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Literature Analysis of the Interdisciplinary Applications of Creative Problem Solving

Patrick M. Hillis, Gerard J. Puccio, 1999


The purpose of this project was to explore the extent to which the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process has been applied to a diverse array of disciplines. Our guiding question was, "To what degree has CPS been diffused into other fields?" We hoped that the identification of a diverse set of literature highlighting the use of CPS would illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of the CPS process. We searched 36 literature databases and found 301 literature records related to CPS. These records were then sorted within 35 disciplines of study. Implications for the interdisciplinarity of CPS were discussed.

More than 45 years ago, Osborn (1952) introduced a model for solving problems in creative ways. Since that time, this model, called Creative Problem Solving (CPS), has become one of the most widely used approaches for nurturing creative thinking. Some early research by Torrance (1972) showed that CPS was one of the most widely adopted models in educational programs that empirically examined the extent to which creative thinking could be taught. His research also showed that CPS was the most effective method for enhancing creative-thinking skills.

Since its inception, CPS has undergone numerous revisions. Originally, this work was undertaken by Parnes and his colleagues (Noller, Parnes, & Biondi, 1976; Parnes, 1981) and more recently by Isaksen and his colleagues (Isaksen & Treffinger, 1985; Isaksen, Dorval, & Treffinger, 1994). CPS has also spawned other process models, such as Simplex (Basadur, & Paton, 1993). Recent developments in CPS have transformed the model from a more prescriptive to a more descriptive process approach. In fact, Isaksen, Dorval, and Treffinger's (1994) version of CPS possesses metacognitive attributes and thus has been referred to as the metacognitive view of CPS (Isaksen, 1996). As a prescriptive model, CPS had a linear aspect in which all challenges entered the process at a common front-end stage. Once into the process, work progressed, without deviation, through the same series of stages, regardless of the characteristics surrounding the challenge.

Today, as a descriptive process, CPS can be entered into at any stage, and the stages and tools are then applied in a flexible manner according to the specific needs of the task. The stages in Isaksen, Dorval, and Treffinger's (1994) version of CPS are organized into three components: (a) Understanding the Problem, (b) Generating Ideas, and (c) Planning for Action. Understanding the Problem includes the stages of Mess-Finding, Data-Finding and Problem-Finding; Generating Ideas includes the stage of Idea-Finding; and Planning for Action includes the stages of Solution-Finding and Acceptance-Finding. In addition to these components and stages, CPS contains many tools which can be used interchangeably within any of the stages. These tools are selected according to the needs of the task and are either divergent (i. e. , used to generate options) or convergent (i. e. , used to evaluate options). When applied in a group setting, it is recommended that the session include a facilitator, who has the knowledge of process; the client, who owns the task; and the resource group, who assists the client with divergence (Isaksen, 1983).

To fully understand the metacognitive feature of CPS, it is necessary to discuss the preparation that precedes the use of CPS, whether applied individually or in a group. There is an explicit component that guides this preparation called Task Appraisal and Process Planning. This component adds the metacognitive feature to the CPS framework and thus, provides a departure from previous versions. To further explore this feature of the CPS process, it may be helpful to provide a definition of metacognition.

Metacognition has been described in two ways: "knowledge about cognition" and "regulation of cognition". "Knowledge about cognition refers to stable and statable information about one's own or someone else's cognitive processes. Regulation of cognition refers to the planning, monitoring, and checking activities necessary to orchestrate cognition" (Slife, Weiss & Bell, 1985, p. 437). With this definition in mind, lets us now turn to a discussion of Task Appraisal which includes four elements: (a) personal orientation, (b) desired outcomes, (c) situational outlook, and (d) CPS methodology (Isaksen et al. , 1994).

Personal orientation involves determining who owns the task and the degree of ownership; desired outcomes involves defining what outcome(s) the owner(s) would like as a result of using CPS; situational outlook entails assessing the background circumstances and present environment surrounding the task; and CPS methodology includes a determination of the appropriateness of CPS for this particular task based on the previous three elements. When a facilitator uses CPS with a client, all four of these factors are explored before CPS is applied to the task.

This exploration involves extensive questioning so that the facilitator can gain a working knowledge of the client's thoughts, feelings, and desires surrounding the task. Ideally, Task Appraisal is not complete until the facilitator believes he or she has elicited both "stable and statable information" which may be representative of the thoughts, feelings, and desires of the client. In other words, through questioning and discussion, the facilitator may gain "knowledge about cognition" (Slife et al. , 1985); the cognition of the client. The end result of Task Appraisal is to determine if CPS is the appropriate method given the client's thoughts about the task.

