The need for creativity is inversely related to the level of our understanding of the problem. The less well understood the problem, the greater the need for creativity. For example, the problem of constructing a warehouse is reasonably well understood, and the degree of creativity required to carry out the construction project is relatively low. The problems involved in developing a long-term habitat for moon dwellers are not well understood, and therefore would require a great deal of creativity.
It has been repeatedly shown that groups are more effective in generating creative solutions to unstructured (poorly understood) problems than individuals. It is also clear that if the problem is structured (well understood), then individuals do a better job of problem solving than groups. (if you doubt this generality, consider the case of using a committee to add a column of numbers-a well-structured problem.) Thus, the fundamental reason for seeking creativity through a group process is that the problem structure is ambiguous.
The discussion on group creativity in the remainder of this section is largely adapted from [5, 8, 33, 35]. (The latter is a particularly valuable reference on techniques to foster group creativity.) It is generally accepted that there are five major advantages associated with using group creativity processes:
- Groups bring together knowledge and skills not possessed by any individual member of the group.
- Groups are more effective than individuals in eliminating errors and avoiding mistakes.
- A group solution is more likely to be accepted by those who must implement it than is the solution of an individual.
- If the members of a group must act on evidence, it is likely that they will be more productive and effective if they have played a role in developing that evidence,
- Group members learn from one another, stimulate one another, and add to each other’s knowledge and skills-that is, synergism occurs.
The effectiveness of creativity groups can be enhanced if a few simple guidelines [17, 22] are followed. Diversity is a highly desirable quality of such groups. Within the bounds of reason, group members should be as diverse as possible across such dimensions as:
|Role||Engineers, managers, technicians, blue- and white-collar production workers, and so on, all represent special viewpoints and may be the source of unique contributions to problem solving.|
|Specialty||Different areas of study have their individual ways of thinking about and analyzing problems.|
|Age||Contrary to popular mythology, there appears to be no demonstrable relationship between age and creativity except, possibly, in the held of mathematics. A mix of ages cannot hurt, and probably helps.|
|Experience||Experience with a problem tends to produce insight, but it also tends to foster overconcern with real or imagined constraints. Inexperienced but intelligent people may develop fresh approaches.|
|Education||One must never confuse education with wisdom; but, like experience, more is generally better than less.|
When a problem arises that requires the use of a creativity group, it should be treated as a project, and the rules of good project management apply. There should be an objective, a leader, a time schedule, a budget, a plan, and an evaluation process. Basic work group tenets should also be observed: hold meetings away from the bustle of business; allow no interruptions; insist that all participants be present; and have a good supply of working materials such as flip charts, blackboards, coffee, paper, pencils, and the rest of the paraphernalia necessary for a successful meeting.
In the initial creativity sessions, the focus should be on the methods of creativity, investigating various methods and technologies used to foster creativity, and forming a good working relationship among the group members. Following these orientation sessions, the groups should be ready to apply its power to the tasks for which it was formed.
Problem recognition and understanding is a critical first step in all problem-solving procedures. A problem not understood cannot be solved. The problem should be stated as precisely and concisely as possible, consistent with its real-world complexity. As noted above, the problem statement should be constructed in terms of the capabilities sought, not in terms of desired hardware. it is difficult but necessary to think of a “land-based people mover,” not a “car” or “bus,” or of a “container for the foot,” not a “shoe.”
If the problem is large or complex, it may be advantageous to break it down into sub-problems that can be attacked and handled separately. The results may then be combined to secure the overall solution. But it is well to remember that this procedure can result in sub-optimization. it should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
Procedural devices are sometimes helpful in achieving good problem statements. Be concise, but do not arbitrarily limit the length of the statement. It is often useful to require the problem to be restated some minimum number of times, say, four or five. in addition to obtaining a suitable statement of the problem, these reworking techniques also help to familiarize the problem solvers with the various aspects of the problem and its environment. They may even aid in establishing the validity and significance of the problem.
The most commonly used group creativity problem-solving techniques are described below.
This is probably the best known and most widely used of all the group creativity techniques. It was developed by Alex Osborn in 1953, and has been widely publicized and used since then. The use of brainstorming mushroomed in the middle 1950s, but declined somewhat in the 1960s following some reports alleging the superiority of individual creativity.
A single brainstorming session should probably not last much longer than an hour. All ideas should be recorded. An experienced secretary or recording machine is useful to capture the initial onrush of ideas. Two basic rules should be observed during brainstorming sessions:
- Criticism, judgment, or analysis of the generated ideas is absolutely prohibited during the session- Critiques can be conducted after the idea-generation sessions have been completed.
- Quantity is encouraged. Variations, extensions, and combinations of previously generated ideas are often more valuable than the originals. Seemingly wild ideas are welcomed without comment, just as conservative ideas are.
A number of variants of brainstorming have been developed over the years, such as brainwriting, where nominal groupsare used. The ideas are written down first, then read aloud and developed.
This approach, developed by William Gordon in 1944, is most appropriate for very unclear, abstract situations-that is, where the problem has little or no apparent structure. Synectics requires the formation of a tailor-made team that uses analogy and metaphor to approach two tasks:
(1) Making the strange familiar and
(2) Making the familiar strange.
