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29 brainstorming techniques: effective ways to spark creativity

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Bright ideas don’t come as easily as flicking on a light. 

When it’s up to one individual to dream up a solution, it can be time-consuming and cause a lot of pressure. And when it comes to a group of people tasked with solving a problem, ideas might clash. Not to mention, everyone has a preferred method for their creative madness, making it difficult to get every team members’ wheels turning in the same direction.

That’s where brainstorming techniques come in. These techniques provide structure for brainstorming sessions, ignite creativity across all brainstormers, and ensure your ideas come to fruition. And luckily, there are lots of effective brainstorming techniques to choose from. 

What is brainstorming?

Here’s a general brainstorming definition: it’s an approach taken by an individual or team to solve a problem or generate new ideas for the improvement of a product, organization, or strategy. 

No matter your preferred method, most brainstorming techniques involve three steps:

Capture ideas

Discuss and critique the ideas

Choose which ideas to execute

Every brainstorming technique also involves the same ingredients. All you need is an individual or group of people, a problem to solve or an opportunity to address, and time. 

Brainstorming challenges

The golden rule of all brainstorming sessions is quantity over quality. The more ideas you have, the better your chances are that one will be worthy of execution. For these reasons, especially in group brainstorming sessions, be sure all team members check their criticisms at the door and let it be known that the only bad ideas are no ideas. 

Of course, not every brainstorming session will go off without a hitch. Some common brainstorming challenges include:

Unbalanced conversations, sometimes due to extroverts dominating discussions

The anchoring effect, meaning brainstormers cling to the first few ideas shared and don’t move on to others

Awkward silences, which often occur when participants are not prepared 

Perhaps you’ve experienced some of these uncomfortable brainstorming sessions yourself. Thankfully, there are plenty of tried-and-true, and also some unorthodox, brainstorming techniques and tools that tackle just these issues.

Analytic brainstorming techniques

Analytic brainstorming techniques

When you need to look at an idea from all angles or vet a problem thoroughly, analytic brainstorming techniques might be worth implementing. Consider the following brainstorming methods and tools to generate and qualify ideas.

1. Starbursting  

A visual brainstorming technique, starbursting should be used once you or your team of brainstormers has homed in on a single idea. To begin starbursting, put an idea on the middle of a whiteboard and draw a six-point star around it. Each point will represent a question:

Consider every question and how it might pertain to your idea, such as, “Who will want to buy this product?” or, “When will we need to launch this program?” This will help you explore scenarios or roadblocks you hadn’t considered before.

Best for: large group brainstorms, vetting ideas thoroughly

2. The five whys, a.k.a. why analysis

Similar to starbursting, the five whys brainstorming technique helps you evaluate the strength of an idea. Challenge yourself to ask “why” questions about a topic or idea at least five times and consider what new problems you surface—and, importantly, note how you can address them. To help organize your thoughts, consider using a flowchart or fishbone diagram in hand with this brainstorming technique.

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, vetting ideas thoroughly

3. SWOT analysis

You might be familiar with SWOT analysis as it relates to strategic planning , and you might also be surprised to know that this concept can also be applied as a brainstorming exercise to help qualify an idea. The notion? Discuss the following aspects of your topic to determine whether it’s worth executing: 

Strengths : how does the idea dominate or stand out from competitors?

Weakness : are there any flaws in the idea that could jeopardize its execution?

Opportunities : what else can you capitalize on based on this idea?

Threats : what are potential downfalls that could arise if the idea is launched?

4. How Now Wow  

The How Now Wow brainstorming technique is all about categorizing ideas based on how unique they are and how easy they are to implement. Once you’ve collected several ideas, either individually or from team members, talk through where they fall in the How Now Wow spectrum:

How ideas are ideas that are original but not executable. 

Now ideas are unoriginal ideas that are easily executable.

Wow ideas are never-been-pitched before ideas that are also easy to implement.

Obviously, you want as many “Wow” ideas as possible since these are executable but also because they might set you apart from competitors or dispel monotony in a company. To help organize your ideas, consider using a matrix of four squares with difficulty weighted on the Y-axis and innovation on the X-axis. 

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, homing in on an executable solution

5. Drivers analysis

Just as the name implies, driver analysis is a brainstorming technique that analyzes the drivers or “causes” of a problem. To use this brainstorming technique, simply keep asking yourself or your team of brainstormers: “What’s driving [insert problem]?” and then, “What’s driving [insert answer to the previous question]?” Similar to why analysis, the deeper you dig into a problem, the more well-vetted it will be and the more confident you will be in executing solutions for those problems. 

6. Mind mapping

Another visual brainstorming technique, mind mapping addresses the anchoring effect—a common brainstorming challenge where brainstormers fixate on the first ideas instead of coming up with new ones. Mind mapping does this by using the first idea to inspire other ideas. 

You’ll need a large piece of paper or whiteboard to do this. Begin by writing down a topic and then drawing lines connecting tangential ideas to it. This essentially helps you paint a picture of your topic at hand and what might impact its execution or even expedite it.

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, visual thinkers

7. Gap filling, a.k.a. gap analysis

When you’re struggling with how to execute an idea, that’s where gap filling comes in—to address the obstacles standing in your way. Begin by starting with a statement of where you are and then a statement of where you want to be. For example, “Our company creates smart watches; we want to expand our portfolio to also include fitness trackers.”

It’s worth writing these out on a large piece of paper or a whiteboard for all of your brainstormers to see, perhaps using a flowchart or mind map to do so. Then, list obstacles that are preventing you from getting where you want to be and work through solutions for each of them. By the end of your brainstorming session, you should have a clearer plan of how to get where you want to be. 

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, visual thinkers, honing in on an executable solution

Quiet async brainstorming techniques

Quiet brainstorming techniques

Best for businesses that are crunched for time or teams with more introverted individuals, these quiet brainstorming techniques allow brainstormers to contribute ideas on their own time and often anonymously. Look to the following methods to get your creative juices flowing, especially for remote teams with frequent virtual meetings .   

8. Brainwriting, a.k.a. slip writing

A nonverbal and in-person brainstorming technique, brainwriting addresses the brainstorming challenge of unbalanced conversations head-on. That’s because it requires participation and teamwork from every brainstormer, beginning with each person writing down three ideas relating to a topic on three separate slips of paper. Then everyone passes their ideas to the right or left and their neighbor builds on those ideas, adding bullet points and considerations. 

The slips of paper continue to be passed around the table until they’ve made it all the way around. Then, the brainstorm facilitator can digest all of the ideas themselves, or the brainstormers can discuss each idea out loud and determine what’s worth pursuing. Pro tip: limit this brainstorming technique to no more than 10 people to not be overwhelmed with ideas or time constraints.

Best for: group brainstorms and introverted team members

9. Collaborative brainwriting

You can think of collaborative brainwriting like a herd of cows grazing in a field, except it’s brainstormers grazing on ideas throughout a week, anonymously jotting down thoughts or ideas. Oftentimes a brainstorming facilitator will kick off this technique by posting a large piece of paper, sticky notes, or sharing a cloud-based document to jot down a few brainstorming ideas.

From there, team members can build off of those ideas on their own time and anonymously provide feedback. Be sure to set a clear deadline of when the brainstorming session closes to ensure all brainstormers have an opportunity to chime in.

Best for: individual brainstorming 

10. Brain-netting, a.k.a. online brainstorming

Great for remote teams, brain-netting is essentially a place for a team to brain dump their own ideas, whether that’s a Slack channel, Google Doc, or your project management tool . 

The notion is that brainstormers can add ideas whenever inspiration strikes and that the list will be ever-evolving. Of course, the team leader might want to inform their team of brainstormers of any important dates or deadlines when they need solutions to a problem. They may also want to hold a meeting to discuss the ideas. All brainstormers’ identities can be left anonymous even in the meeting. 

Best for: group brainstorms, introverted team members, remote teams


The SCAMPER brainstorming technique encourages brainstormers to look at an idea from different angles and it uses its acronym to inspire each lens: 

Substitute : consider what would happen if you swapped one facet of a solution for another.

Combine : consider what would happen if you combined one facet of a solution with another.

Adapt : consider how you could adapt an idea or solution in a new context.

Modify : consider how you can modify an idea to make it higher impact.

Put to another use : consider how else you could leverage your idea.

Eliminate : consider what you could remove from the idea or solution so that it’s simplified.

Reverse effective : finally, consider how you could reorganize an idea to make it most effective . 

When used in a group brainstorming session, you might want to use templates to track responses or pair the SCAMPER method with a brainwriting session to encourage all brainstormers to evaluate ideas from every angle. 

12. Lightning Decision Jam

Known as LDJ for short, the Lightning Decision Jam brainstorming technique requires 40 minutes to one hour to complete. What will you have by the end? Tangible results and buy-in from an entire team of brainstormers. 

This brainstorming technique is great for remote team alignment . It all begins with writing down positives about a topic or what’s working regarding the topic, then writing down negatives and identifying what needs to be addressed most urgently. This is followed by a few minutes of reframing problems as questions, then brainstorming solutions for those problems. 

Finally, your team uses a matrix to determine how high impact and how high effort your solutions are to decide which ideas are worth pursuing. For a more robust explanation of LDJ, watch this video by design agency AJ&Smart, which created the brainstorming technique. 

Best for: group brainstorms, remote workforces, tight deadlines, honing in on an executable solution

13. The idea napkin

Similar to LDJ, the idea napkin is essentially a brainstorming template that distills a broad topic into tangible solutions. How it works: Every brainstormer has an “idea napkin” that they commit one idea to, beginning by writing down their idea, as well as an elevator pitch for it. 

The idea napkin also includes a column for who the idea is targeting—meaning who you’re solving a problem for (customers, teammates, etc.)—and a column noting what problems your idea addresses. Brainstormers can fill out their napkins ahead of or during a brainstorming session, each is expected to present or share them. The final ideas will be placed on an impact and effort matrix to determine which are worth pursuing. 