Given this view, Task Appraisal appears to have features in common with the first of the two elements of metacognition (Slife, et al. , 1985). If the Task Appraisal indicates that CPS would be useful, given the client's perception of the task, then the next step for the facilitator is to engage in Process Planning. The purpose of Process Planning is to determine where to enter the CPS process and which tools to use so that the task evaluated in Task Appraisal is properly attended to. This implies adhering to the thoughts, feelings, and desires of the client. Given the explicit planning aspect of Process Planning, there appears to be a direct connection with the "planning" (Slife, et al. , 1985) element within the definition of metacognition above.

However, in what ways does CPS relate to the "monitoring" and "checking" features of the given definition of metacognition? During a CPS session, the facilitator is in direct contact with the client and resource group and thus, has an outstanding vantage from which to monitor the process as it unfolds. One technique used to do this is to check in with the client to determine if the direction of options, during a divergent thinking phase, is going in the right direction. If it is not, the facilitator may suggest another tool that could assist in the proper generation of options that may be more relevant to the thoughts, feelings, and desires of the client. In this way, as well as others, CPS may possess the "monitoring" and "checking" (Slife, et al. , 1985) features of the given definition of metacognition.

Given the above discussion of CPS and its metacognitive elements, we now turn to our investigation. The purpose of this project was to explore the extent to which the CPS process has been applied to a diverse array of disciplines. Our guiding question was, "To what degree has CPS been diffused into other fields?" Literature abounds on the use of CPS in the fields of education and business; we sought to discover if CPS could be found in other fields of endeavor. We hoped that the identification of a diverse set of literature highlighting the use of CPS would illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of the CPS process. The CPS is taught as general system that can be applied to any challenge that requires new thinking and thus, should be well diffused beyond education and business. On a broader scale, Isaksen and Murdock (1993) suggested that the study of creativity is trandisciplinary. These authors argued that creativity could be informed through other disciplines, such as economics, sociology, and anthropology, and that the study of creativity could have a reciprocal positive effect on the development of these disciplines and others.

An examination of the diffusion of CPS as a method for nurturing creative behavior is one way of directly testing the transdisciplinary nature of the study of creativity. Method The present study involved a literature review of the ten years prior to the initiation of the project (i. e. , 1985-1995). This time frame was selected for a number of reasons. We believed that focusing on more current literature would give us a better sense of the extensiveness of the diffusion of CPS. We decided to use a ten year period to give the search sufficient breadth. Also, in 1985, Isaksen and Treffinger's book, Creative Problem Solving: The Basic Course was published. The developments of the CPS process presented in this book led to a more descriptive use of the model and therefore initiated the link between metacognition and CPS. To guide the search process, a framework had to be established.

Phenix (1962) used the following phrase to describe a discipline, "The distinguishing mark of any discipline is that the knowledge which comprises it is instructive - that it is peculiarly suited for teaching and learning (p. 58). With this view in mind, we used the instructional departments at Buffalo State College to guide our exploration of the various disciplines that have potentially embodied CPS. Table 1 summarizes these disciplines as they are organized within the three faculties of the college. Table 1: Three Faculties with Accompanying Disciplines Used to Guide Search Arts and Humanities Art Art Education Communication Dance Design English Music Painting Performing Arts Philosophy Religious Studies Natural and Social Sciences Anthropology Biology Chemistry Earth Sciences Geography and Planning Geology Health and Wellness Mathematics Physical Education & Recreation Physics Political Science Psychology Sciences Education Sociology Applied Science and EducationBusiness Business Education Computer Information Systems Education Elementary Education and Reading Engineering Exceptional Education Nutrition and Food Science Speech Language Pathology and Audiology Technology Education Two search terms were used to locate literature records that related to CPS. The first was "creative problem solving" and the second was "metacognition and problem solving." The second term was employed so that literature that did not specifically use the phrase "creative problem solving", but featured work that related directly to CPS, would be identified. Metacognition was linked to the term "problem solving" so that the search would target models that might closely parallel the descriptive application of CPS. The literature search was carried out through seven different libraries located at four different colleges. A total of 36 literature databases were used. These data bases included: ArticleFirst, PapersFirst, ProceedingsFirst, ERIC, MEDLINE, Arts & Humanities Search, Humanities Search, Business Periodicals Index, EconoLit, Wilson Business Abstracts, Education Index, Applied Science & Technology Index, INSPEC, Microcomputer Abstract, EBSCOMags, Periodical Abstracts, Environment, General Science Index, GEOBASE, GEOREF, AGRICOLA, BasicBIOSIS, Biology Digest, Biological & Agricultural Index, Index to Legal Periodicals & Books, PAIS Decade, MDX Health Digest, PSYCFirst, Sociological Abstracts, Social Science Index, UnCover, Expanded Academic Index, WNYNet, Bison, Sherlock, and Creativity Based Information Resource. All of the hits generated by these searches were examined for their relationship to CPS. Thus, each journal article, magazine article, or book was evaluated for possession of specific characteristics which were either duplication of or direct parallel to the components, stages, tools, or other process characteristics associated with the metacognitive view of CPS or related process methods. ResultsThe search of the various literature data bases using the terms described above yielded 588 records. After evaluating each record, it was determined that 301 related to the Osborn tradition of CPS. These records were then sorted into the disciplines summarized in Table 1. The results of this sort are presented in Table 2. Table 2: Numbers of Records Per Discipline and Faculty Arts and Humanities, Natural and Social Sciences, Applied Science and Education.
Arts and Humanities Natural and Social Sciences Applied Science and Education
Art Education 3 Communication 12 Dance 1 Design 8 English 5 Music 2 Painting 2 Performing Arts 5 Philosophy 4 Religious Studies 4 Anthropology 1 Biology 1 Chemistry 1 Earth Sciences 1 Geography and Planning 1 Geology 1 Health and Wellness 15 Mathematics 3 Physical Education & Recreation 1 Physics 1 Political Science 3 Psychology 68 Sciences Education 10 Sociology 2 Business 9 Business Education 11 Computer InformationSystems 57 Education 46 Elementary Education and Reading 6 Engineering 4 Exceptional Education 2 Nutrition and Food Science 1 Speech Language Pathology and Audiology 3 Technology Education 105
Total for Arts and Humanities 47 Total for Natural and Social Sciences 117 Total for Applied Science and Education 241
Total for All Catagories 405

