It may seem odd to want to spend time finding problems when the world seems full of them already. However, problem finding is an essential first stage within the creative problem solving process. It includes the anticipation of problems, identifying problems when none are apparent, and structuring an ill-defined problem so problem solving efforts can proceed. These problem finding processes are crucial in enabling you to be sure you know what the real problem is and why it occurs.

**Brainstorming**

Most people have heard of brainstorming. It’s a way of generating ideas in an environment free from evaluation and judgement. When used in problem finding the aim is to explore the problem and consider it in as many new and/or unlikely ways as possible. To do this you simply think about the problem and then freely associate from it in an unconstrained manner in order to generate as many alternative ways as possible of seeing the problem.

Key points to keep in mind when you do this are:

- Freely associate to any ideas without boundaries

- Do not engage in critical assessment or evaluation of ideas

- Focus on the quantity of ideas – more is better

- Try combining ideas

- Record information without interrupting the flow of ideas

Research has shown that when given a summary of the general problem area individuals are able to use brainstorming to generate alternative ways of thinking about the problem. Which led to them producing a greater number of more relevant problems.

**Key Ref:**

Kurtzberg, R. L., & Reale, A. (1999). Using Torrence’s problem identification techniques to increase fluency and flexibility in the classroom. *Journal of Creative Behaviour, 33*(3), 202-207.

**Mind mapping**

A mind map is simply a way of visually organising and formulating information about a problem. It can be used to help you identify various concepts and the relationships between them which will help you map out your understanding of the problem.

Begin by identifying what you think the central problem is and then write this down in the centre of a piece of paper and draw a circle around it. Then identify the various aspects of the problem and for each aspect draw a line outward from the central problem. These lines can branch off as more issues are raised/discovered. Also links can be drawn in between these branches with arrows used where needed to indicate possible directional causality.

Using mind maps has been shown to help people articulate problems more effectively and identify innovative ways of dealing with the problem.

**Key Refs**

Kokotovich, V. (2008). Problem analysis and thinking tools: an empirical study of non-hierarchical mind mapping. *Design Studies, 29*(1), 49-69.

Wu, C., Hwang, G., Kuo, F., & Huang, I. (2013). A mindtool-based collaborative learning approach to enhancing students’ innovative performance in management courses. *Australasian Journal of Education Technology, 29*(1), 128-142.

**Restating the problem**

In order to know or understand the problem you need to say what it is, or ‘state it’. One way to improve your understanding of a problem and also generate better potential solutions is to ‘restate’ it in as many different ways as you can. Such restatements can occur in a number of ways. You can simply paraphrase the original problem, reverse the focus of the problem, or alter the focus of the problem to include/exclude additional information.

By actively thinking about the problem in these different ways you will be able to produce better quality and more original solutions. Research also shows that when you restate the problem giving some thought to *how* you can get things done and what possible *limitations* there may be leads to better outcomes.

**Key Refs**

Mumford, M. D., Baughman, W. A., Threlfall, K. V., Supinski, E. P., & Costanza, D. P. (1996). Process-based measures of creative problem-solving skills: I Problem construction. . *Creativity Research Journal, 9*(1), 63-76.

Mumford, M. D., Reiter-Palmon, R., & Redmond, M. R. (1994). Problem construction and cognition: Applying problem representations in ill-defined domains. In M. A. Runco (Ed.), *Problem finding, problem solving, and creativity.* (pp. 3-39.). Norwood, NJ.: Ablex.

**Six good men**

A very useful way of improving your understanding of a problem is to simply ask a number of open ended questions. Here, you can use Kipling’s ‘Six Honest Serving Men’:

- Who

- What

- Where

- When

- Why

- How

Asking such open ended questions will improve your understanding of the issues influencing or surrounding the problem and help you to reach more effective solutions. We have shown in our research that using these open ended questions when completing a problem construction task leads to an increase in the number of ideas, with these ideas rated as more original.

**Key Refs**

McFadzean, E. (1998). The creativity continuum: Towards a classification of creative problem solving techniques. *Creativity and Innovation Management., 7*(3), 131-139.

Vernon, D., & Hocking, I. (2014). Thinking hats and good men: Structured techniques in a problem construction task. *Thinking Skills and Creativity., 14*, 41-46.

**Six thinking hats **

We’ve all heard of the phrase ‘put on your thinking cap’. Well, here you can use up to six different coloured thinking hats to think about the problem in a variety of different ways. Each of the six hats is a different colour and links to a range of specific questions.

The six hats are:

**White Hat:**this is concerned with*facts*and*information*. Here you need to think about what information you have, what information you may need and the questions you need to ask to obtain the information you want.**Green Hat**: this is about*imagination*and*lateral thinking*. Here you are encouraged to think creatively and come up with new ideas. Here you can ask what is interesting about this problem, what new ideas can I think of regarding this problem, where will this take me?**Yellow Hat**: this is about focusing on the*positive*, optimistic values and*benefits*of a situation. Here you need to ask yourself ‘what is good about this’ or ‘what are the benefits’.**Black Hat**: this is about exploring the*negative*and/or*judgemental*aspects of the issue. Here you can ask what are the risks, what are the dangers, are there any ethical issues?**Red Hat**: this is about your*feelings*, intuition and*emotion*. Here you need to think about how a problem or issue makes you feel. Your emotional responses can be either positive, negative or both.**Blue Hat**: this is about*reflecting back*on the whole process to try and get a broad view of the issues. Here you can ask yourself what have I achieved, or what is it I want to achieve or what do I want to do next?

White Information, facts, |
Green Creative, ideas |
Yellow Positive, benefits |
Black Negative, criticisms |
Red Emotion, feeling |
Blue The broad view |

It may be the case that for some problems some hats are more useful than others and not all hats may be required in all situations. Also, don’t be overly concerned about what type of question needs to go with which hat or the specific order that you use the hats. The goal is not to create frustration and cause anxiety but simply to use the hats to stimulate your thinking. Our research has shown that using these six hats in a problem construction task can improve the number and originality of the responses.

**Key Refs**

de Bono, E. (2009). *Six thinking hats.*: Penguin.

Vernon, D., & Hocking, I. (2014). Thinking hats and good men: Structured techniques in a problem construction task. *Thinking Skills and Creativity., 14*, 41-46.