client's goals. Content refers to the subject matter: the issue at hand about which CPS is being used.


Facilitating for yourself. With strong CPS skills, you can facilitate yourself through the process to help in your own thinking and problem solving. In this case, you are involved in both process and content. It is helpful to try and keep the two aspects separate in your mind, so that at any moment you are focused on one or the other.

Facilitating for one person. If you have CPS facilitation skills, you can serve as facilitator for another person. This client is responsible for content, and you are responsible for process. In this situation, the client is working without a resource group, so the facilitator may find it necessary to step in from time to time to assist with the thinking; that is, to be involved in the content. For the most part, however, the facilitator will focus on managing the CPS process.

Facilitating for a group. When working with a group, the CPS facilitator is the process expert, who serves the client's content needs through the application of the process. Ideally, a group facilitator is completely neutral, and works solely on process, leaving content issues to the client (the problem owner) and the resource group.


How would you know a good facilitator when you saw one? Here are a list of positive actions and behaviors you will see from successful CPS facilitators.

  • Flexible: adapts the process to the situation
  • Knowledgeable: knows the process and how to use it
  • Neutral: stays in the process and stays out of the content
  • Inclusive: encourages participation from all group members
  • Prepared: meets with the client to gather data, to determine if CPS is the right process, and to determine the initial direction
  • Organized: for group sessions, has all materials ready and at hand before the session begins
  • Responsible: has the best interests of the client in mind, and ensures that the client's needs are met; remembers that the client knows best
  • In control, but not controlling: manages the group, the process, and the time, but is transparent to the outcome
  • Pays attention: is aware of group dynamics, energy levels, and the client's needs


CPS facilitation begins with a confidential client meeting, in which the facilitator helps the client assess the situation (top of the model, below), gathers key data (bottom of the model), and determines what CPS stage (center of the model) would be the appropriate starting place. Also covered: advice on selecting a resource group, session logistics, CPS session roles, and other considerations, such as whether CPS is the right approach.

CPS is a good fit when the client has ownership of the issue (that is, the right and the ability to address the problem); is motivated to take action (otherwise the process results are wasted); and welcomes imaginative thinking (otherwise the process results will be unusable).

A CPS session brings together the client, a resource group, and the facilitator, to work on the client's behalf. The facilitator guides the session and makes process decisions (which tool? for how long? what next?) while continuously checking in with the client to make sure the process is meeting the client's needs.

The goal of the session will depend on the situation, and each is unique. For instance, the client meeting may show that the situation is not as far along, and the group session will focus on the broad need to Imagine the Future. Or, the client meeting may show that the desired future state has been identified, so that the focus of the group session will be on Finding the Questions that, if answered, will help reach the desired future state. Or, if the client meeting shows that there is in place a concise question, the group session will begin with Generating Ideas.

At the end of the session, the facilitator will help the client determine the next steps, which may be within the CPS process (if more work is to be done), or building a Plan for Action to implement the solutions.


It is if you want new thinking, new ideas, new solutions. It is if you find you are stuck, if you can't solve a certain problem, or set of problems. It is if you aren't even sure what the problem is. It is if you are missing opportunities. It is if you want to take advantage of the opportunities before you.


Here are some choices:


When you're ready to talk to us about teaching you this process or facilitating a problem-solving session, just holler.