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Problem finding and problem solving: Problem finding, creativity, and giftedness



Problem finding skills are increasingly recognized in theories of creativity. They should also be integrated into definitions of giftedness and recognized by educators. This article reviews the research showing problem finding to be distinct from problem solving, as well as the research supporting its role in intrinsically motivated creative performances. Of most importance may be that problem finding represents a family of related skills (e.g., problem identification, problem definition, problem expression, problem construction), each of which seems to be influenced by cognitive and extracognitive (e.g., attitudinal) factors. Specific educational implications and suggestions for developing the problem finding skills of gifted children are discussed.
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Problem finding, creativity, and giftedness.
Runco, Mark A.
Nemiro, Jill
Roeper Review. Jun94, Vol. 16 Issue 4, p235. 7p.
*Education of gifted children
Problem solving in children
United States
Reviews the research showing problem finding to be distinct from
problem solving and the research supporting its role in motivated
creative performances. Impact of cognitive and extracognitive
factors; Education implications; Suggestions for developing the
problem finding skills of gifted children.
Education Research Complete
Problem Finding and Problem Solving
Problem finding skills are increasingly recognized in theories of creativity. They should also be integrated
into definitions of giftedness and recognized by educators. This article reviews the research showing
problem finding to be distinct from problem solving, as well as the research supporting its role in
intrinsically motivated creative performances. Of most importance may be that problem finding represents
a family of related skills (e.g., problem identification, problem definition, problem expression, problem
construction), each of which seems to be influenced by cognitive and extracognitive (e.g., attitudinal)
factors. Specific educational implications and suggestions for developing the problem finding skills of
gifted children are discussed.
The research on creativity is especially interesting when it reflects its own creativity. Examples of this are
not difficult to find; much of the current research in this area is original, and numerous conceptual
breakthroughs have been reported in the last few years. Two are especially pertinent to gifted education.
One involves the theory of domain specificity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Gardner, 1983; Runco, 1987). In
the most detailed description of this theory, Gardner (1983) argued that there are seven domains of ability
and possible exceptionality (i.e., verbal-symbolic, mathematical-logical, musical, kinesthetic, spatial,
interpersonal, and intrapersonal), each with its own developmental history and neurophysiological under-
pinnings. In related empirical work, Runco (1987) continued that gifted children tend to express creativity
only within specific domains. The idea of domain specificity has clear implications for those involved in
gifted education. Identification procedures, for example, should take into account the fact that students
will do their best in specific areas (Albert & Runco, 1986; Arnold & Subotnik, 1994; Bloom, 1985).
The second conceptual breakthrough also involves a movement towards specificity, but this is the
specificity of abilities, skills, and aptitudes. Various such specifications have been offered through the
years, including those suggested by critics of the IQ and its assumption of general intelligence (Gould,
1981). There are, for example, two-factor, seven-factor, and numerous other multifactor theories of
intelligence. Although none of these is widely accepted, most educators and school psychologists no
longer rely on the IQ as informative for all students. Instead, they look to specific abilities and aptitudes.
Specifics are also implied by Renzulli's (1978) three-ring model, with general intelligence, motivation, and
creative potential as each required for the accurate identification of gifted children. This is a move in the
right direction, but even more specificity can now be offered. What is needed is a wider recognition of
these specifics, and the implementation of them by educators into appropriate curricula. To that end, this
article summarizes the research which demonstrates progress towards the understanding of problem
finding. Problem finding is a critical component of creativity and can be encouraged through various
means in the classroom. A more general review of the creativity research and its implications for
education was presented by Cropley (1992). Here the focus is on problem finding, and in particular on the
different kinds of problem finding, relationships with intrinsic motivation and interest, and techniques for
the classroom.
Problem Finding
The importance of finding good problems has been recognized for quite some time, especially in the
sciences. Albert Einstein, for example, is often quoted as suggesting that "the formulation of a problem is
often more essential than its solution" (from Einstein & Infeld, 1938, p. 83). At about the same time,
Wallas (1926) presented a model of creative thinking which is still widely cited, with preparation,
incubation, illumination, and verification stages. The preparation stage obviously parallels what is now
usually called problem finding. The point is that anecdotal and theoretical accounts have for years
recognized that something occurs before problem solving.
Csikszentmihalyi and Getzels (1970, 1971) seem to have initiated the empirical work on problem finding
(cf. Patrick, 1935, 1937). As is the case for so many facets of ability and aptitude, this early work focused
on adults. In particular, Csikszentmihalyi and Getzels (1970, 1971) studied the activities of art students.
They found that the exploratory behaviors of the artists before they actually worked was predictive of the
quality of the eventual artwork. Kay (1991, 1994) recently replicated this finding with several groups of
professional and semiprofessional artists.
More recent research has examined the problem finding of children (Getzels & Smilansky, 1983; Okuda,
Runco & Berger, 1991; Wakefield, 1985). Getzels and Smilansky (1983), for example, were interested in
how problems are formulated and posed by secondary school students. They focused on the content and
quality of problems posed by secondary students specifically about the school setting. Getzels and
Smilansky asked, first, what kinds of problems are posed by secondary students? Second, are they high
quality problems? (Although the content of a problem posed by two students may be the same, the
quality may be different. One student may view the problem solely from his or her own egocentric
perspective, while another student may be "socially sensitive" and acknowledge other viewpoints as
rationale for the existence of the problem.) Third, what are the relationships between the intellectual
characteristics of the students and the content and quality of the problems they formulate?
