Tag Archives: CPS

Thinking about Your Creative Thinking

A recent Forbes.com article by Holly Green highlighted the role of strategic thinking in effective leadership. Referencing the mad pace of business, she asserted that leaders need to move beyond depending upon what she called “critical” and “implementation” thinking types, to embrace three additional thinking types: “conceptual,” “innovative” and “intuitive.” Green placed these five types together under the larger umbrella of strategic thinking. (The reference in the title of the article to “Five Critical Thinking Types” is misleading; “Five Strategic Thinking Types” is a more accurate description of her theme.)

While there’s some murkiness around her usage of “type” and “skill,” in her article Green does two significant things: she asks leaders to think about their thinking, and, building upon this, she draws awareness to the fact that different types of thinking are called for in different situations. Both of these are valuable propositions.

We can take her recommendations further, however, by offering leaders a deliberate process for applying these two concepts of “thinking about your thinking,” and using different thinking skills while you do.

The most recent adaptation of the classic model for applied creativity, Creative Problem Solving (CPS) does just this. The aptly-named “Thinking Skills Model” uses an approach similar to what Green proposed, but has the advantage of being more explicitly incorporated into the creative thinking process from beginning to end – in Green’s terms from “visualizing” to “implementation.” Drawing upon its CPS lineage, it is also supported by decades of research into the benefits of applied creative thinking.

The Thinking Skills Model (TSM) identifies key cognitive skills which come into play throughout the creative thinking process. They are: diagnostic, visionary, strategic, ideational, evaluative, contextual, and tactical thinking.

Green’s list of thinking types, again, is: critical, implementation, conceptual, innovative, and intuitive.

Of course there are some similarities and differences, and in a longer analysis we would line these up in a straight-on comparison to explore the overlaps and gaps between the two. For the time being, suffice it to say that Green’s on to something when she says “knowing when and how much to utilize each (type) is the hallmark of great leaders.” By aligning different thinking skills to different phases of the creative process, the Thinking Skills Model gives leaders a framework for being able to do this. The result is more effective thinking in complex, open-ended situations such as Green describes.

Effective creative thinking is at the heart of what Green advocates. Yet it’s interesting to note that the words “creative” and “creativity” are nowhere to be seen in her article. This may have been a deliberate choice, in order to avoid the fuzziness often associated with the “c” word, especially in business settings. Using deliberate processes like Creative Problem Solving doesn’t make things fuzzier, however. In fact, it does quite the opposite: it clarifies and strengthens our thinking, especially in these complex and open-ended situations, when we need our creative thinking the most.

Photo Credit: Jacob Boetter
Green, H. (2012, March 27). How to develop five critical thinking types. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/03/27/how-to-develop-5-critical-thinking-types.
Puccio, G. J., Murdock, M.C, & Mance, M (2007). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Strategy and Uncertainty

Strategic planning engages our expectations of a future state. We set out our desires, hopes, goals, plans, benchmarks and time-lines, and formulate a strategy for implementing them.

Several significant challenges come along for the ride: the future – while forecast-able to some degree – is uncertain in important ways; the past shapes our expectations, sometimes without our knowing it; and the present circumstances are often presumed – that is, we think we know what our current opportunities and problems are, but often haven’t thought deeply enough about them to really understand.

When organizations engage in strategic processes, whether through annual planning, or individual initiatives and projects, these challenges can often be swept aside. We want a good solid plan, and spend less time thinking about our thinking (which we can have some certainty about), and more time planning the future (which will always contain a hefty does of the uncertain).

One way to respond to this dilemma is by engaging in a deliberate process such as Creative Problem Solving. I’ve used CPS for strategic planning in one-on-one sessions, and in multi-client, multi-year planning retreats. The results are always the same: CPS clarifies thinking. The stages of the CPS process conform perfectly to the different stages of a strategic process, from deeply understanding the current situation, to generating ideas for moving toward identified goals, to planning and execution.

A not-incidental benefit, of course, is that CPS also improves creative thinking in open-ended, ambiguous situations. And the future, being what it is, fits that description to a tee.

(If you’re in the Seattle area, and interested in digging deeper, I’ll be holding a seminar on CPS and Strategic Planning later this month.)

photo credit by Shiny Things