In the process, participants are urged to leave the mental confines of the everyday world and escape into the bizarre, even the absurd. Some of the types of analogy used are personal, where the members see themselves as pieces or parts of the solution; direct, where biological and natural analogous elements are employed; symbolic, where objective or impersonal images are used to describe the problems; and fantasy, where science fiction-type ideas are used as solutions. The synectic approach to creativity requires considerably more training and practice than most other methods. A consultant or facilitator who is expert in leadership of synectic groups is necessary.
Invented by F. Zwicky in 1947, this method was not publicized until the 1960s. The problem is defined in terms of the various capabilities most likely to be involved in a solution. Highly generalized methods of achieving these capabilities are defined. All possible combinations of these methods are then arrayed in a so-called “morphological box” and examined for technical feasibility. The following five-step process is used.
- Describe, define, and generalize the problem.
- Define all factors that influence the solution.
- Structure these factors into distinctive categories.
- Analyze the cells at the intersection of each category with each other category.
- Evaluate each of these cells in terms of solution criteria.
As can be imagined, an examination of “all possible combinations” of even a small problem is a serious undertaking. A set of six capabilities, each of which might be achieved by five methods, would require examination of more than 15,000 alternatives.
Sometimes referred to as nature analysis, this is an analogy approach that relies on imitation of nature. The group seeks ways in which animals or plants have solved similar or analogous problems. The use of this technique is limited, but when utilized to handle appropriate problems, it appears to be effective.
The Walt Disney Studios faced a serious creativity problem: how to produce a large number of different short subject cartoon plots. Storyboarding was their answer to the challenge. As usual, a list is made of all problem attributes (all elements in cartoon plot), and of the possible variations each attribute might take (e.g., location: U.S., Egypt, desert isle, etc.). These are printed on cards backed with a self-sticking material such as Velcro. A wall of a conference room is covered with felt and the attribute cards are arranged and rearranged to form different potential solutions to the problem (plot elements for the cartoon).
This method has much in common with Zwicky’s morphological box. Of course, no attempt is made when storyboarding to evaluate all possible combinations. In this manner, a different, feasible combination is being sought, not the best combination.
This approach has been most widely used for technological forecasting and for the determination of numeric measures of importance (weights), but it also may be used to aid creativity. Delphi focuses the collective knowledge of the group on identifying, forecasting, and solving problems. It adds a formal structure to the group process and avoids the bias usually associated with the presence of strong individual personalities in the group. The Delphi process begins with group selection. Ground rules and procedures for the particular process must be clearly stated, and sufficient time allowed for the exercise. (The specifics of the Delphi technique are discussed in detail in Appendix B.) While it is a popular tool for technological forecasting and parameter estimation, it is not often used for creativity exercises.
Nominal Group Techniques
The nominal group technique is a structured group process that combines both group and individual activities. A coordinator administers the following five-step process:
- Silent idea generation.
- Round-robin presentation.
- Idea clarification.
- Voting and ranking.
- Discussion of results.
During silent idea generation, each participant is asked to think of and write down ideas about the specific task. This step is followed by a round-robin presentation wherein participants take turns reading ideas to the group. The coordinator or an assistant records each idea. Any participant may pass on any given round. This process continues until all the ideas of the group have been read and recorded. While this may seem almost identical to brainstorming, the idea flow from nominal groups is not usually as free and uninhibited.
The next step is clarification. The coordinator proceeds through the idea list asking if any clarification is needed. Anyone in the group may clarify any idea, although some courage is usually required to modify someone else’s idea.
The participants are then asked to select eight ideas they consider to be the best or most important. These are ranked by the group. The coordinator then tabulates the results, and the group discusses them. A second, abbreviated session may be held to expand on the eight best ideas.
In addition to the approaches noted above, there are several less well-known, seldom-used creative problem-solving techniques. Among them are buzz sessions, modified buzz sessions, slipwriting, and reverse brainstorming. All of these methods have one common element: They attempt to utilize the creative potential of groups. (Again, the reader is referred to for an extended discussion of the techniques.)
These techniques work. They increase the output of ideas by individuals and groups. Which techniques work best depends on several factors. Among these are the extent to which people are willing to expose their ideas to their colleagues, penalties for error, schemes for stimulating unusual associations of known ideas, the skill with which the problem is identified and stated, and the stimulation of idea production by each member of the group through the contributions of other group members.
It is now appropriate to mention a matter of crucial importance to the success of any group creativity technique. Research on multidisciplinary projects has shown that problem-oriented individuals are more effective in multidisciplinary problem solving than are discipline-oriented individuals. The distinction is simple. Problem-oriented people give the problem primary consideration. Each views his/her individual area of knowledge only in terms of its potential contribution to solving the problem. Discipline-oriented people view the problem as an opportunity to ply their knowledge or extend it. To the former, knowledge is a means to an end. To the latter, the problem is a vehicle for the demonstration or extension of knowledge.
A problem orientation is generally more effective because problem-oriented people welcome any input they see as helpful in problem solving, while discipline-oriented people view as irrelevant (or uninteresting) ideas and discussions not related to their area of expertise. To increase the chance of success, several, if not all, members of the creativity group should be problem-oriented.
Skill in creative problem solving can be acquired and developed. It requires training and the application of effort, but it does not require special mental endowments or “gifts of nature.” Almost anyone can be creative by using the principles and methods described in this section and known collectively as creative problem-solving techniques.