To answer these questions, Getzels and Smilansky (1983) administered a problem-posing questionnaire
to 122 high school students, asking the students to describe important school problems. Measures of
intellectual characteristics (standardized tests of verbal and nonverbal intelligence, reading
comprehension, English, math, science, and social studies) were obtained through school records, and
divergent thinking abilities were assessed by scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. The
students responded with a total of 537 problems. The content of problems fell into three major areas:
problems with fellow students, with teachers, and with the institution as a whole, The most salient
problem involved "unfairness of teachers," with 45% of the students posing such a problem. Significantly,
some problems were not related to the intellectual characteristics of the students. Students of all
intellectual levels felt certain problems (e.g., unfair teachers, pupil misbehavior, homework, grades,
examinations, and restrictive regulations) were important. Other problems seemed to be related to the
intellectual characteristics of the students. For example, concern with lack of communication was
expressed most often by students with high academic aptitude and verbal divergent thinking skills.
Students who were most concerned about cliques scored higher on tests of intelligence. academic
aptitude, and divergent thinking than those who were not similarly concerned. Although the problem of
boring teachers was not related to intelligence or academic aptitude, it was related to divergent thinking
The quality of problems was assessed on a five-point scale according to the degree that each included
other viewpoints as a possible rationale for the problem. A high quality problem included the
consideration of others' motives and needs; a low quality problem considered only the individual's own
viewpoint. Overall, with these definitions, problems posed by students were of low quality--they were
much more egocentric than socially sensitive. In 56% of the problems, students were unable to describe
any reason for the problem or they attributed the problem to negative motives of others. In only 10% of
the problems did students attribute a positive motive for the existence of the problem--indicating the
problem was beneficial or at least justifiable. When the five-point scale was used to compute a mean
score for each student, only 4% of the students received a score of 4 or more, while 39% had a mean
score of 2 or less.
Getzels and Smilansky (1983) offered two practical suggestions. The first follows from the discovery that
students who earned relatively high scores on the tests of divergent thinking often described boring
teachers as a problem. As Getzels and Smilansky noted, creative individuals seem to thrive on diversity,
complexity, and novelty, and these traits can each be difficult to find in the typical classroom. Creative and
divergent thinkers may thus be difficult to reach in the classroom. Moreover, teachers may for this reason
prefer students with exceptional intelligence rather than those who think divergently. In this light, the
students who were high in divergent thinking ability and bored by teachers may have been describing a
valid (though subjective) interpretation of the classroom. Runco, Johnson, and Bear (1993) recently
reviewed the research showing a relationship between teachers' preferences and students' creativity, or
lack thereof. Eisenman, Runco, Kritsonis, and Savoie (in press) recently reported problems common to
college students.
A second suggestion was derived from the results that regardless of the content of the problem, the
majority of the problems posed were egocentric rather than socially-sensitive. Only students who were
relatively high in intellectual characteristics and divergent thinking tended to pose socially-sensitive
problems. Hence it appears that in order to pose problems in a complex way, one must have the ability to
think abstractly and see situations from different viewpoints. To the degree that giftedness is at least
partly intellectual (Albert & Runco, 1986; Renzulli, 1978), the relationship between the quality of the
problems formulated by the students and the level of intellectual characteristics intimates a relationship
between giftedness and problem finding abilities.
Wakefield (1985) took at somewhat different approach in his assessment of the problem finding of 5th
grade children. He specifically studied the problem finding which occurs while thinking divergently.
Divergent thinking tasks typically present a specific problem and thus require only problem solving, but
Wakefield (1985) modified Wallach and Kogan's (1965) figural (or "visual") divergent thinking test such
that subjects were asked to draw a pattern or line before solving the problem of describing what it could
be. This allowed the children to find--or at least define--problems before solving them. Wakefield argued
that the average number of responses to personal drawings would be a better indication of creative
attitudes and values than the responses to presented tasks.
Twenty-three 5th grade children participated in Wakefield's (1985) investigation. Not all of them were
gifted, but some had academic aptitude scores in the 991h percentile. Each child was presented with five
cards in each divergent exercise. A blank card was inserted after the fourth card in each series; on it
students were asked to draw their own stimuli. Two scores were calculated from the responses of each
student. One was labeled a creative performance score and defined as the average number of divergent
responses a child created for his or her own drawings. The second score was labeled a divergent-
thinking score, which Wakefield (1985) defined as the average number of divergent responses to the 10
presented drawings. Wakefield did not define "divergence" but presumably he used originality or
remoteness of the ideas. Following the divergent tests, each child took three subtests of the WISC-R.
The California Achievement Tests (CAT) and the Group Inventory for Finding Creative Talent (GIFT) were
administered to the students in class, the former to assess reading, language, and mathematical skills,
the latter to assess creative attitudes and values. GIFT scores were used as criteria of creative potential
(cf. Rimm & Davis, 1980).
