Source Book for Creative Problem Solving: A Fifty Year Digest of Proven Innovation Processes

Book Review

Source Book for Creative Problem Solving: A Fifty Year Digest of Proven Innovation Processes

Sidney J. Parnes, editor

Creative Education Foundation Press, Buffalo, NY, 1992. 494 pages. ISBN 0-930222-922

Available from:

Creative Education Foundation

1050 Union Rd.

Buffalo, NY 14224

(716) 675-3181 (voice)

(716) 675-3209 (fax). $34.95

In ages past the subject of creativity used to be primarily of interest to poets, romantics, and others who dwelt on the "softer" side of the human character. But these days creativity is far more than a rosy, wistful concept to be summoned to mind while lying back on the banks of a slow-moving river in the springtime when the fragrance of newly emerging blossoms caresses one's nostrils. In this information age, creativity takes on important new economic meaning. Economists, managers, and executives alike are all taking a keen interest in the ways in which creativity can be enhanced in the workplace. In a very real sense, the combined creative talent of individuals in our nation is increasingly becoming a natural resource - - - a source of economic wealth. And while you can't exactly nurture a lump of coal or a barrel of crude oil, you can most certainly nurture human creativity.

This new anthology of writings on creativity encapsulates a lot of the research and studies on this subject that have taken place in the past fifty years. The central theme of these writings is on creative problem solving, the application of creative insight to the solution of practical problems. The authors of the selections vary quite widely in background, ranging from psychotherapists and philosophers to executives and entrepreneurs.

As with any anthology, this book begs to be browsed. The table of contents includes some article titles that beckon temptingly. "Ownership and Converging: Essential Ingredients of Creative Problem Solving," "Information Processing and New Ideas - - - Lateral and Vertical Thinking," "Creativity Techniques in Product Planning and Development: A View from West Germany," "Japanese Creative Problem Solving Methods," "Computer-Enhanced Creativity Software: Individual Programs," "Let's Be an Ice Cream Machine: Creative Dramatics," and, "Creative Evaluation, Development and Use of Ideas."

To be sure, the titles of some of these passages promise more than the passages themselves deliver. (It's an amusing irony that many creativity researchers have a great talent for writing interesting-sounding titles. Their creative flair then drops off in the body of their prose.) But some of the passages in this book do deliver fully on the promise of their title.

Thoughts on the Nature of Creativity

Most interesting to this reader were the perceptive thoughts of famed humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow writes of the "rebel," "lone wolf" nature of many creative masters. From Maslow point of view, creativity is as much a temperament as it is a process. Maslow's passage in this book is derived from a speech he delivered to the U.S. Army Management School in 1957. To this audience of masculine-impaired minds, Maslow takes impish delight in waxing eloquent on the feminine nature of true creativity. To tap into one's true creativity, according to Maslow, one must necessarily look within the nurturing, feminine side of self. To anyone who has spent time thinking about creativity, Maslow's words ring true. But no doubt his talk elicited a gruff harumph or two from this particular crowd.

Creativity in the Workplace

Another passage that touches upon many truths is the article titled "Obstacles to Creativity," by Melvin Tumin. Taking an anthropological/sociological look at creativity, Tumin scores big points on the great Pinball Machine of Truth when he comments: "It is only when a society genuinely seeks to discover the talent present in the population that we have a condition friendly to the evocation of the creative urges in man in the mass. Most existing systems of stratification (i.e., systems of allocation of status, roles, and rewards) are markedly ineffective in this regard." And the pinball machine lights up again when he analyzes the costly toll of "creativity suppression" in the workplace: "What this signifies for our thinking about creativity is the fact that the denial of creative involvement at work results in socially significant pathologies with an import far beyond the scope of the job itself." Here, here.