Best for: group brainstorms, honing in on an executable solution

Roleplaying brainstorm techniques

Roleplay brainstorming techniques

Drama lovers rejoice! These roleplay brainstorming techniques encourage brainstormers to figuratively walk in someone else’s shoes or put on their hat—or six hats, in one instance—to address a problem or dream up ideas from a new perspective. An added benefit of this? When brainstormers take on a personality that’s not their own, it lowers inhibitions since it’s technically not their point of view being brought to the table.

14. Six thinking hats

This brainstorming technique requires a minimum of six brainstormers to wear imaginary hats—hence the name— that require them to look solely at an idea from one specific angle. For instance, one brainstormer might be wearing an impact hat and only concern themselves with the impact of an idea and another might be wearing a constraints hat and only looking at the constraints of an idea. 

You can pick and choose which angles are most important to your organization. And by the end of the group discussion, the whole brainstorming group should be able to hang their hats feeling confident about the ideas you’ll pursue.

Best for: group brainstorms (six or more people), introverted team members, vetting ideas thoroughly

15. Figure storming

Ever heard the phrase, “What would Abe do?” That’s pretty much the premise of this brainstorming technique in that brainstormers take on the identity of a famous or prominent figure, whether that’s a leader or celebrity, and put themselves in their brain space and how they’d approach an idea. 

This helps teams look at a topic through a different lens and, in the case of group brainstorms, alleviates any nervousness that brainstormers will put out bad ideas. Because they’re not putting out their ideas—they’re sharing someone else’s. So go on and give yourself a new job title for the day.

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, extroverted team members

16. Role storming  

Role storming is similar to figure storming in that brainstormers take on different personalities to dream up ideas, but with one dramatic twist—brainstormers act out those ideas. 

Generally, brainstormers are asked to take on the role of an average person who will be affected by the idea or solution in question, whether that’s an employee, client, or another party, and they act out a scenario that could stem from the idea to help them decipher what problems might arise from it. Consider this brainstorming technique for more extroverted teams. 

Best for: group brainstorms, extroverted team members

17. Reverse brainstorming

Reverse brainstorming is grounded in a little bit of chaos. It encourages brainstormers to play the role of disruptors by brainstorming problems first and then solutions. To kick off the brainstorming questions, a team leader will usually ask, “How do we cause [insert problem]?”

Once your team has listed the causes, they’ll have a new and different perspective for coming up with solutions to problems. 

Best for: group brainstorms, idea generation, problem-solving

18. Reverse thinking

Reverse thinking is a bit of a mashup of the figure storming and six thinking hats brainstorming techniques. It encourages brainstormers to merely ask themselves, “What would someone else do in this situation?” Then, it prompts them to think through why that person’s solution would work or not and if your current solution is more effective. 

Best for: group brainstorms, extroverted team members, vetting ideas thoroughly

Group brainstorm techniques

Group brainstorming techniques

Most brainstorming techniques can be applied to groups of brainstormers, but these specific brainstorming techniques promote (and some even require) participation from everyone. When facilitated well, group brainstorming techniques not only yield more ideas but they can also:

Boost team morale through lighthearted brainstorming games and by involving participation in every step of the brainstorming process

Promote creative thinking, especially when brainstormers are given time to prepare their ideas and  a structured approach to solve problems

Bring more diverse ideas together, thanks to the unique perspective each brainstormer has and their individual strengths

All this to say, group brainstorming techniques are all about putting people’s heads together. 

19. Eidetic image method

The eidetic image method is grounded in setting intentions, and it begins with group members all closing their eyes to do just that. For example, if a company is setting out to design a new smartwatch, the brainstorming facilitator would encourage all brainstormers to close their eyes and quietly meditate on what smartwatches currently look like. 

Then the group would discuss and close their eyes once more and quietly imagine new features to add to the device. They’d all open their eyes and discuss again, essentially layering on the possibilities for enhancing a product. This brainstorming technique is ideal for revamping or building on an existing product or solution. 

Best for: visual thinkers, creating an idea anew

20. Rapid ideation

Great for teams that get sidetracked or have difficulty staying focused in meetings, the rapid ideation brainstorming technique encourages brainstormers to race against a clock and come up with as many ideas as possible—and importantly, not take themselves too seriously. This can be done by having brainstormers shout out ideas to a facilitator or write them on a piece of paper. You might find that some of the same ideas keep popping up, which likely means those are worth pursuing. 

Best for: extroverted team members, tight deadlines

21. Round-robin brainstorming

Participation is required for the round-robin brainstorming technique. Everyone must contribute at least one idea before the entire group can give feedback or share a second idea.

Given the requirement that everyone must share an idea, it’s best to allow brainstormers time to prepare ideas before each round-robin brainstorming session. This brainstorming technique is great for introverted team members and also for larger groups to ensure everyone can contribute. Moreover, the round-robin brainstorming technique also promotes the notion that the only bad idea is no idea. 

Best for: introverted team members and developing a surplus of ideas

22. Step-ladder brainstorming

Ideal for medium-sized groups of five to 15 people, the step-ladder brainstorming technique prevents ideas from being influenced by the loudest brainstormers of a group. 

Here’s how it works: A brainstorming facilitator introduces a topic to their group of brainstormers and then dismisses all but two brainstormers from the room. The two brainstormers left in the room discuss their ideas for a few minutes and then one brainstormer is welcomed back into the room and shares their ideas before the original two brainstormers divulge their ideas. 

Brainstormers are added back into the room one by one, with each new brainstormer sharing their ideas before the rest of the group divulges theirs, and so forth. Once the entire brainstorming group is back in the room, it’s time to discuss the ideas they’ve built together, step by step. 

Best for: introverted team members, vetting ideas thoroughly, honing in on an executable solution

23. Charrette

You might want to book a few rooms for this one. The charette brainstorming technique helps break up a problem into smaller chunks and also breaks up your brainstormers into separate teams to address them. 

For instance, you might reserve three rooms, write a topic or problem on a whiteboard, and have three sets of brainstormers walk into those rooms to jot down their ideas. Then, the sets of brainstormers rotate rooms and build off of the ideas of the group that was there before them. Consider it effective teamwork at its best.

Best for: vetting ideas thoroughly, honing in on an executable solution

More brainstorming techniques

For more unconventional approaches to get your individual or your team’s wheels turning, consider adding some of these brainstorming techniques to your arsenal of ways to ideate. 

24. ‘What if’ brainstorming

A very off-the-cuff brainstorming technique, “what if” brainstorming is as simple as throwing out as many “what if” questions surrounding a topic as possible, similar to the rapid ideation brainstorming technique. For instance, “what if this problem occurred in a different country,” or, “what if this problem occurred in the 1800s?” 

Walking through the scenarios might help spur new obstacles pertaining to your problem. Essentially, the “what if” brainstorming technique helps your team evaluate all the possibilities.

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, creating an idea anew, vetting ideas thoroughly

25. Change of scenery  

It’s no secret that physical surroundings can impact your team workflow and even creativity. When your brainstorming session is in a rut, consider relocating to another location, perhaps a park, a walking meeting, or even a coffee shop.

Being in a new setting might spur new ideas and even loosen up your brainstormers so that they’re more open to sharing ideas and helping you achieve quantity over quality.  

Best for: individual and group brainstorms, creating an idea anew

26. Random word picker

As this name implies, this brainstorming technique is a little random. Begin by tossing words into a hat and then pull them out and discuss how they relate to your brainstorming topic at hand. You may want to use a template to keep track of your thoughts and any new ideas the word association sparks.

To further organize your thoughts, consider pairing this brainstorming technique with word banking, meaning categorizing random words together and then drawing associations between their category and the brainstorming topic. 

Best for: group brainstorms, creating an idea anew

27. Storyboarding

Turns out, storyboarding isn’t only for television and film. You can also apply this as a brainstorming technique, meaning illustrating or drawing a problem and possible solutions. Consider it another way to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, especially those your solution impacts. It’s also a means to visualize any roadblocks you might experience when executing a solution. 

Best for: individual or group brainstorms, problem-solving, vetting ideas thoroughly

28. Wishing

Wishing is as simple as it sounds: You just wish for the solution you want to build. Think: “I wish our company was carbon neutral,” and then think of the possible ways in which you could achieve this, as well as areas that might be impossible to address for this. This will help uncover obstacles you might face and maybe even shed light on what you’re capable of overcoming. 

Best for: individual or group brainstorms, creating an idea anew

29. Crazy eights

A short and fun brainstorming technique, crazy eights delivers on quantity by encouraging brainstormers to think quickly using a template that has eight boxes and only eight minutes on the clock to sketch out eight ideas. Once the timer stops, the group discusses their ideas. 

For a larger group, consider having each brainstormer narrow in on only three ideas and give them a longer time limit of six minutes to sketch them out in more detail.

Best for: group brainstorms, visual thinkers, developing a surplus of ideas

8 tips for a productive brainstorming session

No matter which brainstorming technique is right for you and your team, consider the following best practices to brainstorm most effectively . Of course, it all begins with the brainstorming facilitator and how they set the tone for the session.

1. Allow time to prep 

A brainstorming facilitator isn’t the only one in a brainstorming session who needs time to prepare for a meeting . They also should give brainstormers some context ahead of the session, such as in the form of a meeting agenda , to get in the correct mindset for the brainstorming session. 

At least one day is standard but as little as two to 10 minutes is useful. Moreover, brainstorming facilitators should also have a few ideas in their back pocket for any creative ruts that might creep in.

2. Set a clear intention

The more context you can provide brainstormers from the get-go, the more fruitful ideas they can produce. For instance, clearly spell out what types of ideas you’re looking for. Whether it’s quickly executable ones or ones that are entirely pathbreaking, identify specific targets to address. 

Additionally, be sure to let brainstormers know of any constraints you or your organization is operating under, including project timelines or budgets, so they’re generating executable ideas.

3. Invite new teammates and ideas

When the same people brainstorm together over and over, they can tend to produce the same ideas over and over. For this reason, consider introducing new people to your brainstorming session to shake up the usual and lend a fresh perspective—and hopefully fresh ideas—to your brainstorming topics. Invitees can be colleagues from different departments, customers or clients for a focus group, or an outside consultant.