Results from the GIFT, WISC-R, and CAT measures confirmed that this sample of students was above
average in creative potential, as well as general intelligence and academic achievement. Correlations
revealed a significant relationship between the GIFT scores and the responses to the self-defined
problems (r = .46) but no relationship with WISC-R scores. Interestingly, the opposite was true for
responses to presented drawings. These divergent thinking scores were significantly correlated with the
WISC-R scores (r = .45), but not with GIFT scores. The correlation with the WISC-R scores again
intimates a relationship with giftedness.
Although problem finding seems to be related to divergent thinking (Runco & Okuda, 1988; Wakefield,
1985), the relationship is by no means indicative of redundancy. The generation of problems, though
related to ideation, is statistically and behavorially distinct from the ideation used when involved solving
problems. This confirms what was suggested above about the need to recognize specific skills. It is not
enough to look to divergent thinking (as problem solving) when looking for students who have the
potential for creative thought, nor when attempting to identify gifted children. Problem finding should also
be assessed. In fact, the specificity argument can be cited one more time because the distinctiveness of
the various aspects of problem finding must also be recognized. Problems need to be identified, for
example, but identification per se is only the first step. Problems also need to be defined, and in particular
need to be defined in such a way as to allow the student to work towards a solution. In a recent review of
this area of research, Runco (1994) described problem finding as a general category of skills. In the
research in that review, problem expression, problem construction, problem posing, problem generation,
and problem discovery were each defined, in addition to problem identification and problem definition.
The argument about the distinctiveness of the various kinds of problem finding can be taken too far.
Indeed, at one time, many individuals thought that the various facets of problem finding and problem
solving could be accurately described using a fixed sequential or stage model. For example, the model
from Wallas (1926), described earlier, is often interpreted as requiring preparation, incubation,
illumination, and verification--one at a time and in this sequence. The assumption is that one stage is
completed before the individual moves on to the next. Clearly this is unrealistic. Preparation may involve
problem finding or problem definition, for instance, and verification may include incubation. Further, even
if the components of problem solving follow a particular sequence, interactions and feedback no doubt
still occur. For this reason Runco (1994) described how the "distinct stages may be defined, but recursive
interactions among components must be recognized for a realistic picture of creative problem solving and
problem finding."
This interactive view of problem finding and creative thinking fits well with contemporary theories of
cognition. Jausovec (1994), for example, described interactions among planning, monitoring, and
evaluating metacognitions, and Hoover and Feldhusen (1994) viewed "good problem solving" in terms of
interactions among memory organization and facilitation. domain specific knowledge, and metacognitive
skills. Ayman-Nolley (1992) drew from Vygotsky's theory of development and suggested an interaction
between critical thinking, or reasoning, and creative imagination. and Runco and Chand (1994) pointed
specifically to interactions among problem finding, idea generation, and critical and evaluative processes.
Other significant interactions involve affective and social factors. Affect plays an especially important role
during problem identification and definition. In his review of the problem finding literature, Runco
All problems have an affective component. If they did not, they would not be perceived as problematic
(and worth one's effort). Problems by definition have goals--usually referred to as solutions--and these
are presumably what motivates individuals.
Getzels and Smilansky (1983) pointed to social sensitivity as a significant facet of discovered problems,
and Wakefield (1994) emphasized the "affective origins" of problem finding, and empathy in particular.
Basadur (1994) recognized the importance of affect in his description of problem ownership as the motive
for continued creative problem solving, and Treffinger, Tallman, and Isaksen (1994) gave great weight to
social influences on problem finding and creative thinking by emphasizing the impact of an individual's
"need for acceptance." Basadur (1994) took the social view one step further and described the influence
that culture can have on creativity and one's need for acceptance. Of most relevance is his suggestion
that education in Western culture emphasizes critical skill, wherein the intent is to determine what is
wrong or lacking in an idea or solution. This kind of critical examination can inhibit creative expression
(also see Amabile, 1990; Hennessey & Sbikowski, in press) and it may apply to both problem finding and
problem solving. In fact, in some cultures, it may be inappropriate to describe "boring teachers" as a
problem, as the U.S. students described above tended to do. Apparently they were, confident enough to
describe teachers that way, but according to Basadur, this kind of pointed problem definition is taboo in
other cultures.
Techniques for the Classroom
Educators should feel optimistic about their potential impact on the creativity of their students, especially
because of the probable influence of cultural and social processes. These are experiential and can
therefore be manipulated.
Consider Wakefield's (1985) suggestion that the freedom to discover and solve problems is crucial for
creative performance. This implies that students should be allowed some input when defining tasks and
assignments. Of course, this idea should not be taken too far: Students should not make all the
decisions. Classrooms that are entirely "open" and unstructured are not conducive to creativity (Cropley,
1992; Runco & Okuda Sakamoto, 1993). Students can learn a great deal about problem finding and
problem solving from lectures and explicit instructions.