Creativity in Education

The educational side of creativity issues is covered well in an article titled: "A Quiet Revolution," by E. Paul Torrance and Kathy Goff. What this article explains is that general creativity skills are being taught more often these days in our nation's schools. But the results of these teachings are very quiet, since the results do not show up in any of the scores from the commonly used standardized tests. In truth, the results of effective creativity teaching may only show up forty or fifty years hence. And even then, you can't always measure the result.

We, as a society, place a premium on educational results that can be measured. But how can you measure an improved creative temperament? If creative temperament cannot easily be placed alongside a measuring stick, is it any less valuable than other cognitive skills that can?

References are made to successful "creative problem solving" competitions that have become popular in certain educational circles. One of the most successful of these is the Odyssey of the Mind, founded in 1978 on the principle that competitive mental games can be played with the same enthusiasm and competitive spirit as physical games. (For further information: OM Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 27, Glassboro, NJ, 08028.)

In the same vein, a nationwide annual competition has been developed by the U.S. Patent Model Foundation. And the Future Problem Solving Program is an annual nationwide challenge geared to creatively gifted youngsters.

Computer Enhanced Creativity

Yes, yes, yes, there's a superficial contradiction in the thought of using computers, "logic machines," to promote intuition and creativity. But the contradiction is entirely superficial. Just as word processors can be a tremendous help in transporting ideas from the mind to the material world, so too can "idea-generating" software assist in the earlier stages of idea formation.

A twenty page section of this oversized book is devoted to examining creativity-enhancing software. The examination is in-depth and thorough, with assessments of the particular software's strengths and weaknesses.

Many of the software programs described are available for both PC and Macintosh platforms. Please note, though, you won't find some of these titles on any store shelf or in any mail-order catalog. You'll need to go directly to the publishers themselves to purchase copies.

About a half-dozen of the Macintosh programs are HyperCard based. This would only to be expected, given HyperCard's ability to link and associate textual, graphic, and sonic ideas. Amongst the Mac programs discussed are: IdeaFisher, CPSE 1.0, MindLink, The Solution Machine, Calliope Plus, Comment, Inspiration, MindWrite, Big Thesaurus, Word Finder, Writer's Dreamtools, MindSet, and Synchronicity.

It's interesting to note the very wide range of prices for these software programs. Many of the programs from the larger publishers are priced at a flat $495. Smaller software publishers typically price their products between $50 to $100. You can't help but wish that some middle pricing ground could be offered. Perhaps the larger publishers can make use of their own products to come up with a more, ahem, creative pricing structure. They might then be pleasantly surprised by a uniquely creative response to their pricing.

Creative Dramatics

The most playful section of this book is Gary A. Davis' passage on creative dramatics. Creative dramatics, blending such older ideas as pantomime with the newer ideas of New Games, helps children and adults develop pride in their own individuality. Since all creativity involves taking risks, promoting self-confidence is one of the strongest ways of promoting creativity.

A simple exercise of getting students to walk across a floor that is gooey with imaginary butterscotch can temporarily release creativity inhibitors. Once a person has felt the experience of having their creativity inhibitors removed, then they themselves can practice techniques for removal of these inhibitors whenever they seek creative inspiration.

Persons interested in reading more about Davis' ideas are directed to his 1972 book, "It's Your Imagination: Theory and Training of Problem Solving," NYC, Basic Books.

Bibliographic Citations Galore

In fact, throughout this source book you'll find bibliographic citations galore. If you're inclined to read further about any specific aspect of creativity, this book could serve well as a road atlas of writings in this field. Admittedly, you may not be able to find back issues of the Journal of Creative Behavior at every public library. But chances are you'll find back issues of this publication on microfiche at any respectable academic library.

Source Book for Creative Problem Solving is a book that is likely to find an audience amongst educators, executives, software developers, librarians, and anyone else whose livelihood involves the management, generation, or transmission of ideas. Perhaps the highest praise one could say of this book is that the production of the book evidences a deep appreciation of the book's subject matter.

Phil Shapiro

[The author works as a freelance writer and educational computing consultant. He takes a keen interest in creative expression and creativity issues. He can be reached at:]

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