Table 2 shows that 405 records were used during the above mentioned sort. The reason for this increase from the initial 301 records, is that many of the records were appropriate for more than one category (i. e. , a record which discussed the education of nurses would go under both education, and health and wellness).


To begin the discussion, it should be mentioned that there may be many more references available pertaining to the metacognitive view of CPS and related methods beyond those identified by this project. However, given the number of databases searched (i. e. , 36), which each dealt with thousands of individual references, this project most probably is a good representation of the types of references available.

Consequently, it may be said that the degree to which the academic faculties (i. e. , Arts and Humanities, Natural and Social Sciences, and Applied Science and Education) are supported by various literature sources may be well represented within this project. With this in mind, a closer look at the results may reveal some interesting trends. In Table 2, 68 records were attributed to the discipline of psychology. This relatively abundant support for psychology within the literature dealing with the metacognitive view of CPS and related methods, as mentioned above, may have an interesting implication. As Magyari-Beck (1993) wrote, "Psychologists nevertheless cling to the opinion that creativity is an exclusively psychological subject" (p. 50).

The literature support within this project appears to provide some credence to this statement by suggesting that psychological literature is in relative abundance and thus, still being pursued by psychologists, at least as far as the creative process is concerned.

Although psychology is used above as an example of an academic category which received a large degree of literature support, other academic categories were also well represented. As Isaksen and Murdock (1993) wrote, "Creativity has been studied in managerial, business, and industrial areas; in disciplines such as engineering, mathematics, philosophy, physics, and English. There is also a vast collection of literature on the educational implications of creativity" (p. 28). The results of this project indicate that this statement is not only true for creativity, in general, but also for creative problem solving, in particular.

As Tables 2 shows, all of the disciplines discussed in the above quote were represented, to varying degrees, by the literature found within this project ( the managerial discipline was subsumed within business ). Of particular interest, given the academic focus of this project, is the "vast collection" of literature support for education. This trend of interest in the creative problem-solving process within the educational arena may have some far reaching implications for individuals as well as society as a whole. By educating individuals with information pertaining to creativity and the creative process, in particular, society may be taking a large step in the direction of solving some of the key problems facing our world. As Isaksen and Murdock (1993) wrote: The investigation of creativity can help shed light on some of the most challenging aspects of behavioral science and human existence. There are challenges within many facets of society to which an immediate or single correct response cannot be found. The increasing complexity of life and demand for new solutions to old or continuing problems call for a more creative type of thinking. Many of these challenges are of the utmost importance because they deal with our survival. Not only is creativity important for our survival as a human race, it can also help us better understand how the individual can reach higher levels of productivity and satisfaction (p. 16).