Explicit instructions are simply directions which contain detailed, task-specific information. They are very
useful in educational settings because they are so simple and so effective. In early research on explicit
instructions, Harrington (1975) found significant increases in the originality of college students when they
were given divergent thinking tests with explicit instructions. These particular instructions encouraged
students to "be creative," and they defined creativity in precise terms (i.e., as unusual and worthwhile).
Results showed that subjects who had been given explicit instructions produced higher originality scores,
more unusual responses, and lower fluency scores than those who received standard instructions.
Runco (1986) found differences between gifted and nongifted children in terms of their reactions to
explicit instructions, and Runco and Okuda (1991) found that explicit instructions could be used with
problem solving flexibility as well as originality. Runco's (1986) results suggest that gifted children use
strategies implied by explicit instructions even without being told to do so. In other words, the gifted
children seemed to be spontaneously strategic. That flexibility increased with explicit instructions is
important in that it precludes problem solving fixity and rigidity.
Chand and Runco (1992) used explicit instructions with three different kinds of "real-world" (or at least
realistic) problems: presented problems, which were defined a priori, with individuals only solving the
problems; problem generation tasks, which requested the subject to list problems of their own design;
and discovered problem solving tasks, which asked the student to choose one of his or her own problems
and then give solutions to it. This allowed a comparison of two different problem finding tasks, one
representing problem generation and the other representing discovered problem solving. One group of
subjects received explicit instructions to be creative, as in Harrington's (1975) project; the other group did
not. Contrasts indicated that the two groups of students had significantly different scores, suggesting that
explicit instructions to be creative did have an impact on problem-finding and problem-solving
performances. Fluency scores from the presented problem divergent thinking and discovered problem
divergent thinking tasks were higher in the explicit instructions group than in the standard instructions
group. The effects were, however, moderated by the specific tasks. Originality scores of the problem
generation tasks were low when the students received explicit instructions, indicating that the instructions
did not facilitate the production of problems. Importantly, the scores from the explicit instructions group
were significantly correlated with ratings from a creative activities check list, while scores from the
standard instructions group were not. The scores elicited by explicit instructions were therefore more
predictive of real-world behaviors than those that were elicited by the standard instructions. This in turn
supports the validity of scores elicited by explicit instructions, and it suggests that they might be used in
the classroom and when assessing the creative potential of students.
Although the explicit instructions were effective, the students apparently did not use one strategy with all
three tasks. Strategies may therefore need to be defined by individuals for specific tasks (Runco, 1994).
This should not come as a surprise, given what is known about how problems differ from one another.
Jausovec (1994), for example, described the importance of separating well-defined and ill-defined
problems, the latter requiring "a redefinition of open goals into more precise ones" and also often leading
to creative performances and solutions. Such differences among problem types suggest that strategy and
skill do not necessarily transfer from one problem type to another. This might influence generalization and
determine how well students take what they learn from academic work and apply it in the real world.
Tegano, Sawyers, and Moran (1989) were specifically interested in methods teachers might use to assist
in the development of problem-finding and problem-solving skills of young students.[ 1] In their model,
both exploration (e.g., when a child asks "what can this do?") and diversive exploration (e.g., play, such
as when a child asks "what can I do with this?") are critical. Tegano et al. argued that teachers can
encourage problem-finding through both exploration and by altering the structure of activities. In
exploration, a teacher can try to engage a student in a high-interest activity and maintain that child's
involvement. One way to do this is by asking open-ended questions about the object (e.g., "What does
this look like? What do you think it is? What else could it be?"). Tegano et al. even listed three areas for
possible variation of play situations: the structure or plan for the activity itself; the child's interactions with
the activities or materials; and the nature of the teacher's involvement in the activity
(directive/nondirective and evaluative/facilitative). Tegano et al. (1989) concluded with the following
recommendations tO~ preschool teachers:
* Provide a psychologically safe environment. Children
need freedom and security in order to explore.[2]
* Incorporate and adapt to children's interests and
ideas by focusing on their choices for activities
in the classroom.
* Encourage children to take part in the decision-making
process. When children say "Can this be done?" the teacher
should respond with "Yes--how?" not "Yes but...."
* Allow time for children to think about and develop their
ideas, and provide a place in the classroom where children
can think and daydream to discover and solve problems.
Note the suggestion about time. Recent empirical research by Sawyer and Csikszentmihalyi (1993)
suggests that time is critical, especially for problem finding. Sawyer and Csikszentmihalyi also
emphasized the social basis of problem finding. Perhaps what is needed is alternated social activity (e.g.,
group discussion about issues and potential problems) and time alone for daydreaming and incubation.
This social/individual plan could be used quite easily in the classroom. In addition to its allowing for group
brainstorming and time alone, it would add to the diversity of activity suggested above.
Teachers should recognize that problem finding is in part an emotional activity. Intrinsic motivation is, for
example, critically important. When students are intrinsically motivated they tend to be the most creative
(Amabile, 1990; Hennessey & Sbikowski, in press). Intrinsic motivation is not, however, a prerequisite to
task involvement, problem definition, or creativity. This is because it may result from problem finding
rather than elicit it. If a task is chosen by a student him- or herself, it will most likely be one that holds
interest for that individual--and that is a good definition of intrinsic motivation! From the other angle,
complacency or the lack of affect may signal to the teacher that there is a problem with an assignment he
or she presented.