4. Promote inclusivity

Every brainstorming session should be considered a safe space to share ideas—even unconventional ones. Remember, the only bad ideas are no ideas, and any idea shared shouldn’t be shot down or judged. In addition, the brainstorm facilitator should ensure every brainstormer is treated equally and given the same amount of time to talk. This might mean setting a timer for each brainstormer to talk and acknowledging those who are dominating conversations. Likewise, every brainstormer should be open and curious to ideas.

5. Think out of the box

Creative thinking begins with not taking ourselves too seriously. Just as you encourage inclusivity, encourage imperfections and out-of-the-box thinking, too. This could include anything from fun team building games to unique icebreaker questions. Hey, even a bevy of silly ideas to build off of is better than no ideas at all. Brainstorming techniques like wishing can encourage team members to open up.

6. Amplify creativity with music

Similar to how a change of scenery can inspire new ideas, even a little background music can promote creativity. Consider putting some on for your brainstorming session, and for the best results ensure it’s:


In a major key

On a fixed tempo and volume

7. Mix and match brainstorming techniques

Just as brainstorming techniques aren’t necessarily one-size-fits-all, they also aren’t all one-type-fits-every-session. Be prepared to pivot your brainstorming technique depending on what your group of brainstormers is most receptive to and also how many ideas you're juggling. 

8. Execute your ideas 

Coming up with bright ideas is great. But they’re pretty useless unless you effectively execute them. While some brainstorming techniques build the execution process into them, others might require you to follow up with brainstormers using project templates to map out a plan using creative solutions. 

Brainstorming is about quantity over quality

When done right, a brainstorming session shouldn’t feel like a chore but rather an opportunity to create something together, especially when your brainstorming technique supports different styles of thinking and expression. 

And whether you're operating as an individual or on a team, there’s something uniquely satisfying about seeing your ideas come to fruition. Get the creative ideas flowing, then customize your workflow management tool to turn those ideas into action. 

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Creative Problem Solving

Finding innovative solutions to challenges.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

problem solving methods for creative thinking in communication

Imagine that you're vacuuming your house in a hurry because you've got friends coming over. Frustratingly, you're working hard but you're not getting very far. You kneel down, open up the vacuum cleaner, and pull out the bag. In a cloud of dust, you realize that it's full... again. Coughing, you empty it and wonder why vacuum cleaners with bags still exist!

James Dyson, inventor and founder of Dyson® vacuum cleaners, had exactly the same problem, and he used creative problem solving to find the answer. While many companies focused on developing a better vacuum cleaner filter, he realized that he had to think differently and find a more creative solution. So, he devised a revolutionary way to separate the dirt from the air, and invented the world's first bagless vacuum cleaner. [1]

Creative problem solving (CPS) is a way of solving problems or identifying opportunities when conventional thinking has failed. It encourages you to find fresh perspectives and come up with innovative solutions, so that you can formulate a plan to overcome obstacles and reach your goals.

In this article, we'll explore what CPS is, and we'll look at its key principles. We'll also provide a model that you can use to generate creative solutions.

About Creative Problem Solving

Alex Osborn, founder of the Creative Education Foundation, first developed creative problem solving in the 1940s, along with the term "brainstorming." And, together with Sid Parnes, he developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process. Despite its age, this model remains a valuable approach to problem solving. [2]

The early Osborn-Parnes model inspired a number of other tools. One of these is the 2011 CPS Learner's Model, also from the Creative Education Foundation, developed by Dr Gerard J. Puccio, Marie Mance, and co-workers. In this article, we'll use this modern four-step model to explore how you can use CPS to generate innovative, effective solutions.

Why Use Creative Problem Solving?

Dealing with obstacles and challenges is a regular part of working life, and overcoming them isn't always easy. To improve your products, services, communications, and interpersonal skills, and for you and your organization to excel, you need to encourage creative thinking and find innovative solutions that work.

CPS asks you to separate your "divergent" and "convergent" thinking as a way to do this. Divergent thinking is the process of generating lots of potential solutions and possibilities, otherwise known as brainstorming. And convergent thinking involves evaluating those options and choosing the most promising one. Often, we use a combination of the two to develop new ideas or solutions. However, using them simultaneously can result in unbalanced or biased decisions, and can stifle idea generation.

For more on divergent and convergent thinking, and for a useful diagram, see the book "Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making." [3]

Core Principles of Creative Problem Solving

CPS has four core principles. Let's explore each one in more detail:

  • Divergent and convergent thinking must be balanced. The key to creativity is learning how to identify and balance divergent and convergent thinking (done separately), and knowing when to practice each one.
  • Ask problems as questions. When you rephrase problems and challenges as open-ended questions with multiple possibilities, it's easier to come up with solutions. Asking these types of questions generates lots of rich information, while asking closed questions tends to elicit short answers, such as confirmations or disagreements. Problem statements tend to generate limited responses, or none at all.
  • Defer or suspend judgment. As Alex Osborn learned from his work on brainstorming, judging solutions early on tends to shut down idea generation. Instead, there's an appropriate and necessary time to judge ideas during the convergence stage.
  • Focus on "Yes, and," rather than "No, but." Language matters when you're generating information and ideas. "Yes, and" encourages people to expand their thoughts, which is necessary during certain stages of CPS. Using the word "but" – preceded by "yes" or "no" – ends conversation, and often negates what's come before it.

How to Use the Tool

Let's explore how you can use each of the four steps of the CPS Learner's Model (shown in figure 1, below) to generate innovative ideas and solutions.

Figure 1 – CPS Learner's Model

problem solving methods for creative thinking in communication

Explore the Vision

Identify your goal, desire or challenge. This is a crucial first step because it's easy to assume, incorrectly, that you know what the problem is. However, you may have missed something or have failed to understand the issue fully, and defining your objective can provide clarity. Read our article, 5 Whys , for more on getting to the root of a problem quickly.

Gather Data

Once you've identified and understood the problem, you can collect information about it and develop a clear understanding of it. Make a note of details such as who and what is involved, all the relevant facts, and everyone's feelings and opinions.

Formulate Questions

When you've increased your awareness of the challenge or problem you've identified, ask questions that will generate solutions. Think about the obstacles you might face and the opportunities they could present.

Explore Ideas

Generate ideas that answer the challenge questions you identified in step 1. It can be tempting to consider solutions that you've tried before, as our minds tend to return to habitual thinking patterns that stop us from producing new ideas. However, this is a chance to use your creativity .

Brainstorming and Mind Maps are great ways to explore ideas during this divergent stage of CPS. And our articles, Encouraging Team Creativity , Problem Solving , Rolestorming , Hurson's Productive Thinking Model , and The Four-Step Innovation Process , can also help boost your creativity.

See our Brainstorming resources within our Creativity section for more on this.

Formulate Solutions

This is the convergent stage of CPS, where you begin to focus on evaluating all of your possible options and come up with solutions. Analyze whether potential solutions meet your needs and criteria, and decide whether you can implement them successfully. Next, consider how you can strengthen them and determine which ones are the best "fit." Our articles, Critical Thinking and ORAPAPA , are useful here.

4. Implement

Formulate a plan.

Once you've chosen the best solution, it's time to develop a plan of action. Start by identifying resources and actions that will allow you to implement your chosen solution. Next, communicate your plan and make sure that everyone involved understands and accepts it.

There have been many adaptations of CPS since its inception, because nobody owns the idea.

For example, Scott Isaksen and Donald Treffinger formed The Creative Problem Solving Group Inc . and the Center for Creative Learning , and their model has evolved over many versions. Blair Miller, Jonathan Vehar and Roger L. Firestien also created their own version, and Dr Gerard J. Puccio, Mary C. Murdock, and Marie Mance developed CPS: The Thinking Skills Model. [4] Tim Hurson created The Productive Thinking Model , and Paul Reali developed CPS: Competencies Model. [5]

Sid Parnes continued to adapt the CPS model by adding concepts such as imagery and visualization , and he founded the Creative Studies Project to teach CPS. For more information on the evolution and development of the CPS process, see Creative Problem Solving Version 6.1 by Donald J. Treffinger, Scott G. Isaksen, and K. Brian Dorval. [6]

Creative Problem Solving (CPS) Infographic

See our infographic on Creative Problem Solving .

problem solving methods for creative thinking in communication

Creative problem solving (CPS) is a way of using your creativity to develop new ideas and solutions to problems. The process is based on separating divergent and convergent thinking styles, so that you can focus your mind on creating at the first stage, and then evaluating at the second stage.

There have been many adaptations of the original Osborn-Parnes model, but they all involve a clear structure of identifying the problem, generating new ideas, evaluating the options, and then formulating a plan for successful implementation.

[1] Entrepreneur (2012). James Dyson on Using Failure to Drive Success [online]. Available here . [Accessed May 27, 2022.]

[2] Creative Education Foundation (2015). The CPS Process [online]. Available here . [Accessed May 26, 2022.]

[3] Kaner, S. et al. (2014). 'Facilitator′s Guide to Participatory Decision–Making,' San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[4] Puccio, G., Mance, M., and Murdock, M. (2011). 'Creative Leadership: Skils That Drive Change' (2nd Ed.), Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

[5] OmniSkills (2013). Creative Problem Solving [online]. Available here . [Accessed May 26, 2022].

[6] Treffinger, G., Isaksen, S., and Dorval, B. (2010). Creative Problem Solving (CPS Version 6.1). Center for Creative Learning, Inc. & Creative Problem Solving Group, Inc. Available here .

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What Is Creative Problem-Solving & Why Is It Important?

Business team using creative problem-solving

  • 01 Feb 2022

One of the biggest hindrances to innovation is complacency—it can be more comfortable to do what you know than venture into the unknown. Business leaders can overcome this barrier by mobilizing creative team members and providing space to innovate.

There are several tools you can use to encourage creativity in the workplace. Creative problem-solving is one of them, which facilitates the development of innovative solutions to difficult problems.

