Feeling Our Way Through

How does it feel when you’re working your way through the creative process? Especially if you’re following a deliberate process, like Creative Problem Solving, you may find yourself concentrating on the process steps—getting swept up in brainstorming, or intensely focusing on selecting ideas, for example.

But are you aware of how you’re feeling?

The quality of our affective state (which represents feelings and attitudes) plays a role in how we engage with our creativity. Daniel Goleman, who writes about Emotional Intelligence, says that “coming up with a creative insight is a cognitive act—but realizing its value, nurturing it, and following through calls on emotional competencies such as self-confidence, initiative, persistence, and the ability to persuade.” There’s also the excitement we feel when our creativity is sparking, and the frustration we feel when it isn’t.

The Thinking Skills Model (TSM) of Creative Problem Solving speaks to this. (See Puccio, Murdock & Mance, 2007, below.) It distinguishes different cognitive and affective skills that are matched up to the process steps. For example, the step, “Exploring the Vision,” elicits visionary thinking and dreaming. Think about it: when you’re really wondering what all might be possible, you are thinking about things with a visionary mindset, and you might even find yourself feeling in a sort of reverie of imagination. Or at least doing some serious “blue sky” pondering.

Similarly, “Formulating Challenges” calls for the ability to feel or sense our way into the gaps of what might be missing. “Formulating a Plan” asks that we engage our tolerance for risk.

This linking of feeling (or affective) states with the process steps of CPS helps to bring into awareness what Goleman said about emotion and creativity.

I recently led a training on TSM, and began by asking the group how they had felt at different times during the process of Creative Problem Solving (they had just completed a project where they each took a work-related challenge through the CPS model on their own).

Here are some of their remarks:

  • daunted while gathering data
  • intrigued while clarifying the problem
  • abundant while generating ideas
  • focused while selecting and strengthening solutions
  • competent while planning for action

Not all of these feeling states match up to the TSM model, but what matters is the awareness that our feelings come along for the ride, whether we’re conscious of them or not. So, bringing awareness and vocabulary to the process will probably help.

But be prepared as you start drawing awareness to emotions! People may believe you are advocating for emotionality. There’s a difference. A balanced awareness of our affect, our attitude, our mood, can support us in the creative process, and help us diagnose when we might be getting off track. Fundamentally, it’s about bringing all of our resources into the game.

Goleman, D. (1998) Working with emotional intelligence. Bantam: New York;
Puccio, G. J., Murdock, M. C. & Mance, M. (2007). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Leave a Reply