Table 2 further shows the greatest number of references found within this project pertained to Applied Science and Education. Given the above discussion concerning education, this result may not be surprising. However, what about the other academic categories that make up this faculty. In what ways do they contribute to such a large representation. One suggested reason for this trend is that the categories are concerned with, and place a premium on, making the "thought process more explicit and deliberate" (Isaksen, 1987, p. 12).

By examining the other academic disciplines which appears within the Applied Science and Education faculty, we see that the greatest representation came from business. Although this a broad category, many aspects of business are indeed concerned with the "explicit and deliberate" exposure of thought processes. For instance, sales and marketing must be extremely cognizant of the thought processes of the consumer as well as the thought processes they should pursue in making a profitable decision concerning the consumer's preferences.

Isaksen (1987) may provide some insight into the above trend when he wrote: Findings regarding the generality of thinking skills relates to the current writing on metacognition. The abilities associated with the managerial function are remarkably similar to those of metacognition. Both seem related to an individual's ability to make his or her thought process more explicit and deliberate. (p. 12). Thus, disciplines in which an emphasis is placed on making one's "thought process more explicit and deliberate" may be concerned with the metacognitive view of CPS and related methods.

If we further examine Table 2, it becomes apparent that few references dealing with the metacognitive view of CPS and related methods were found pertaining to Arts and Humanities. One possible explanation for this trend may be rooted in the myths that creativity is both mysterious and magical.

These myths hold that creativity "is a mysterious phenomenon that defies systematic analysis and inquiry" as well as possessing magical qualities leading to the belief that "only a few precious individuals have had real creativity" (Isaksen and Murdock , 1993, p. 26) If these assumptions are prevalent within the people who work and study in the Art and Humanities faculty, then the motivation to study the process by which people create within this faculty would be minimal.

For instance, a common notion within the Arts and Humanities may be that it is a waste of time trying to study or write about how people engage in the creative process, and specifically the process of solving problems creatively, since it is of such an obscure nature. Further, there has also been a myth that by studying the creative process, one may decrease the creative output. This latter myth may also have obvious effects on the motivation of people within the Arts and Humanities faculty toward the study of the creative process or creative problem solving.

Thus far, our discussion has focused on academic disciplines. However, the idea of disciplinarity has been an issue in creativity literature over the past several years and may deserve some exploration here. Although a full discussion of this issue would not be appropriate due to the focus of this project being strictly on the metacognitive view of CPS and related methods and not on any other aspect of creativity, the issue of what kind of a discipline creativity could be considered may be appropriate.

Isaksen and Murdock (1993) wrote in their chapter, "The Emergence of a Discipline: Issues and Approaches to the Study of Creativity" that:The impact of choosing to support or not to support disciplinarity for creativity should also be viewed in regard to choices that are applicable to creativity. Understanding creativity studies in terms of kinds of disciplinarity can be helpful in making those choices.

Beyond working within a single discipline, there are three kinds of disciplinary approaches: multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary. (p. 32)Considering creativity from a multidisciplinary perspective would imply that creativity is a useful collection of related notions which can be used by several disciplines, "each of which offer its own perspective on the nature and nurture of creativity. Integration would be left to the student or scholar" (Isaksen & Murdock, 1993, p. 33).

Since this project involved the many different ways that various disciplines use CPS, an aspect of creativity, within that discipline, this project may lend some support to creativity being considered multidisciplinary. Interdisciplinarity implies that "creativity would attempt to integrate the contributions of several disciplines in order to discover the relationships among them" (Isaksen and Murdock, 1993, p. 33). By showing that many different disciplines shared CPS characteristics simultaneously (i. e. , Table 2 had a 405 record total instead of 301 because of records sharing disciplinary perspectives) , this project demonstrated that creativity can serve as a vehicle for relationship formulation among many different disciplines. Consequently, credence may be given to the notion of creativity being considered interdisciplinary.

Further, Isaksen and Murdock (1993) wrote that:One of the advantages to viewing creativity from a transdisciplinary viewpoint is that a wide range of disciplinary perspectives may be surveyed for relevant information and concepts. In fact, although much of the creativity literature in the United States comes from the psychological research tradition, it is clear that the field of creativity studies has something to gain from many other disciplines, as well as something to contribute to them (p. 33).

Indeed this project did survey many different disciplines for creativity related information and found it. For instance, although literature concerning the metacognitive view of CPS and related methods was found within psychology, education and business, this project provided some additional findings which indicated that creative problem solving is being used in the natural sciences, and arts and humanities to a noticeable degree. Thus, it would appear that a mutual contribution between disciplines may be able to take place with creativity being one of those disciplines. This indicates that this project may lend some credence to the notion of creativity being considered transdisiplinary.


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