Here’s an overview of creative problem-solving and why it’s important in business.

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What Is Creative Problem-Solving?

Research is necessary when solving a problem. But there are situations where a problem’s specific cause is difficult to pinpoint. This can occur when there’s not enough time to narrow down the problem’s source or there are differing opinions about its root cause.

In such cases, you can use creative problem-solving , which allows you to explore potential solutions regardless of whether a problem has been defined.

Creative problem-solving is less structured than other innovation processes and encourages exploring open-ended solutions. It also focuses on developing new perspectives and fostering creativity in the workplace . Its benefits include:

  • Finding creative solutions to complex problems : User research can insufficiently illustrate a situation’s complexity. While other innovation processes rely on this information, creative problem-solving can yield solutions without it.
  • Adapting to change : Business is constantly changing, and business leaders need to adapt. Creative problem-solving helps overcome unforeseen challenges and find solutions to unconventional problems.
  • Fueling innovation and growth : In addition to solutions, creative problem-solving can spark innovative ideas that drive company growth. These ideas can lead to new product lines, services, or a modified operations structure that improves efficiency.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

Creative problem-solving is traditionally based on the following key principles :

1. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Creative problem-solving uses two primary tools to find solutions: divergence and convergence. Divergence generates ideas in response to a problem, while convergence narrows them down to a shortlist. It balances these two practices and turns ideas into concrete solutions.

2. Reframe Problems as Questions

By framing problems as questions, you shift from focusing on obstacles to solutions. This provides the freedom to brainstorm potential ideas.

3. Defer Judgment of Ideas

When brainstorming, it can be natural to reject or accept ideas right away. Yet, immediate judgments interfere with the idea generation process. Even ideas that seem implausible can turn into outstanding innovations upon further exploration and development.

4. Focus on "Yes, And" Instead of "No, But"

Using negative words like "no" discourages creative thinking. Instead, use positive language to build and maintain an environment that fosters the development of creative and innovative ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking

Whereas creative problem-solving facilitates developing innovative ideas through a less structured workflow, design thinking takes a far more organized approach.

Design thinking is a human-centered, solutions-based process that fosters the ideation and development of solutions. In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-phase framework to explain design thinking.

The four stages are:

The four stages of design thinking: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement

  • Clarify: The clarification stage allows you to empathize with the user and identify problems. Observations and insights are informed by thorough research. Findings are then reframed as problem statements or questions.
  • Ideate: Ideation is the process of coming up with innovative ideas. The divergence of ideas involved with creative problem-solving is a major focus.
  • Develop: In the development stage, ideas evolve into experiments and tests. Ideas converge and are explored through prototyping and open critique.
  • Implement: Implementation involves continuing to test and experiment to refine the solution and encourage its adoption.

Creative problem-solving primarily operates in the ideate phase of design thinking but can be applied to others. This is because design thinking is an iterative process that moves between the stages as ideas are generated and pursued. This is normal and encouraged, as innovation requires exploring multiple ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving Tools

While there are many useful tools in the creative problem-solving process, here are three you should know:

Creating a Problem Story

One way to innovate is by creating a story about a problem to understand how it affects users and what solutions best fit their needs. Here are the steps you need to take to use this tool properly.

1. Identify a UDP

Create a problem story to identify the undesired phenomena (UDP). For example, consider a company that produces printers that overheat. In this case, the UDP is "our printers overheat."

2. Move Forward in Time

To move forward in time, ask: “Why is this a problem?” For example, minor damage could be one result of the machines overheating. In more extreme cases, printers may catch fire. Don't be afraid to create multiple problem stories if you think of more than one UDP.

3. Move Backward in Time

To move backward in time, ask: “What caused this UDP?” If you can't identify the root problem, think about what typically causes the UDP to occur. For the overheating printers, overuse could be a cause.

Following the three-step framework above helps illustrate a clear problem story:

  • The printer is overused.
  • The printer overheats.
  • The printer breaks down.

You can extend the problem story in either direction if you think of additional cause-and-effect relationships.

4. Break the Chains

By this point, you’ll have multiple UDP storylines. Take two that are similar and focus on breaking the chains connecting them. This can be accomplished through inversion or neutralization.

  • Inversion: Inversion changes the relationship between two UDPs so the cause is the same but the effect is the opposite. For example, if the UDP is "the more X happens, the more likely Y is to happen," inversion changes the equation to "the more X happens, the less likely Y is to happen." Using the printer example, inversion would consider: "What if the more a printer is used, the less likely it’s going to overheat?" Innovation requires an open mind. Just because a solution initially seems unlikely doesn't mean it can't be pursued further or spark additional ideas.
  • Neutralization: Neutralization completely eliminates the cause-and-effect relationship between X and Y. This changes the above equation to "the more or less X happens has no effect on Y." In the case of the printers, neutralization would rephrase the relationship to "the more or less a printer is used has no effect on whether it overheats."

Even if creating a problem story doesn't provide a solution, it can offer useful context to users’ problems and additional ideas to be explored. Given that divergence is one of the fundamental practices of creative problem-solving, it’s a good idea to incorporate it into each tool you use.


Brainstorming is a tool that can be highly effective when guided by the iterative qualities of the design thinking process. It involves openly discussing and debating ideas and topics in a group setting. This facilitates idea generation and exploration as different team members consider the same concept from multiple perspectives.

Hosting brainstorming sessions can result in problems, such as groupthink or social loafing. To combat this, leverage a three-step brainstorming method involving divergence and convergence :

  • Have each group member come up with as many ideas as possible and write them down to ensure the brainstorming session is productive.
  • Continue the divergence of ideas by collectively sharing and exploring each idea as a group. The goal is to create a setting where new ideas are inspired by open discussion.
  • Begin the convergence of ideas by narrowing them down to a few explorable options. There’s no "right number of ideas." Don't be afraid to consider exploring all of them, as long as you have the resources to do so.

Alternate Worlds

The alternate worlds tool is an empathetic approach to creative problem-solving. It encourages you to consider how someone in another world would approach your situation.

For example, if you’re concerned that the printers you produce overheat and catch fire, consider how a different industry would approach the problem. How would an automotive expert solve it? How would a firefighter?

Be creative as you consider and research alternate worlds. The purpose is not to nail down a solution right away but to continue the ideation process through diverging and exploring ideas.

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Whether you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or business leader, learning the ropes of design thinking can be an effective way to build your skills and foster creativity and innovation in any setting.

If you're ready to develop your design thinking and creative problem-solving skills, explore Design Thinking and Innovation , one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses. If you aren't sure which course is the right fit, download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.

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About the Author

How to master communication in problem solving

May 11, 2023 The path from problem to solution is not linear. In fast-moving, complex times, decision-makers can’t effectively act alone when it comes to solving complicated workplace problems; diverse perspectives and rigorous debate are crucial to determining the best steps to take. What’s missing in many companies is the use of “contributory dissent,” or the capabilities required to engage in healthy if divergent discussions about critical business problems, write Ben Fletcher , Chris Hartley , Rupert Hoskin , and Dana Maor  in a recent article . Contributory dissent allows individuals and groups to air their differences in a way that moves the discussion toward a positive outcome and doesn’t undermine leadership or group cohesion. Check out these insights to learn how to establish cultures and structures where individuals and teams feel free to bring innovative—and often better—alternative solutions to the table, and dive into the best ways to master communication in problem solving.

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Learn how to grow a culture of creativity to innovate competitive solutions.

Overview: creative thinking skills course.

The tech breakthrough that makes smartphones irrelevant, a new viral ad campaign, your company’s next big revenue generator — ideas like these could be sitting in your brain; all you need are the creative thinking skills and strategies to pull them out.

This interactive program focuses explicitly on the creative thinking skills you need to solve complex problems and design innovative solutions. Learn how to transform your thinking from the standard “why can’t we” to the powerful “how might we.” Crack the code on how to consistently leverage your team’s creative potential in order to drive innovation within your organization. Explore how to build a climate for innovation, remove barriers to creativity, cultivate courage, and create more agile, proactive, and inspired teams.

You will leave this program with new ideas about how to think more productively and how to introduce creative thinking skills into your organization. You can apply key takeaways immediately to implement a new leadership vision, inspire renewed enthusiasm, and enjoy the skills and tools to tackle challenges and seize opportunities.

Innovation experts Anne Manning and Susan Robertson bring to this highly-interactive and powerful program their decades of experience promoting corporate innovation, teaching the art of creative problem solving, and applying the principles of brain science to solve complex challenges.

Who Should Take Creative Thinking Skills Training?

This program is ideal for leaders with at least 3 years of management experience. It is designed for leaders who want to develop new strategies, frameworks, and tools for creative problem solving. Whether you are a team lead, project manager, sales director, or executive, you’ll learn powerful tools to lead your team and your organization to create innovative solutions to complex challenges.

All participants will earn a Certificate of Participation from the Harvard Division of Continuing Education.

Benefits of Creative Thinking Skills Training

The goal of this creative thinking program is to help you develop the strategic concepts and tactical skills to lead creative problem solving for your team and your organization. You will learn to:

  • Retrain your brain to avoid negative cognitive biases and long-held beliefs and myths that sabotage creative problem solving and innovation
  • Become a more nimble, proactive, and inspired thinker and leader
  • Create the type of organizational culture that supports collaboration and nurtures rather than kills ideas
  • Gain a practical toolkit for solving the “unsolvable” by incorporating creative thinking into day-to-day processes
  • Understand cognitive preferences (yours and others’) to adapt the creative thinking process and drive your team’s success
  • Develop techniques that promote effective brainstorming and enable you to reframe problems in a way that inspires innovative solutions

The curriculum in this highly interactive program utilizes research-based methodologies and techniques to build creative thinking skills and stimulate creative problem solving.

