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The CPS Creativity Framework

Quality Tools > Tools of the Trade > 33: The CPS Creativity Framework


What happened to Alex Osborn, the founder of modern brainstorming and creativity methods after he found that his method for creating good advertisements was more generally applicable? The answer is that he founded the Creative Education Foundation in Buffalo, New York State. Along with Sidney Parnes and others, he built an institution that is still alive and well today ( and constantly pushing the boundaries of creativity and ways of inventing the future.

The Creative Education Foundation has defined a framework within which to solve creative problems. ‘CPS’ of the CPS framework stands for ‘Creative Problem Solving’. There are six overall stages to the framework.



The CPS framework


Sometimes called ‘mess-finding’ or ‘visionising’, this stage an exploration of the broad environment in which there may be opportunities to be creative. If you are not starting with a known problem, you may start here, looking for somewhere that is in need of a bit of creative thinking.

In some versions of the CPS methodology, this stage is omitted.



Before you get down to problem-solving, it can be a good idea to ‘swim with the fishes’ for a while, getting under the skin of the broad environment in which the problem occurs. Sometimes also called ‘fact-finding’, this stage aims to equip you with the wherewithall to create informed ideas and make realistic decisions.



Having a good idea of the facts in the case, the next stage is to identify the problem to solve. This may seem simple, but is not; a major cause of creative and problem-solving failure is the failure up-front to clearly define the real problem to solve.

The problem that you start with is often called the ‘presenting problem’ as it may well be presented to you by someone who is actually a serious part of the problem. Being a fish, of course, they are unable to recognise the water that is all around them because they have known nothing else or have become so used to it that they no longer notice it. Questioning the problem is thus an important step (and the data-finding stage beforehand will help you better define the real problem).



This is the stage where many people start and which many assume is the only stage in creative problem solving. This is where brainstorming and other methods may be used to find the beginnings of a solution.

Note that at this stage, it is only the germ of the initial idea is identified. If you try to jump to a complete solution in one go, you may find something that works, but you may also have left behind better and more creative solutions. Idea seeds are often small and it can be difficult to recognise their potential value. Thus this stage is only about looking for ‘likely-looking’ ideas and may be returned to a number of times.



When you have the initial germ of a potential solution, the next stage is to explore forwards to develop this idea into something that would solve the problem back out there in the real world.

Thus, for example, if the problem is to have quiet for working in an office where there are other people who talk a lot, the raw idea might be to ‘cut off their heads’. This would work, but is a little messy, so the solution may be how to move their heads (attached to their bodies) elsewhere or how to stop the sounds reaching you. The basic idea is thus little more than a trigger for developing a realistic solution.

This stage can contain many iterations as you explore within it or go back to the previous stage for more ideas.



Perhaps the hardest thing to do with new ideas, even those which will clearly solve problems without causing other people problem, is to persuade those other people that the idea is worth supporting.

The initial group of people to address are usually the gatekeepers or budget-holders who can kill your hard-won idea with a single word. Another important group is the early adopters, especially the social leaders who other people look to for what to do.

Although it may not seem like it, this stage often requires the greatest amount of creative ability as you exercise your social engineering and persuasion skills to succeed where perhaps many others have fallen before you. It is the domain of ‘change’ that all quality people come up against time after time as they try to improve the lot of their company, only to be faced with indifference, blind argument or outright obstruction.



Next time: Synectics


This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Institute for Quality Assurance

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