Recently, while working with groups of teachers and high school students on a Global Biomimicry Design Challenge, I began thinking about creative problem solving, and then, while researching problem solving, I came across this article, Why Problem Finders Are More Creative Than Problem Solvers.
While many of us in gifted education, and many of us who have parented gifted children understand the importance of creativity in problem solving, I had never much thought about the impact and importance of creativity in problem finding. We are trained to solve, rather than to find.
The article begins by asserting that many people believe “the false but lingering notion that creativity is for artists or the artistically-minded... and also includes the less commonly examined myth that problem-solving happens in the sciences, and not the arts.” It’s almost as though these two distinct types of thinking are reserved exclusively for specific domains.
However, if we see the arts and sciences as reliant on creativity, problem solving, and on problem finding, this false dichotomy can be bridged.
Many of us immersed in gifted education (as parents or educators) can easily see the connection between creativity and the arts and artists. We see it in the visual arts as well as the performing arts. We assume that creativity is the wellspring of ideas, the font or the impetus for the arts. The “creativity muse” begets the need to create, and then we problem solve along the way. What we may fail to realize, however, is that creativity is the result of the need to problem solve, to find a solution to a dilemma -- and to adequately find and frame the problem. When a new creative movement is born, it is because visual and performing artists have found new problems to solve, and are using problem finding as the impetus to create. “Creativity is imagination applied to making situations better—more effective, enriched, beautiful, meaningful, humane,” says creativity expert Jeffrey Davis. “To improve a situation, you have to track what’s problematic and apply your imagination to improving or solving it.”
Additionally, we may believe that problem solving happens predominantly in the sciences (think scientific method, or some other iterations of this process). In order to think creatively, scientific minds must also be problem finding minds. The quest for greater understanding always begins with a “why.” And a “why” is the ultimate tool of the problem finder. “Finding problems—asking questions, really—results in higher levels of creativity than simply finding solutions, or seeking answers.”
So how do we ensure that we are celebrating problem finding as well as problem solving? Here are three ideas to consider:
● Don’t take issues at face-value. It can be tempting, (and time saving), to assume that the first idea or answer is THE ideal idea or answer. That is rarely true. Practice finding the REAL problem first, asking questions, and exploring findings deeply, and from many vantage points.
● Play devil’s advocate. Challenge your own views and others’ views, early and often. Pursue “why?” and “what if?” and “have you considered…?” kinds of questioning. Be relentless.
● Ask questions before you seek answers -- questions such as “how is this like something I already know?” or “could there be another way to look at this?” or “must this be solved right now, or do I need more thinking?” or “should other avenues be explored?” or “is this the REAL problem, or are there others?”
My challenge to you is to consider practicing (and helping others practice) problem finding as well as problem solving. Then evaluate how this has changed your thinking. I believe that problem finding and problem solving “...go together like a horse and carriage...you can’t have one without the other…” (to quote an old-time song).
As always, I hope that this foray into other ideas, and then linking them to the gifted perspective, has made you think. I welcome hearing from you!
Past President, WATG