Through intensive group discussions and small-group exercises, you will focus on topics such as:

  • The Creative Problem Solving process: a researched, learnable, repeatable process for uncovering new and useful ideas. This process includes a “how to” on clarifying, ideating, developing, and implementing new solutions to intractable problems
  • The cognitive preferences that drive how we approach problems, and how to leverage those cognitive preferences for individual and team success
  • How to develop—and implement— a methodology that overcomes barriers to innovative thinking and fosters the generation of new ideas, strategies, and techniques
  • The role of language, including asking the right questions, in reframing problems, challenging assumptions, and driving successful creative problem solving
  • Fostering a culture that values, nurtures, and rewards creative solutions

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19 Creative Thinking Skills (and How to Use Them!)

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In a fast-moving world, being able to find new perspectives and create innovation is an increasingly valuable skill . Creative thinkers are often at the forefront of driving change, solving problems, and developing new ideas. Not only that, but those who bring creative thinking to how they work are often happier, more productive, and resilient too!

So you might be asking yourself, how can I develop my creative thinking skills and think more creatively at work?  Whether you want to supercharge your interpersonal skills, advance your career or be happier and more satisfied in the work you do, it pays to learn to think more creatively.

For many people, creative thinking is the key that unlocks solutions, promotes diverse thinking, and leads to better relationships and job satisfaction. So how can you get started with creative thinking?  As passionate believers in the value of creative thinking, we’re here to help and truly think unleashing your creativity can be key to your personal development!

In this post we’ll define what creative thinking is, highlight the benefits, explore 19 key creative thinking skills and give you some examples of how to apply them in the workplace . Let’s dig in!

What is creative thinking?

Why is creative thinking important, what are the benefits of creative thinking.

  • What are creative thinking skills?  
  • Examples of creative thinking skills (and how to use them)
  • How to use creative thinking skills at work?

How to improve your creative thinking skills? 

Creative thinking is the ability to approach a problem or challenge from a new perspective, alternative angle, or with an atypical mindset. This might mean thinking outside of the box, taking techniques from one discipline and applying them to another, or simply creating space for new ideas and alternative solutions to present themselves through dialogue, experimentation, or reflection.

Bear in mind that the number of different creative approaches is as vast as the number of creative thinkers – if an approach helps you see things differently and approaching a challenge creatively, follow that impulse.

While there are some proven methods and guidelines that can help you be a better creative thinker, remember that everyone can be creative and finding what works for you is what is important, not the terminology or specific framework.

One misapprehension about creative thinking is that you have to be skilled at more traditional creative skills like drawing or writing. This isn’t true. What’s important is that you are open to exploring alternative solutions while employing fresh techniques and creative approaches to what you’re working on. 

You don’t need to be a great artist or even work in a traditionally creative field – we believe everyone is capable of creative thinking and that it enriches your personal and professional lives when you learn to be more creative.

Another misconception about creative thinking is that it applies only to the ideation or technically creative parts of the process. All aspects of our lives and interactions with people and challenges can benefit from creative thinking – from the ability to see things differently.

At work, thinking creatively might mean finding better ways to communicate, improve your working practices, or developing and implementing fresh solutions too.

Creative thinking is important because it drives new ideas, encourages learning, and creates a safe space for experimentation and risk-taking.

As organizations and people grow, they often develop tried and tested ways of operating. While it’s important to have solid working practices and processes, unswerving dedication to the norm can lead to stagnation and a lack of innovation and growth. 

Creative thinking is important because it drives new ideas, encourages learning and creates a safe space for experimentation and risk-taking. Simply put, creativity and creative thinking are part of what helps businesses and individuals succeed and grow .

Whether your team or business thinks of itself as a creative one, you can’t afford to miss out on the benefits of creative thinking if you want to grow , deliver change, and help your team bring their best selves to work. 

Using creative thinking skills at work creates b enefits not only in the ways we solve problems but also in how we approach everything from communication to self-fulfillment, task management, and growth . Bringing a culture of creative thinking into a workshop or group is often the job of a talented facilitator but whatever your role, there are benefits to thinking more creatively. Let’s explore some of the benefits of thinking creatively at work and in your everyday life!

Build empathy

  • Bust assumptions  
  • Become a better problem solver  

Find ways to move quickly and effectively

  • Increase happiness

Discover new talents and promote learning

  • Boost resilience and deal with adversity

Boost your CV and employability 

Empathy and creative thinking go hand-in-hand. By practicing creative thinking skills and regularly looking for new ideas and points of view, you can actively become better at understanding your colleagues, customers, and even your family and friends. One of the major barriers to having productive and meaningful relationships is an unwillingness to see things from a perspective other than your own or failing to understand how another person is feeling. 

By developing this skill, you can engage more meaningfully and honestly with people, ideas, and perspectives in all aspects of life. What’s more, because of the benefits that creative thinking can bring, you’ll actively want to see things from new perspectives and be more empathic : something that’s fundamental to creating real change.

Bust assumptions 

Assumptions can be harmful in both our personal and professional lives. Whether it’s making assumptions about why someone is behaving the way they are in a workshop or what features will make your customers happiest, holding onto incorrect or inadequately formed assumptions can be problematic . It can create difficulty and tension in relationships and what’s more, it can lead to the development or introduction of solutions that are simply unfit for purpose.

Using creative thinking skills to challenge assumptions, build clarity, and see things from new perspectives can be transformative. If an assumption someone else makes feels incorrect, think about why and try to find out more. If someone challenges an assumption you hold, be open and listen.

Become a better problem solver

An example of not being a creative thinker is sticking to a tried and tested approach and sticking to the norm in every situation without considering whether trying something new might not lead to better results.

When looking to solve a problem or create innovative solutions, going outside of what you know and being open to new ideas is not only exciting, but it can create more impactful solutions too. You might even try using problem-solving techniques alongside some of the creative thinking skills below to find the absolute best solutions!

Some processes and working practices can be slow, especially in large organizations with many moving parts – but do they all have to be? Thinking creatively can help you find lean, actionable solutions that you can put into practice quickly and test ahead of bigger changes .

Experimentation and a willingness to take risks are vital to growth and change, and creative thinking helps create a climate conducive to finding and trying quick, effective solutions. 

Increase happiness and satisfaction

Finding fresh, appropriate solutions to problems can be incredibly satisfying and is a fast-track to finding happiness both in and out of work. Bringing your whole self to a situation and being enabled to think outside of the box is a great way to feel valued and engaged with what you are doing.

Feeling frustrated with how a situation or process at work is going? Try developing and employing your creative thinking skills alongside your colleagues to find a better, happier way to collaborate! Feel unfulfilled or that not all of your skills and interests are being utilized? Consider how you might creatively deploy the skills or talents that make you happy and scratch that itch.

As children, we are encouraged to see things differently and try new things as part of our learning and growing process. There’s no reason we shouldn’t do this as adults too! Trying new things and learning to think creatively can help you find new skills, talents, and things you didn’t even know you were good at.

Staying curious and following what interests you with an open mind is a prime example of what a small change in thinking can achieve. Remember that creative thinking is a gateway to learning and by actively developing your creative toolset, you can grow and discover more in all walks of life – a surefire path to personal development.

Get better at dealing with adversity

It’s easy to get frustrated when problems seem to come thick and fast and existing solutions or methods don’t work. Adversity is something all of us will face at some point in our personal and professional lives but there are ways you can become more able to handle problems when they arise .

A strong suite of creative thinking skills is an important aspect of how we can build resilience and be more flexible when adapting or creating change. By exploring alternative ways of thinking, you’ll be better prepared to face adversity more openly and find alternative ways to resolve challenges in whatever context they emerge.

Creative thinkers are valuable employees at organizations of any size. Whether it’s championing innovation, creating change in policy, or finding better ways to collaborate, people who can effectively solve problems and leverage their creative thinking skills are better positioned for success at work.

Consider how you might plug your skills gap and boost your CV by developing your creative skillset and you won’t just be more successful – you’ll be happier and more engaged at work too! 

Whatever your background or role, you are capable of thinking creatively and bringing creativity into your life.

What are creative thinking skills? 

Creative thinking skills are the methods or approaches you might use when trying to solve a problem differently and explore a fresh perspective. While some of these skills might come naturally to you, others might need a more considered, purposeful approach.

For example, you might be a natural visual thinker who is great at presenting and interpreting visual information but you might not be so good at freely experimenting or creating space for reflection. In this case, you might try some brainstorming exercises to loosen up your experimentation muscles or create scheduled time for reflection in your working routine.

While creative professions like artists, writers, or designers may see more obvious uses for creative thinking skills, all professions can benefit from developing and deploying creative thinking . If you find yourself having difficulty at work or in need of inspiration or motivation, finding space to build on your creative skillset is a way to not only move forward but have fun while doing so.

If you think you’re not creative or have no creative thinking skills, we’re here to tell you that whatever your background or role, you are capable of thinking creatively and bringing creativity into your life : you might just need a little push or to reframe how you think about creativity!

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Examples of creative thinking skills (and how to use them) 

Creative thinking skills come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from things like abstract thinking and storytelling to finding ways to radically plan projects or recognize organizational patterns .

In this section, we’ll explore each of the example creative skills below and talk about how you might use them in your personal and professional practice. We’ll also point out some things to watch out for where appropriate so you can make the most out of your new creative skills and avoid potential setbacks.

We’ll also include a method from the SessionLab library that will help you practice and explore each skill, whether alone or with others .

Feel free to read and explore the creative thinking skill which feels most interesting or applicable to you and come back and experiment with others in the future!  

Some example creative thinking skills include:


Open-mindedness, lateral thinking.

  • Pattern recognition   

Deep and active listening

Challenging norms, lean organization, simplification, radical planning.

  • Collaborative thinking

Data collection

  • Interpretation and analysis

Interdisciplinary thinking

Frameworks and rulesets, micro and macro thinking, visual thinking, abstract thinking, storytelling.

Note that this list is not exhaustive, and there are many more ways of thinking creatively – try to see these creative skills as a jumping-off point for seeing things differently and exploring creative thinking at work . 

Let’s get started!

A core creative skill is the ability to experiment and try new things, whether that’s in your personal practice, in a closed environment, or even in the field. It can be easy to fall short of implementing new ideas or following through with creative projects because critical judgment or overthinking gets in the way . A good experimenter is a self-starter who makes informed decisions to kickstart projects and test hypotheses. 

