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Problem ﬁnding, creativity, and giftedness.
Runco, Mark A.
Roeper Review. Jun94, Vol. 16 Issue 4, p235. 7p.
*Education of gifted children
Problem solving in children
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, 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.
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 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
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
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
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.
* 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 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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