Earlier we suggested that different approaches or strategies may be necessary for solving different types
of problems and for finding problems in various domains (e.g., the visual arts, music, academic work, or
the natural environment) and that strategies might not generalize well from one situation to another.
Students may therefore need to use different strategies when solving discovered versus presented
problems, and they should probably have some experience with different kinds of problems (e.g., ill-
defined vs. well-defined [Runco, 1994] or verbal vs. visual [Wallach & Kogan, 1965]). This is another way
of suggesting diverse activities (Tegano et al., 1989), but that is worth reiterating because varied
experience with diverse problems will certainly help the generalization of skills (Stokes & Baer, 1977).
Practice at problem finding is no doubt important, but how much practice is best for creative
performance? Apparently more is not always better. Hoover and Feldhusen (1994) pointed out that too
much work in one area might actually inhibit performance because of automatized responding. Basadur
(1994) concurred, describing how knowledge can lead to "tunnel vision" and stereotyped problem solving
efforts. Runco (1994) concluded that optimal expertise can be conceptualized as "having the necessary
knowledge base, while retaining the flexibility and sensitivity which is necessary for creativity."
Simonton (1984) demonstrated that education parallels expertise, at least in the sense that students can
receive too much. Beyond a certain point, the potential for creativity seems to drop.[ 3] Excessive
educational experience apparently leads to the acceptance of traditional viewpoints, and this can stifle
creativity. In Simonton's work, the optimal level of education for scientists and inventors was a few years
of graduate work but not an earned doctorate. For creators in the arts and humanities, the optimal
amount of education was during college but before the completion of a bachelor's degree.
For eminent persons, like those in Simonton's (1984) investigation, time spent in academic pursuits is
time away from exploration, reflection, and development of individual expertise. It is, then, a kind of
displacement, with education keeping creators away from vital nonacademic experiences. This may
sound odd, but it is easier to conceptualize if one remembers that many eminent personalities are deeply
engrossed in their own informal education (Simonton, 1984). And of course, although excessive
academic work may inhibit one's creative development, dropping out of academia and concentrating on
one's own self-development is no guarantee that one will become eminent. A certain amount of
competence is required in any endeavor, and that competence is often best acquired through formal
education. Perhaps teachers can help students by focusing on strategies that are open to modification.
How exactly can they do this?
Educators as Models and Improvisors. Teachers serve both as models for behaviors and strategies,
and also as sources of information. (In terms from the cognitive sciences, they can supply both
declarative and procedural knowledge to their students.) In our view, educators should model and
demonstrate creative problem finding and explicitly discuss its value in order to convince students that it
is worth their time.4 Teachers can also create opportunities for original and independent thought, and in
particular problem identification and definition, and explicitly reinforce original and independent problems
and solutions (Runco, 1991, chap. 20).
Most likely, the student who defines problems for him- or herself can be difficult in a classroom, or any
group setting. This is especially true if that student is in fact creative, given that other components and
correlates of creativity (e.g., nonconformity) can cause difficulties. For this reason, many educators may
need to reexamine the way they view the divergent behaviors of students. Some behaviors which are
viewed as problematic may actually reflect healthy creative development. Creative students are often
unconventional, individualistic, nonconforming, and typically viewed as "difficult," but these seemingly
difficult tendencies may be functionally tied to creative behavior. This is especially true of problem finding,
which is by definition an individualistic activity. Teachers may see individualistic behavior as problematic,
given the need for group activity in the classroom. As a matter of fact, it may be that teachers should
themselves practice creative problem definition and problem solving to deal with the need for individual
and independent exercises in the group-oriented classroom.
With this in mind, Moore (1994) decided to investigate the problem finding of teachers. Interestingly, he
suggested that there is a connection between problem finding and improvisation. In his empirical
research he compared novice and experienced teachers, asking them to improvise to solve the problem
of taking over a class for a teacher that was called away. One experienced teacher commented in
response to a text she was considering for use in the class:
I wonder what this is for?....I'll use this in English or reading....Of course, I will probably ask some of the
students first. I see some essays in here that will allow me to use it in reading or in English....Maybe I'll
use it in both. (p. 8)
Improvisation allowed her to foresee the situation and to change both the problem and solution context.
In Moore's (1994) view, the process of problem finding in teaching is not just a cognitive activity, but
encompasses the entire social context of the problem situation. Taking what he described as an
ecological perspective of problem finding and teaching, he proposed that schools and classrooms have
distinctly different environmental and cultural properties that shape and determine teachers' responses to
their experiences. The teacher most likely "uses and is changed by his or her entire physical and
intellectual environment in order to pose appropriate and significant problems" (p. 2). This parallels what
was suggested earlier about the social and cultural factors which can play a role in problem finding and
creative thinking.