Think of a painter who throws paint at a canvas and introduces new materials without overthinking or being self-critical. While not everything they try will be perfect, that’s the point – not every experiment needs to be successful in order to teach you something useful. By experimenting, you can try things that might prove useful or will lead you towards new solutions and better ideas. Remember that the act of experimentation is generative and often fun so be sure to give it a try!

One thing to watch out for is being sure to effectively capture the results of your experiments and to continue developing and iterating on the results. Experimentation is a great place to start, but remember that it is part of a larger process. Without effective documentation, you might not trace what delivered the best results and be unable to reproduce the outcomes. Experimentation is a great example of why creative freedom should be paired with a strong process in order to be at its best. 

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

Four-Step Sketch is a great method for promoting experimentation. By following a process that enables quick brainstorming before development, you can help build an experimental mindset that also generates results.

Open-mindedness is a critical element of creativity and one of the best creative thinking skills you can try to build if you’re new to the practice. Being open-minded means being receptive to new ideas, different ways of thinking, and perspectives which are not your own. It means not closing down conversations or ideas prematurely and trying to actively explore what is presented to you.

Imagine that a colleague comes up with an idea that is so far out of the status quo it seems off-the-wall and bizarre. Being open-minded means actively engaging with what is presented and to refrain from forming judgments before first understanding where your colleague is coming from .

Your colleagues’ initial idea might not be perfect, but being open-minded and truly attempting to understand their perspective means you can create dialogue, foster creativity, and move forward as a team. 

Being open-minded doesn’t mean accepting every new idea and agreeing wholesale with every different opinion. While you should always try to be open and receptive to new ideas and other perspectives, you should also critically appraise and engage with them as part of a larger creative process. Don’t be so open-minded you have no strong opinions of your own!

Heard, Seen, Respected (HSR)   #issue analysis   #empathy   #communication   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can foster the empathetic capacity of participants to “walk in the shoes” of others. Many situations do not have immediate answers or clear resolutions. Recognizing these situations and responding with empathy can improve the “cultural climate” and build trust among group members. HSR helps individuals learn to respond in ways that do not overpromise or overcontrol. It helps members of a group notice unwanted patterns and work together on shifting to more productive interactions. Participants experience the practice of more compassion and the benefits it engenders.

Open-mindedness is particularly useful when it comes to meaningfully communicating with others. Whether its developing the ability to walk in the shoes of someone else or building empathy and listening skills, Heard, Seen, Respected is a great method to try when learning to be more open-minded.

Lateral thinking is a prime example of how we can creatively solve real-world problems in a measurable and easy-to-understand manner. Deploying lateral thinking means using reasoning or non-traditional logic to find an indirect or out-of-the-box approach to solving a problem. 

A simple example might be a challenge like: we need to increase revenue. Traditional thinking might mean considering hiring new salespeople to try and get more direct sales. A lateral approach might mean engaging more with current customers to reduce churn, working with external partners to get new leads, working to get sponsorship, piloting an affiliate scheme or any number of new ways to solve the existing problem.

Broadly speaking, lateral thinking often means stepping back and considering solutions or approaches outside of the immediately obvious.

One potential danger with lateral thinking is spending time to create new solutions to problems that don’t need them. Not every problem needs to be solved laterally and the best solution might actually be the most straightforward. Be sure to tap into existing knowledge and appraise a problem before trying something radical to avoid wasted time or frustration!  

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

Developing your lateral thinking skills comes more naturally to some than others. The Creativity Dice is a great method for getting out of linear thinking habits and moving into different ways of thinking.

Pattern recognition 

Pattern recognition is the ability to recognise existing or emerging patterns and make connections based on the patterns you have discerned . While pattern recognition goes back to our prehistoric roots, being able to spot patterns outside of the ordinary and consider what may not be immediately obvious is a vital creative thinking skill for today. 

Consider how meetings between some members of a team might often end in conflict. While it might first seem that these two people just can’t get along, it might actually be that certain emotional triggers are being tripped or the format of the conversation isn’t working. Looking beyond your initial impressions and from a new perspective might let you find a repeating pattern that isn’t immediately obvious.

When trying to spot patterns, try to be mindful of existing biases so you avoid bending what is happening to fit a pattern you might be expecting. Be sure to interpret all data fairly and honestly, even if you believe a pattern is already forming. 

Affinity Map   #idea generation   #gamestorming   Most of us are familiar with brainstorming—a method by which a group generates as many ideas around a topic as possible in a limited amount of time. Brainstorming works to get a high quantity of information on the table. But it begs the follow-up question of how to gather meaning from all the data. Using a simple Affinity Diagram technique can help us discover embedded patterns (and sometimes break old patterns) of thinking by sorting and clustering language-based information into relationships. It can also give us a sense of where most people’s thinking is focused

Pattern recognition is a skill that benefits from thoughtful practice. Try starting with a deliberate pattern-finding process like Affinity Map to build the ability to see patterns where they might not first be obvious.

While it might not seem like it at first, being a good listener is a creative thinking skill. It asks that a person not only try to understand what is being said but also to engage with the why and how of the conversation in order to reframe prior thinking and see things from a new perspective.

Deep listening or active listening is not only hearing the words that someone is saying but actively seeking to interpret their intent, understand their position, and create a positive space for further conversation. Not only does this create a deeper conversation for both parties, but this act of engagement and understanding leads to more creative and dynamic results too. 

Think of a workplace grievance that one person might have against another. Without actively listening and trying to understand the core issues from the perspective of everyone involved, you might not only fail to solve the issue but actually make staff feel less heard and valued too.

By employing this creative thinking skill in such a conversation you can see things more clearly and find a way to creatively satisfy the needs of everyone involved. 

Active Listening   #hyperisland   #skills   #active listening   #remote-friendly   This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.

Trying to be more present in conversations is a great place to begin building your deep listening and active listening skills . Want to supercharge the process as a group? Try a role-play activity like Active Listening to more thoughtfully see and reflect on how important this skill can be.

Not all established working practices are the best way of doing things. People who practice this creative thinking skill are likely to question the status quo in search of something new which can deliver meaningful change. While any challenge to the established order needs to be conducted respectfully and thoughtfully, thinking of how to go beyond the norm is how innovation occurs and where creative thinkers excel.

When trying to practice this skill, be prepared to question existing methods and frameworks and ask if there might be a better way outside of the limits of the current system. 

As with lateral thinking, it’s important to recognize that not everything is a problem that needs to be solved and so you may need to be selective in which norms should be challenged – otherwise, you may never make it out of the front door!

Additionally, challenging the established order often means questioning the work someone else has already done. While this is a necessary part of growth, it should always be done constructively and respectfully.  

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

Challenging norms without a considered approach can be ineffective and potentially frustrating. Taking the time to build shared understanding and push in the same direction with What, So What, Now What? is a great way to explore how your existing process is or isn’t working and challenge norms productively.

Creative thinking doesn’t mean being disorganized or chaotic just because you have an abundance of ideas. In order to facilitate creative thinking, it’s important to stay organized and approach the process with the right framework, mindset, and space. As a creative thinking skill, lean organization means considering what you absolutely need to do in order to make things happen, versus what you don’t.

Think of how a large, multi-discipline team might go about organizing themselves for a big project. While it’s vital everyone is aligned and kept up to date, a traditional system of scheduled meetings might not be the most productive. Lean organization means considering the needs of the team, the project and thinking creatively about what you need to stay organized, and keeping unnecessary admin to a minimum.

Thinking creatively about organization is something all leaders should practice but any project can benefit from thinking through the process by which it will be accomplished. 

MoSCoW   #define intentions   #create   #design   #action   #remote-friendly   MoSCoW is a method that allows the team to prioritize the different features that they will work on. Features are then categorized into “Must have”, “Should have”, “Could have”, or “Would like but won‘t get”. To be used at the beginning of a timeslot (for example during Sprint planning) and when planning is needed.

Lean organization often means being honest and realistic about what is absolutely necessary versus nice to have. MoSCoW is an effective agile framework for planning work and also reframing your approach to organizing time, tasks and more!

Simplifying, presenting or decoding any information is a vital skill when working with others. In a creative thinking context, simplification is the act of seeing what is important about a task or piece of data and stripping away the extraneous parts to see things more clearly.

Some problems can feel unassailable because of their complexity or scale – simplification allows you to reconsider a problem in simple terms and reframe it in a way that means you can approach it productively. 

An example of using this creative thinking skill at work might be when presenting the results of a project to the rest of your organization. People working on other teams and in different disciplines could become disengaged if exposed to too many complex moving parts or it might simply be a waste of time to discuss every detail.

By simplifying a project into more succinct terms, you not only can help your group connect with the material swiftly but also boil a project down to its most important elements . This is a great way to creatively re-energize a project and identify where you can make an impact immediately. 

6 Words   #ufmcs   #red teaming   This tool is designed to help critical thinkers focus on a core idea by writing a short phrase summarizing their thoughts into a set number of words that are clear, concise, and accurate. This idea is based on a complete short story written by Ernest Hemingway: “For sale, baby shoes – never worn.” Six Words forces people to synthesize their ideas in a succinct and meaningful way, cutting away fluff and distilling the idea to its bare essence.

One way of practicing simplification is by summarising or condensing thoughts, ideas of stories into a more concise, compressed form . 6 Words is a method for cutting away extraneous material from ideas that engages creative thinking and reframing approachably – great for groups!

Any major project requires some measure of planning in order to succeed, especially when working with others. But are there times where overplanning or traditional working processes feel too slow or frustrating for the project at hand? This is where these creative thinking skills come in handy! Radical planning is a way of approaching project planning from an alternative angle in order to generate fast, effective results.  

When taking this planning approach, you will often shuffle the order of the normal planning process in order to create alternative outcomes and cut out elements you may not need. For example, with the backcasting workshop activity, the approach is to think of desired outcomes up to twenty years in the future and work backward to figure out how we can make small steps today.

