Site Sponsor

OmniSkills, LLC

Site Author

Paul Reali

Paul Reali, MS, MBA
OmniSkills Founder & Principal
336.926.8833 * E-mail Paul

PLEASE READ: Permissions to Use Site Content

We encourage you to use the content you find on this site, in accordance with the Creative Commons license specified here, and on each page:

Creative Commons License

Click the image above for a description of these terms. For additional permissions (e.g., to license the work for commercial use), e-mail us.



One key - perhaps the key - to the Creative Problem Solving process is the use of both divergent and convergent thinking.

Divergent thinking is wide and free. When you diverge, you generate many options. Divergent thinking is followed by convergent thinking, in which you assess, judge, and strengthen those options, and then decide what to keep and how to proceed.

CPS requires both divergent and convergent thinking, but not at the same time. Trying to do both at once is a mess. If you've ever been in a meeting where people are generating ideas, and shooting them down at the same time, you understand why we need to keep these two thinking modes separate.


Whenever you think divergently, follow these guidelines for best results:

  • Defer judgment
  • Strive for quantity
  • Seek wild and unusual
  • Build on other ideas

A trained CPS facilitator can help you and your group to use these guidelines, and the divergent thinking tools, to their best advantage.


There are many divergent thinking tools in the universe, including, perhaps, some you have created yourself. CPS is tools agnostic, so any tool you like for divergent thinking is likely to work just fine. Below are very brief descriptions of some of the tools we use for divergent thinking.

The classic idea-generating tool, often misused. Method: working from one statement or challenge, think, following the divergent thinking guidelines; every idea is said out loud and then written down, usually on a flip chart pad. When the ideas come fast, as they often do, it can be difficult for the recorder to keep up. Can be used individually or in groups.

Brainstorming with Post-its
A twist on brainstorming that makes the recording process easier. Method: each person has a Post-it note pad; every idea is written on a Post-it, then said out loud. The facilitator collects the ideas as they are generated, and sticks them up on a flip chart pad. Having each idea on a separate sheet makes converging easier.

Like brainstorming, but done quietly. On a standard piece of paper, draw three rows of three boxes. Each person starts with one sheet, and a few extras are placed in a central pile. Each person writes an idea in each box of the first row (that is, three ideas), then puts the paper into the center pile, then takes another sheet from the pile. If that sheet has ideas on it, the person reads the ideas, then writes three more in the next row, either building on the existing ideas or adding new ones. Continue until all the boxes are full.

Questions that help to stretch the thinking in specific ways. SCAMPER is named as a mnemonic to remember these words: substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to other uses, eliminate, rearrange. Method: for each word, ask questions to spur thinking. For example: What can you substitute for it? What can be combined with it? What can you subtract? What can you add?

Visual Connections
Spur thinking by making connections from an unrelated image to the current problem. Method: facilitator shows an image (usually a photograph), and asks participants to write down 3-5 words suggested by the image. Several other images are shown, and words written down. Then, participants are asked to make a direct connection from the words they have written to the problem at hand.

Forced Connections
A way to force novel thinking. Can be used on its own, or as part of a brainstorming or brainwriting session. Method: facilitator holds up or points to an object unrelated to the problem, and asks: "When you look at this (object), what ideas do you get for solving this problem?"

Mental or actual voyages that take people outside the problem to look for inspiration elsewhere. There are many variations. One method: participants close their eyes while the facilitator talks them through a journey to a specific place, or one of their own imagining. When they open their eyes, they record ideas that were inspired by the excursion.

Word Dance
Often used when Finding the Question, to think of the problem statement in new ways. Method: in the current problem statement (which begins with "How might...", "How to...", "In what ways might...", or "What might be all the..."), circle the verb, then generate other verbs that might replace it. Then, circle the object or outcome words, and generate possible substitutes. (In both cases, unusual and off-course are OK.) Mix and match the responses. Choose the statement that best expresses the problem.

Idea Box
A mix-and-match method for generating ideas. Method: beginning with the problem statement, select the essential characteristics of the problem, and list those on paper as column headings. For each column, list a variety of options. Then, mix and match, choosing one from each column. What ideas does that combination give you? Repeat with different combinations.

Why? What's Stopping You?
A deceptively simple approach to identifying the root of the problem; similar to the more commonly-known "five whys" approach. Method: begin with a goal, wish or challenge, and ask: "why do you want this?" To the response, ask again. When you feel you have arrived at the root of the problem, ask, "What's stopping you?" Repeating this process to its logical end can lead to the creation of a new and more accurate goal/wish/challenge or a concise problem statement.


Here are some choices:


When you're ready to talk to us about teaching you this process or facilitating a problem-solving session, just holler.