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Creative Problem Solving (CPS) is a deliberate process for solving problems or finding opportunities, used when you want to go beyond conventional thinking and arrive at creative (novel and useful) solutions. (You can see an illustration of the model here.)

When facilitating CPS, the most important word in the description above is "deliberate." Whenever CPS is used, someone is responsible for facilitating the process; that is, for making process-related decisions, for using the process correctly and effectively, and for assuring that the goal is reached - that a novel, useful, and implementable solution is found.


For all types of CPS facilitation, an important distinction is between process and content. Process concerns the use of the process to achieve the client's goals. Content refers to the subject matter: the issue at hand about which CPS is being used.

Facilitating for yourself. Once you have a good grasp of the CPS methodology, you can facilitate yourself through the process to help in your own thinking and problem solving. In this situation, you are involved in both process and content. It is helpful to try and keep the two aspects separate in your mind, so that at any moment you are focused on one or the other.

Facilitating for one person. Someone with good CPS skills can serve as facilitator for another person (we call that person the client), to help that person with his or her thinking. In this situation, this client is responsible for content, and the facilitator is responsible for process. Because the client is working without a resource group, the facilitator will behave both as a process expert and as a kind of coach. As with all good coaching relationships, it is not the facilitator's role to provide answers to the client, but rather to serve as a guide to good thinking.

Facilitating for your own group. If you have strong CPS facilitation skills, you can serve as facilitator for your own work group. In this situation, it is likely that the entire group is the client - which makes you part client, part facilitator, and which unavoidably intermingles process and content. The secret to success in this role is to be the process expert but not to elevate that role into also being the content expert. In other words, just because you are the one with the marker does not mean that you are the best ideas.

Facilitating for an external group. Ideally, a group facilitator is completely neutral, and works solely on process, leaving content issues to the client (the problem owner) and the resource group. In this situation, the CPS facilitator is the process expert, serving the client's content needs through effective application of the process - and staying out of the content.


How would you know a good facilitator when you saw one? Here are a list of positive actions and behaviors you will see from successful CPS facilitators.

  • Flexible: adapts the process to the situation
  • Knowledgeable: knows the process and how to use it
  • Neutral: stays in the process and stays out of the content
  • Inclusive: encourages participation from all group members
  • Prepared: meets with the client to gather data, to determine if CPS is the right process, and to determine the initial direction
  • Organized: for group sessions, has all materials ready and at hand before the session begins
  • Responsible: has the best interests of the client in mind, and ensures that the client's needs are met; remembers that the client knows best
  • In control, but not controlling: manages the group, the process, and the time, but is transparent to the outcome
  • Pays attention: is aware of group dynamics, energy levels, and the client's needs


Group CPS facilitation begins with a confidential client meeting, in which the facilitator helps the client assess the situation, gathers key data, and determines what CPS stage would be the appropriate starting place. (It is not necessary to use all of the process stages; each situation is different.) Also covered: advice on selecting a resource group, session logistics, CPS session roles, and other considerations, such as whether CPS is the right approach.

CPS is a good fit when the client has ownership of the issue (that is, the right and the ability to address the problem); is motivated to take action (otherwise the process results are wasted); and welcomes imaginative thinking (otherwise the process results will be unusable).

A CPS session brings together the client, a resource group, and the facilitator, to work on the client's behalf. The facilitator guides the session and makes process decisions (which stage? which tool? for how long? what's next?) while continuously checking in with the client to make sure the process is meeting the client's needs.

The goal of a group session will depend on the situation, and each is unique. For instance, the client meeting may show that the situation is not as far along, and the group session will focus on the broad need to Imagine the Future. Or, the client meeting may show that the desired future state has been identified, so that the focus of the group session will be on Finding the Questions that, if answered, will help reach the desired future state. Or, if the client meeting shows that there is in place a concise question, the group session will begin with Generating Ideas. If one or more good ideas have been generated, it may be time to Craft Solutions.

At the end of the session, the facilitator will help the client determine the next steps, which may be within the CPS process (if more work is to be done for which CPS will be helpful), or outside of the process, or using another process.


CPS is right for you if you want new thinking, new ideas, and new solutions. It is if you find you are stuck, if you can't solve a certain problem, or set of problems. It is if you aren't even sure what the problem is. It is if you are missing opportunities. It is if you want to take advantage of the opportunities before you.


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