You might also try planning with a mindset of what you and your team can each achieve immediately and in a more experimental fashion with an activity like 15% solutions . 

By approaching planning with a creative thinking mindset, you can surface ideas and plans which may not have come up with a more traditional planning process. Another great benefit is to question the normal manner in which your team or organisation approaches planning and can help your team find a method that works best for you!

Backcasting   #define intentions   #create   #design   #action   Backcasting is a method for planning the actions necessary to reach desired future goals. This method is often applied in a workshop format with stakeholders participating. To be used when a future goal (even if it is vague) has been identified.

Collaborative thinking 

Effective collaboration requires us to bring many different skills together, but consciously considering how to be a more effective collaborator is worth mentioning separately. When a creative thinker approaches collaboration, they will try to think of how to use alternative approaches to make the collaborative process more effective while also helping everyone on the team contribute and be heard.

An example is when it comes to getting work done in meetings – if the current process isn’t enabling everyone to collaborate effectively, you might employ creative thinking to try finding an alternative format, consider working asynchronously, or timeboxing parts of your agenda.

The best collaborators also find ways to champion the work of others and create a safe space for everyone to contribute – it might not be enough to assume collaboration will be accomplished when you get people in a room.

Employing this creative thinking skill can make all the difference when it comes to job satisfaction, interpersonal relationships and group outcomes too! Try approaching your collaborative projects more mindfully and see how it changes things for you!

Marshmallow challenge with debriefing   #teamwork   #team   #leadership   #collaboration   In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.

Working together on a task as a team is an effective way of kickstarting collaborative thinking, especially if you approach the task mindfully . The Marshamllow Challenge with debriefing is a proven method for engaging teamwork and by adding reflection time afterward, your group can share and build on what they learned.

Collecting data might seem like a solely analytical skill, but it is another area where creative thinking can lead to productive, unexpected and transformative results. Approaching the data collection process creatively might mean trying new techniques or sources, or simply reconsidering the how and why of your data collection processes.  

Imagine you are running a survey to measure customer happiness. You might try asking traditional survey questions, but find that your response rate is low and furthermore, your approach might be invasive and actively decrease happiness too!

If you were to approach this problem creatively, you might find that using a simplified form, asking for feedback at a different point in the customer journey, or utilizing an alternative measurement scheme delivers the data you are looking for. In many cases, thinking about the questions you are asking from a new point of view is what unlocks a better data collection process.

The key to this creative thinking skill is to try looking at the data collection process from a new, preferably customer-centric perspective while also considering why and how you are collecting data. You will likely find that by asking for input from your customers more creatively, you create space for more creative responses too!

3 Question Mingle   #hyperisland   #team   #get-to-know   An activity to support a group to get to know each other through a set of questions that they create themselves. The activity gets participants moving around and meeting each other one-on-one. It’s useful in the early stages of team development and/or for groups to reconnect with each other after a period of time apart.

3 Question Mingle is a get to know you activity that does double duty in demonstrating the power of approaching data collection creatively. By creating their own questions, a group can really think about what they want to know, how they ask questions, and how the results differ. Be sure to give it a try!

Interpretation and analysis

Interpretation skills can be varied though in a creative thinking context it means being able to successfully analyze an idea, solution, dataset, or conversation and draw effective conclusions. Great interpreters are people with a desire to listen, understand, and dig deeper in order to make their interpretation fully realised.

One of the ways creative thinking can improve interpretation is in helping us challenge assumptions or initial readings of data in order to consider other possible interpretations and perspectives.

Say your product is having a problem with losing lots of new customers shortly after signing up. You do a survey and people say that they leave because the product isn’t useful to them. Your initial interpretation of that data might be that you’re not the right fit for these customers or that the product needs new features.

If you were to apply creative thinking to the interpretation of this data, you might conduct further research and see that the product is fine, but people didn’t find the right features for them and that your onboarding process needs to be improved.

The key here is interpreting the data from various perspectives and then correlating that with other sources to form an accurate and representative interpretation, rather than going with your initial assumption . By following this process, you might also find that the way you are collecting data is flawed (perhaps not asking the right questions) or that more research and data collection is needed.

So long as you are sure to have data points and analysis to back up your findings, it pays to explore alternative interpretations so you can avoid bias and find the most accurate takeaways . 

Fishbone diagram   #frame insights   #create   #design   #issue analysis   Fishbone diagrams show the causes of a specific event.

Effective interpretation and analysis isn’t possible without a thorough exploration of the problem or topic at hand. Fishbone Diagram is a simple method for not only surfacing insights but framing them in a way that allows for proper and multi-perspective analysis.

Einstein is quoted as saying, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” In this mold, sometimes the best ideas and solutions come from fields and disciplines outside of our own. By considering how someone with a different skillset to your own would solve a problem or deploy solutions, you can often find ideas and techniques you may never have considered. 

Consider being tasked with improving employee happiness. A social media manager with a background in illustration and events management would likely try a very different approach to a sales manager who is used to a culture of incentives and bonuses. If you were trying to develop a new product, think of how a developer would approach deciding on key features versus an academic or a customer success manager? 

The important thing here is to try and use the perspective, skill set , and approach of another field or discipline to first consider and then solve a problem more fully . Where possible, try and include people from other disciplines in the process and try to avoid making assumptions.

As with all creative thinking skills, being open-minded and sourcing the expertise and opinions of others where necessary is vital when creating true innovation.

Mash-Up Innovation   #hyperisland   #innovation   #idea generation   Mash-ups is a collaborative idea generation method in which participants come up with innovative concepts by combining different elements together. In a first step, participants brainstorm around different areas, such as technologies, human needs, and existing services. In a second step, they rapidly combine elements from those areas to create new, fun and innovative concepts. Mash-ups demonstrates how fast and easy it can be to come up with innovative ideas.

Interdisciplinary thinking isn’t just for radical academics. By combining ideas from disparate fields in a fast, fun manner, Mash-Up Innovation is great for building creative thinking skills and generating results in one fell swoop!

All creative thinking skills are about reframing things in a new way of finding alternative approaches. This can often mean abandoning an existing framework and thinking outside of the box. That said , another way of applying creative thinking is by bringing rulesets, constraints, or frameworks to your approach in order to trigger deeper creative work and tap into a problem-solving mindset . 

Consider a simple task like trying to generate more customers. With free reign, there are innumerable ways to accomplish this. But what happens if you create a rule like, we cannot spend any money, or, these must be driven by social media alone. In order to accomplish your goal under these conditions, you must think more creatively and deeply, deploying more concentrated problem-solving skills than if you could try any approach you wanted. 

Alternatively, you might approach a problem with a framework that forces you to think under specific circumstances or with a rigid set of steps. Six thinking hats is a great workshop activity that asks participants to frame and reframe a problem from six different angles. While it might first seem counterintuitive, the use of rules or frameworks can create fertile ground for creative thinking and lead to more realized solutions!

The Six Thinking Hats   #creative thinking   #meeting facilitation   #problem solving   #issue resolution   #idea generation   #conflict resolution   The Six Thinking Hats are used by individuals and groups to separate out conflicting styles of thinking. They enable and encourage a group of people to think constructively together in exploring and implementing change, rather than using argument to fight over who is right and who is wrong.

Not all problems are created equal. Depending on how much it directly affects you, you might see a given problem as being more or less important than your colleagues, leading to a different response and approach to solving the problem. This creative thinking skill is all about being able to switch between seeing the bigger picture while also considering how something might manifest on a smaller scale.

Think of how frustrating it can be when an executive team makes sweeping changes that affect frontline staff in a way they might not have anticipated. Micro and macro thinking means seeing both problems and potential solutions from multiple perspectives and adjusting accordingly. 

Another key aspect of applying this approach is knowing the limits of your own knowledge and involving stakeholders from all levels of an organization to inform your ideation and problem-solving process.

If you’ve never worked in support and don’t regularly talk to your support team, you might not understand how a change to helpdesk software could impact your team and your clients – remember that a big part of any change in perspective is doing the research and talking to who will be affected ! 

Stakeholder Round Robin Brainstorm   #idea generation   #brainstorming   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   #online   A divergent process to generate ideas and understanding from different perspectives.

Learning to practice micro and macro thinking often starts with first listening to and understanding the needs and perspectives of others . Especially those who have varied positions in relation to the problem, solutions, or organization you are working with. Stakeholder Round Robin Brainstorm is an effective method of surfacing insights and perspectives quickly and productively.

Of all the creative thinking skills on this list, visual thinking might be one you are most familiar with. Visual thinking is a method of processing, learning, and presenting information and concepts with visual assets such as images.

Visual thinking is often associated with creative thinking because of the consumption and creation of images at its heart. Don’t let this make you think you have to be able to draw in order to be a visual thinker.

Applying this creative thinking skill means being able to interpret visual information, present concepts in an often simple visual manner, and communicate in a way that is more universally understood.  Drawing stick people is actively encouraged!

Visual approaches to problem-solving can help foster shared understanding and help people be more succinct or creative in their ideas. Remember: if an idea is too complex to be put into pictures, perhaps it needs further refinement .

Imagie-ination   #idea generation   #gamestorming   Images have the ability to spark insights and to create new associations and possible connections. That is why pictures help generate new ideas, which is exactly the point of this exercise.

While you might be able to jump straight into direct applications of visual thinking, it can help to try an exercise where you and a group explore using images simply and engagingly. Imagie-ination helps unlock the power of visual thinking as a team while also helping generate ideas too!

Abstraction or abstract thinking is the art of taking things out of their normal context and presenting them in a radical new light . While most creative thinking skills utilise abstraction in some form, it’s worth noting that actively trying to take an idea from one context and place it in another is a creative approach all on its own.

Think of Pablo Picasso’s cubist portraits – by taking something as common as a human face and bringing abstraction to his process, he created something radically different and innovative. You can create a similar effect by recontextualizing ideas, concepts, and problems and by looking at them from different, perhaps even conflicting points of view.