Creative Writing and Problem Definition. Runco (1993) pointed specifically to creative writing as a
means for the exercise of problem finding. He suggested that writing is valuable because it allows
students to both define and solve problems, or at least suggest possible solutions. It may even allow the
student to compare possible solutions and explore their implications. When writing, students can present
a thesis, marshal and synthesize evidence, modify the thesis, and so on. Of course, some of this
depends on the specific parameters of the assignment or opportunity students are given, but with a little
latitude students should be able to experiment and try positioning problems and solutions in several
different ways. The controversial part of this view is that writing may have an advantage over creative
work in other domains. Runco (1993), for example, suggested that the visual arts may be well-suited to
problem identification but unlike writing, it may be not at all useful for problem definition. This is a
complicated issue, especially if the affective components of problem finding, noted above, are taken into
account. The visual arts might make up for what they lack in problem definition by eliciting emotional
reactions which motivate individuals to pursue the problems they identify! If one of the arts was to have
an advantage for problem finding, it would behoove educators to invest heavily in it (Rubenson & Runco,
1992; Walberg & Stariha, 1993).
The research reviewed in this paper has a number of important implications for our understanding of
giftedness. Most general is the idea that the creative component of giftedness (Albert & Runco, 1986;
Renzulli, 1978) should be defined such that it includes problem finding, as well as divergent thinking or
problem solving. Of related importance is that it is best to recognize the distinct kinds of problem finding
(e.g., problem identification and problem definition). Educators should model each and give opportunities
for their students to engage in distinct kinds of problem finding and problem solving. When doing so, they
should avoid separating the various phases or stages. As it naturally occurs, creative thinking is probably
not a stage-by-stage process. That is a simplification to assist research. Recall here our argument about
interactions (also see Runco & Chand, 1994).
Something should be said about divergent thinking, given that so much of the research on creativity and
problem finding involves divergent thinking tests (Chand & Runco, 1992; Getzels & Smilansky, 1983;
Runco & Okuda, 1988; Wakefield, 1985). There are limitations to divergent thinking tests, and some
zealots mistakenly treat divergent thinking as synonymous with creative thinking. Such an approach is
problematic because although divergent thinking may be involved in some creative performances, it may
not be required in all domains. Recent research has confirmed that divergent thinking is associated with
the potential for certain kinds of creative performance (Runco, 1991, 1992), but divergent thinking does
little by itself. It is probably so frequently used simply because it is easily assessed and quantified, and
because it is easy to adapt divergent thinking tasks for use in the classroom (see Runco, 1991, 1992, in
press). The concept of divergent thinking is, however, too general to be useful. At this point it should be
clear that we are suggesting that problem finding and ideational skills should both be recognized in
theories of creative potential.[ 5]
This brief review covers only a small part of the problem finding literature. In the review mentioned earlier
(Runco, 1994), the problem finding of art is discussed (Dudek & Cote, 1994), along with the problem
generation (or "hypothesis generation") of gifted students studying science (Hoover & Feldhusen, 1994),
and the problem finding which occurs in nonverbal domains (Wakefield, 1994). The last of these is
especially helpful for those studying giftedness in nonsymbolic domains, and for individuals studying
disadvantaged students (Runco, 1992).
Earlier we suggested that problem finding is important because it determines the quality of the eventual
solutions. There are alternative views. Runco (1994), for instance, suggested that problem finding skills
may not be necessary for creativity because some problems are discovered accidentally. There is also
reason to believe that creativity involves more than problem solving, but here again them is controversy.
Some researchers look at creativity as a special type of problem solving, while others view problem
solving as a special type of creative performance. Basadur (1994) implied that creativity is dependent on
problem solving when he suggested that "nothing creative has happened until something 'gets done' and
you have to start somewhere--that is, create the problem to be solved" (p.4). Dudek and Cote (1994), on
the other hand, suggested that creativity can occur without a problem, as in self-expression and personal
development. This view, with its recognition of self-expression, may be the most useful for those who
work with children.
Our own view is that problem finding is important for many creative performances, though perhaps not all.
With its connection to intrinsic motivation, to the quality of solutions, and to performances in the natural
environment, problem finding seems to be a worthwhile focus for gifted education.
1 Starko (1993) also recently focused on the problem finding of preschool children. She used the method
of Csikszentmihalyi and Getzels (1970, 1971) and assessed the exploratory behaviors of children before
they started a block building task. Unfortunately, the children spent virtually no time before they started on
the blocks! As Starko described it, "there was no measurable exploratory time for the large majority of
subjects." In a second study differences between gifted and nongifted 2nd, 4th, and 6th grade children
were not significant, but again it may be that time is not a useful index of exploration for young children.
2 Like most recommendations from Tegano et al. (1989), this applies to both problem finding and problem
solving. As a matter of fact, the same thing may be true of most suggestions about problem finding,
including those offered in the present article. The reason for this is simple: Problem finding and problem
solving are strongly related.
3 This also describes the "fourth-grade slump" in creativity (Runco & Charles, in press; Torrance, 1968).
Whatever the age, the argument is about the same: Education can inhibit creative potential if it
emphasizes conventions and dogma and thereby de-emphasizes independent and original thought.
4 There will be some overlap with modeling and explicit valuation, given that values are implied by an
educator's demonstration of a behavior or strategy. Children infer what adults value from their
observations of behavior. Hence if an educator demonstrates some strategy--like looking to ideas that no
one else will have thought of--students will very likely will infer that the educator thinks originality is
5 Another important component of creative thinking involves evaluations. An individual may be most
creative when they have found and defined a creative problem and when they think divergently about it,
but in addition they should be selective about which ideas and solutions they consider, retain, and share.
