Think about a problem you recently solved. What steps did you take? Were you aware of your process in the moment? How did it go?
According to over 50 years of research into creativity, we all follow the same steps when solving problems: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement. In addition, we each have preferences towards some steps more than others.
As a certified FourSight instructor, I’ve come to learn the importance of understanding how we solve problems. Awareness of our process and preferences towards each step allows us to be better collaborators and more effective problem-solvers.
Let’s unpack creative problem solving (CPS) and the FourSight tool.
First, what is creativity?
Before we dive into the history of creative problem solving, let’s define our terms.
At Clique, we define creativity as, “the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality.” (Naiman and Naiman 2017)
Creativity is a process, not some special trait endowed to only a few. In fact, anyone can be creative. Most often, artists are labeled “creative;” however, anyone who takes a novel idea and makes it a reality is practicing creativity. A football player who runs a new route, a mathematician who crunches numbers a different way, and a strategist who writes a blog about problem solving are each creative in their own ways.
Our understanding of creativity is rooted in research that goes back nearly 60 years. Known as the “Father of Brainstorming,” Alex Osborn was a creativity theorist and businessman who studied creativity while designing brainstorming sessions in the 1950s. His work is the foundation of many problem-solving processes including Design Thinking and Human-Centered Design.
Osborn focused his research on how we solve problems because that’s often when we call upon creativity to turn a new idea into reality. His research showed that we all can be creative when needed and, interestingly, we each follow the same steps.
In the 1990s, Gerard Puccio, Ph.D., Director of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at the State University of New York College at Buffalo, set out to spread awareness of the CPS process.
By building upon Osborn’s research, Puccio developed a tool known as FourSight. The tool includes an explanation of the four-step problem-solving process and an assessment that measures our preferences toward each step.
According to FourSight, we all follow four steps when solving a problem: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement.
- Clarify: When we approach a problem, our first step is to clarify the nature of it. We ask questions, identify the root cause, and articulate the problem to be solved.
- Ideate: Once we understand the problem, we ideate potential solutions. There’s often more than one way to move forward, and ideation is a way to explore many options.
- Develop: After our ideas are out there, we pick one to develop into a workable solution. We review the details and determine what’s needed to make our idea a reality.
- Implement: Once we have a plan, we’re ready to implement it. We put rubber to the road and apply our solution.
We each intuitively follow these steps whenever we solve problems. Even in moments of high stress, when we’re forced to “go with our gut,” this process plays a role.
Imagine you walk into your home and smell smoke. You’d first clarify what’s causing it. If you discover a fire in your kitchen, you’d (quickly) ideate ways to put it out. Water from the sink? A call to 911? The fire extinguisher!
Once you choose to use the fire extinguisher, you develop your approach. Is there a safety valve? How do you spray it? Where should you stand? When you’re ready, you implement. Goodbye, fire!
All of these steps can happen in a matter of seconds, but we follow them intuitively. Our real strength and effectiveness comes from awareness that there is a process and that we prefer some steps over others.
When we talk about preferences, it’s important to note that preferences are not the same as abilities. Here’s an example to illustrate:
Try signing your name with your non-dominant hand. How does it feel?
I’ve heard people describe the experience a variety of ways:
- “It’s awkward.”
- “I feel dumb.”
- “It’s harder than I thought.”
- “I have to work slower.”
- “It requires more effort.”
Even though you could practice writing with your non-dominant hand and get better, it will always feel slightly awkward and require more effort and attention than writing with your dominant hand.
Preferences are similar. Depending on which steps in the FourSight process we prefer, we’ll gain and lose energy along the way. And each preference comes with strengths and potential blindspots.
- Clarifiers: These people are most engaged during the clarification stage as they enjoy asking questions and getting to the root of a problem before moving forward. They may be great at articulating an issue and fully understanding what needs to be solved. However, they may also suffer from “analysis paralysis” and avoid moving into ideation. When working with Clarifiers it’s important to give them space to ask questions. And Clarifiers need to remember to maintain forward movement when working with non-Clarifiers.
- Ideators: These folks love ideation. They are often most engaged when thinking of a range of solutions and can be great at divergent thinking. However, they may find it hard to pick just one idea and could lose energy when it comes time to discuss the details. When working with Ideators, it’s important to give them space to play. And when Ideators work with others, they should remember to tie their loftier ideas to tangible outcomes.
- Developers: Similar to how Clarifiers enjoy the details of the problem, Developers love the details of the solution. They feel most engaged when it comes time to take an idea and make it a reality. They question what needs to be done, who’s going to do it, and how. When working with Developers, it’s important to give them as much information as possible so they know all bases are covered. And Developers need to avoid getting too stuck in the details, as it could prevent them from dreaming big or implementing their plans.
- Implementers: This group of people feels most engaged when it’s time to act. They love executing a solution, and can become impatient when spending too much time thinking about the problem or the solution. When working with Implementers, it’s important to show forward momentum throughout the process. And Implementers are at their best when they address the needs of others and avoid a “ready, fire, aim!” approach.
You may be thinking to yourself that you can relate to a few of these personas. And that makes sense. In fact, it’s entirely possible to prefer multiple steps of the process. For instance, I prefer clarification and ideation – which makes me an “Early Bird” and comes with its own set of strengths and potential blindspots.
As I’ve mentioned before, our preferences in the problem-solving process do not impact our overall capabilities. However, awareness of the process, our preferences, and the preferences of others, helps us improve our skills and be better collaborators.
When working with others, it helps to understand where each team member gains and loses energy. This way, each group member can support one another and ensure they have the information they need to stay engaged throughout the project.
If you’d like to implement FourSight at your organization, begin by defining your terms so your teams have a shared language around creativity. Next, take time to share your preferences with one another so you know how to keep one another most engaged. And finally, allow the process to formalize your approach to meetings and project management.
At Clique, we’ve adopted FourSight language when discussing our internal meetings. Often, meeting invites will include disclaimers such as: “this is a clarification session, so come prepared to ask questions” or “let’s ideate potential solutions to the following prompt.” In this way, people can prepare for each call regardless of where their preferences lie.
We also structure our client engagements with CPS in mind. Each project has dedicated time for clarification, ideation, development, and implementation. This way, we know we’re solving the right problems for our clients and bringing the best possible solutions to life in the best possible way.
Creative problem solving is a cornerstone to innovation and plays a role in all of our work. By understanding the process and our preferences toward each step, we’re able to turn new and imaginative ideas into reality every time.
If you’d like to learn more about your specific preferences related to problem solving, check out the FourSight Assessment or contact us and let’s solve some problems together!