Divergent or associative thinking without careful evaluation and selection will lead to wildly unrealistic
ideas (Eysenck, 1991). In a recent review, Runco and Chand (1994) distinguished between the critical
skills that can inhibit creativity and those that are necessary for creative expression. The latter, termed
valuative, assist an individual in selecting what is original and useful. These presumably could be of
notable utility in the classroom.
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Manuscript submitted June, 1993.
Revision accepted December, 1993.
By Mark A. Runco and Jill Nemiro
Marc A. Runco is Professor of Child Development at California State University and editor of the
Creativity Research Journal. His edited volume on problem finding was recently published by Ablex
Publishing Cor, and his Creativity Research Handbook is due out later this year
Jill Nemiro is a doctoral student in Organizational Psychology at Claremont Graduate School and is an
adjunct faculty member at both California State University, Los Angeles and Long Beach.
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... Classic models of problem-solving acknowledge the importance of this first, problem-finding, step (Runco, 1994) and incorporate it, albeit using varied terminology, as a prerequisite before advancing to the subsequent problem-solving steps. Different terms for this step include: preparation (Wallas, 1926); problem formulation (Rossman, 1931); and problem understanding (Polya, 1957). ...
... Moreover, problem construction is interactive and iterative, playing an important role both at the start and during problem solving (Dudek & Cote, 1994;Getzels & Csikszentmibalyi, 1975;Runco, 1994). If no solutions are found in the search space framed by the initial problem representation, as often happens during impasses (Ohlsson, 1992), modifications or restructuring of the representation are needed so the search can unfold in a different space. ...
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This article advances an integration of the concepts of creativity, constraints, and education, which may appear as a paradoxical combination, and provides both a theoretical foundation and practical applications. The theoretical points are grounded in empirical findings about the role of constraints in creativity and in particular by a distinction between two functions of constraints: exclusionary and focusing. The practical points suggest best practices for the cultivation of creative skills in students, and include a four-step guiding instructional framework. Illustrations of areas in education where constraints play an especially pronounced role in in creativity are structured from a broader level of analysis (content knowledge and skills, domain specificity, curricular standards, and discovery learning), to more specific teaching tools (rubrics, the use of examples, and class activities). Although both a school setting and constraints may appear to inhibit creativity, we argue it is possible to promote creativity in the classroom. One way to do so is for educators to implement constraint-based strategies to develop student creativity.
... Analogous forms of information-seeking occur in two aspects of creativity: problem finding and problem solving. Problem finding refers to discovering, identifying, and defining problems, and takes place before problem solving begins (Arreola & Reiter-Palmon, 2016;Runco & Nemiro, 1994). For example, exploratory behaviors in which artists engage while preparing to start a new piece of work predict the quality of the artwork they eventually produce (Csikszentmihalyi & Getzels, 1988). ...
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Curiosity, creativity, and aesthetics are typically studied separately. The extent to which they share psychological and neural mechanisms is not well understood, despite all being linked to broader personality characteristics like Openness to Experience and are driven by a desire for information and knowledge. Here, we review evidence and advance the hypothesis that creative and aesthetic experiences depend on curiosity as a driver of information-seeking and exploratory behavior because they are exemplars of situations that highlight gaps in knowledge or require problem finding and solving. At the psychological level, we link curiosity, creativity, and aesthetics to Openness to Experience and to ones’ semantic memory. We demonstrate how Openness is a critical personality trait in enhancing curious behaviors, as well as creative and aesthetic acts. Furthermore, we highlight the role of semantic memory in such information-seeking behavior, leading to knowledge acquisition. At the neural level, we examine the neurobiological underpinnings of these constructs in relation to the mesolimbic dopaminergic reward system, as related to information-seeking. Finally, we link creativity and aesthetic experience and discuss how stages of art viewing and making relate to curiosity. Thus, we argue that information-seeking, the key behavior attributed to curiosity, motivates both creative and aesthetic activities.
... In their most formal and basic form, problem solving activities refer to activities consisting of a transition from an initial state to a final state that represents a specific goal to be achieved. Here, creativity refers to a special case of problem solving activity in which the main objective is to produce original solutions to a specific problem to solve (Runco, 1994;Weisberg, 1988;Wimmer, 2016). ...
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The World Economic Forum predicts that the skills most highly valued by employers in 2025 will be problem-solving, self-management, working with people, and technology use and development. Educators are seeking ways in which to incorporate these skills into their daily instruction. Here, we offer one possible approach to bolster skills in each of these domains: the inspirED program. inspirED was designed for U.S. middle and high schools to support teams of students in completing projects or campaigns that they believe will make their school a better place for all. This study enrolled teams of students from 22 middle and high schools, and provided them with online training, coaching in the inspirED process, and resources to complete their project. Upon finishing their projects, students on the inspirED teams reported higher sense of purpose and self-awareness around the importance of emotions. The larger student bodies at schools in which inspirED projects took place also reported improvements in school climate including students’ perceptions of teaching quality, sense of school pride, student relationships, and emotional safety. Implications and future directions for school-based social-emotional learning and student leadership opportunities are discussed.
Csikszentmihalyi (1997), in his seminal study of highly creative individuals, writes: “to understand creativity, it is not enough to study the individuals who seem most responsible for a novel idea or a new thing. While necessary and important, their contribution is only a link in a chain, a phase in a process” (p. 7).
Synergy is the ability of an idea from one participant to trigger a new idea in another participant, an idea that would otherwise not have been produced (Dennis & Williams, 2003). Synergy, or the ‘assembly bonus’ (Collins & Guetzkow, 1964), is perhaps the most fundamental potential source of process gains. Osborn (1953) suggested that for brainstorming, it was fundamental to build on the ideas of others, which shows that the value of creative synergy was evident for group ideation early on. Although, creative synergy appears to be somewhat of a ‘saving grace’ for creative teams (Amabile & Kurtzberg, 2001; Cooper et al., 1998; De Dreu et al., 2011). It would appear surprising that not more research has been dedicated to this concept. The four Ps of creativity, Person, Process, Press, and Product, established after about a decade of creativity research, do not take collaborative idea generation into account, yet they offer a new perspective when viewing creative synergy through this lens.
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Les recherches s'intéressant au développement de la créativité ont démontré que la capacité à générer des idées créatives pouvait être entravée par des blocages cognitifs (e.g., effet de fixation) et sociaux (e.g., inhibition sociale de l'attente d'évaluation). Ces deux types de blocages ont essentiellement été étudiés de façon isolée et peu d'étude ont examiné leurs interactions dans une perspective développementale. Ainsi, l'objectif de cette thèse était d'étudier l'impact de différents contextes sociaux sur la créativité et le biais de fixation, et de dégager et comprendre les processus impliqués. Pour ce faire, quatre études ont été mises en place, chacune reposant sur des contextes sociaux différents et permettant un ensemble de mesures systématiques. La première étude a permis de montrer dans un premier temps que même si l'effet de fixation est renforcé au cours de l'adolescence, leur capacité à proposer des idées originales se développe également. Ce changement s'accompagne d'une évolution de leur capacité à détecter que leurs idées appartenant à la fixation ne sont que peu créatives. L'attente d'une évaluation manipulée n'a cependant pas été suffisamment saillante, ce qui explique que nous n'ayons pas observé d'effet du contexte sur la créativité et ce, quel que soit l'âge. De ce fait, nous avons, par la suite, décidé de nous concentrer sur la période de fin d'adolescence et d'améliorer la saillance des contextes sociaux étudiés. Ainsi, dans notre deuxième étude, nos participants étaient en compétition soit avec des coacteurs présents (i.e., compétition in-group), soit avec des individus fictifs (i.e., étudiants d'une autre université ; Compétition out-group). Les résultats ont montré que générer des idées à un problème créatif pouvait être facilité par la compétition out-group, sans que l'effet de fixation ne soit pour autant minimisé. Afin de comprendre l'absence d'effet de la compétition in-group, nous avons mené deux autres études en portant une attention toute particulière au processus de comparaison sociale, celui-ci pouvant être de différents types. Nos données ont révélé que se comparer à moins bon que soi (i.e., comparaison descendante) diminuait l'effort, la productivité, et ainsi le nombre d'idées créatives proposées. Les individus en comparaison ascendante (i.e., se comparer à meilleur que soi), quant à eux, semblent avoir proposé un maximum d'idées sans prêter une attention particulière à leur créativité. Dans cette condition, on a en effet constaté une diminution de l'expansivité mais un renforcement de l'effet de fixation. Nous avons également pu montrer que ces effets n'étaient retrouvés que s'il était question de contexte de coaction. Enfin, nous avons mené une dernière étude portant sur les effets d'un travail collaboratif (i.e., en binôme). Alors que les participants devant générer à deux se sont sentis plus en confiance, plus à l'aise et moins en compétition, leurs productions se sont révélées moins bonnes que ceux qui généraient individuellement, en simple coaction. L'ensemble de ces résultats a un impact pour la recherche fondamentale et a permis la proposition de diverses pistes de recherches ultérieures.
The most important step in social science research is the first step – finding a topic. Unfortunately, little guidance on this crucial and difficult challenge is available. Methodological studies and courses tend to focus on theory testing rather than theory generation. This book aims to redress that imbalance. The first part of the book offers an overview of the book's central concerns. How do social scientists arrive at ideas for their work? What are the different ways in which a study can contribute to knowledge in a field? The second part of the book offers suggestions about how to think creatively, including general strategies for finding a topic and heuristics for discovery. The third part of the book shows how data exploration may assist in generating theories and hypotheses. The fourth part of the book offers suggestions about how to fashion disparate ideas into a theory.
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This is a reprint of an article originally published in November 1978. A new one-page introduction by the author appears in the print and digital editions. After reviewing old definitions of giftedness and research dealing with characteristics of the gifted, the author presents a definition that focuses on three clusters of traits: above-average general ability, high levels of task commitment, and high levels of creativity. The author holds copyright to this article. Distributed by Phi Delta Kappa International with permission.