Abstract thinking is often built on engaging with absurdities, paradoxes, and unexpected connections . As such, it can often be fun, wild and surprising, and is a great way to generate creative ideas even in those who might be resistant to other forms of creative thinking. Lean into the weird!

Forced Analogy   #divergent thinking   #zoom   #virtual   #remote-friendly   People compare something (e.g. themselves, their company, their team) to an object.  

Forced Analogy is a quick, fun activity you can use to promote abstract thinking. Comparing one thing to another seemingly unrelated thing asks for a creative approach to context and metaphor and can really unlock a groups divergent thinking process.

Telling stories or narrativizing a problem can help us not only see things differently but understand where we share common ground with others. Everybody tells stories – whether that’s explaining our employment history, telling colleagues about what happened at the weekend, or when creating user personas and journeys. 

Leverage this inclination to help people not only realize they are creative thinkers by nature but to help them share something of themselves too!

As a creative thinking skill, storytelling is about applying our natural proclivity for stories into new situations or thinking about how to reappraise or present material narratively . Think of the basic storytelling concept like the idea that all stories have a beginning, middle, and end – how might we bring this thinking to a tough challenge, a new product, or when solving a customer complaint?

You might even use storytelling tropes like the hero’s journey when exploring ideas or company conflicts. Whichever way you go, remember that stories are a universal element of culture and you have a rich lineage to dip into if you need a new perspective. 

Telling Our Stories   #hyperisland   #team   #teambuilding   To work effectively together team members need to build relations, show trust, and be open with each other. This method supports those things through a process of structured storytelling. Team members answer questions related to their childhood, young adulthood, and now; then weave them into a story to share with the rest of their team.

Telling Stories in a collaborative space is one of the best ways you can approach creative thinking through narrative . By doing this activity as a team, you can help a group see the benefit of applying storytelling approaches outside of more traditional forms.

How many times have you had a tough problem that you can’t seem to solve so you get frustrated and leave your desk. Then, when you’re on a walk, standing in the supermarket, or falling asleep, a solution seems to arrive out of thin air? Often, you’ll find that creating space to reflect on a problem is an effective way to find a way forward.

The trick with making reflective space work as a larger part of your working practice is knowing when to take time to reflect, building space into your regular schedule, and finding techniques that allow things to surface effectively.

This might mean going for a walk with the intention to be present in noticing the world around you and gaining insights that can help your situation. It might also mean remembering to take time to rest or simply read and give your brain something good to chew on.

I notice, I wonder   #design   #observation   #empathy   #issue analysis   Learn through careful observation. Observation and intuition are critical design tools. This exercise helps you leverage both. Find clues about the context you’re designing for that may be hidden in plain sight.

In a creative thinking context, reflection often means giving an idea time to unfurl and to resist the temptation to force it – by creating space to observe and reflect with I notice, I wonder you might see new ways of thinking emerge naturally.

How to use creative thinking skills at work? 

At SessionLab, we’ve found many of the above creative thinking skills helpful when finding better ways to collaborate , handle workplace challenges or generate new ideas . Here are just a few small examples of things we’ve done that have benefited from thinking creatively as a team.

Using creative thinking to facilitate a site redesign

Using creative thinking to improve team communication, using creative thinking to improve collaboration.

Remember that creative thinking needn’t be explosive or radical to be useful – a simple shift in mindset or perspective can be all you need to create meaningful and impactful change.

When we began working on a site-wide redesign, we had to deploy a large number of creative thinking skills to make the process smooth and effective.

When first determining how to approach the project and scope the work, we reviewed how we had worked together on large projects in the past. While we saw there was room to improve, finding the best way to proceed and make the changes we needed was no easy task.

Challenging the entire process from start to finish with a creative thinking mindset and trying to stay open to alternative methods where possible was what unlocked the process for us. By reconsidering how we were running meetings, sharing feedback, and collaborating, we were able to identify where we were going wrong and then try alternative approaches more freely.

When it came to implementing solutions, we were also sure to  stay open to experimentation while challenging our core assumptions of what would work and wouldn’t. This really helped us refine the working process and tailor it to our particular team and goals.

Another example came with finding a new approach when work stalled on a specific page. For our features page, we began by following the standard approach we had developed – writing the copy and structuring the page first before then following with illustrations and images.

In this case, our existing approach got us to an impasse : it felt difficult for our designer to be creative and find the best way to translate ideas into images if the copy had already been defined and the structure felt too rigid. What we decided to do was to reverse the workflow completely and allow the designer to create design elements before we wrote the copy and implemented too rigid a structure.  

Throughout the project, creative thinking allowed us to challenge whether the existing way we did something was the right one and gave us scope to experiment and be open when finding solutions. Not only did this help us solve the immediate problems as they arose but they helped us come up with a great new design too! 

Creative thinking can come in extremely handy when it comes to communicating. If one form of communication or working process isn’t working, approaching the discussion with a creative thinking mindset can help resolve the immediate issue and create lasting change in how we converse and work together too. 

Like many virtual teams, we faced the challenge of some meetings feeling unproductive . The issues ranged from overrunning, crosstalk, not everyone feeling heard or able to contribute, or getting lost in ancillary discussions that were not productive or necessary. In an online setting, it can be hard to keep everyone on track and for things to run smoothly without accidentally talking over one another or causing frustration. 

When it came to crosstalk, we wanted to avoid the frustration of interruption and disruption but also wanted to ensure people did not feel like they couldn’t contribute . Using the finger rules technique in a remote setting allowed people to easily show when they wanted to speak and what they wanted to discuss without disrupting the flow of the meeting.

We also found that the reason some daily meetings felt unproductive was because the meetings were for the purpose of daily updates and there didn’t always feel like there was a lot to say, thus leading to frustration or unproductive time being spent in these meetings.

In this example, we moved to a weekly format while also ensuring that we continue daily check-ins on Slack. This approach meant that we cut down on unnecessary meetings while still ensuring everyone’s needs were met .

This method is an example of creatively approaching a communication problem by thinking outside of the box and being prepared to challenge core assumptions . While we all wanted to stay informed, it really helped to reconsider the methods for staying informed and whether our current approach was the best way to achieve what we needed. It was also useful to reassess how we approached meeting agendas and goal-setting – follow the link for more on that if you’re having difficulty with unproductive meetings!

Remember that creative thinking needn’t be explosive or radical to be useful – a simple shift in mindset or perspective can be all you need to create meaningful and impactful change .

Remember that looking to others and being inspired by how they did things can be as transformative as trying to reinvent the wheel!

A final example is how we approached collaborating on creating the new design. While all projects at SessionLab feature collaboration between multiple parties, in this case we wanted to create space for everyone on the team to contribute.

We found that when trying to collectively brainstorm in a live, remote session, it became difficult for everyone to contribute and reflect on what was being shared by other members of the team effectively .

Some people had been able to prepare less than others, other people were less aware of all the circumstances of the project, or others were less able to switch gears during their working day. This led to some contributions being missed, a messier working process, and a feeling of being rushed – all of which lead to less effective outcomes than we might have hoped for.

In this case, we thought of how asynchronous work , reflection time, and some small process changes might help solve the problems we were running into. We wanted to be able to respond to what was being shared more effectively while also creating space for everyone to contribute in a way that was most productive for them.

Starting the brainstorming session in personal MURAL boards asynchronously and on our own time meant everyone was able to ideate at the time that was best for them and without any distractions . By then encouraging review and reflection on other people’s boards ahead of the main session, we were able to properly take in ideas and let them develop without feeling hurried.

This approach reduced the amount of time we actively spent working together in a meeting while improving the quality of the work . It helped people engage with the process, reduced potential frustration, and also meant we were more able to respond fully to the suggestions of others. This was a great example of how thinking creatively and learning from others can help create better outcomes and a more streamlined process. 

It’s also worth noting that reflecting on our conversation with Anja Svetina Nabergoj regarding asynchronous learning and finding inspiration there was part of what helped this process along. Remember that looking to others and being inspired by how they did things can be as transformative as trying to reinvent the wheel!

Creative workshops and meetings made easy

problem solving methods for creative thinking in communication

Whether you find that creative thinking doesn’t come naturally, if your skills need some attention, or even if you just want to try new ways of working, it can be difficult to know where to begin .

Thinking about the creative thinking skills above and considering which you might be missing or could benefit from purposeful attention is a great place to start, though there are also some concrete ways you can approach the process and improve your creative thinking abilities in a pinch. Let’s see how! 

Be present and aware of how you feel

Create space for new ideas, look to others for inspiration, throw yourself into new things, encourage creative thinking in others.

All skills get better with practice and creative thinking is no exception. Whether it’s active listening, experimentation or any other creative thinking style, it’s okay to not get it right the first time . The very act of being open to new approaches and perspectives is itself a way to improve your creative thinking skill set. However you try to implement creative thinking, know that exploration, iteration, and practice are fundamental parts of the process.

Try starting small and practice your creative thinking skills in your interpersonal relationships and collaborative projects. Take note of how it goes and try building up to larger and larger implementations of your creative thinking approaches. 

A key part of cultivating or improving any new skill is to be fully present and aware when utilizing that skill. Consider how a sculptor needs to be aware of their materials, how they handle the material and place them on the board in order to be truly successful. Being present in the moment is important for any collaborative process, but is an especially vital aspect of creative thinking.

If you find yourself frustrated, excited, engaged, or stuck, make a mental note of how you are feeling and consider how you might do things differently. Staying present and actively engaging with how a situation makes you feel before responding is one of the most effective ways of cultivating and improving your creative thinking – be sure to give it a go! 

As with many aspects of creativity, it’s not always effective to force it. Good ideas and finding new approaches can take time and an important part of the creative thinking process is creating space not only for reflection but to rest and allow things to surface. This might mean building more quiet, mindful time into your routine, reading and finding new inspiration, or simply learning to take a break. 

While this can be difficult to get into the habit of, it does get easier with time. Try blocking out reflective time in your calendar or letting others know that you are taking the time in order to make it stick and avoid interruptions. Reflective space is important and useful, and by treating it as such, you can help ensure it happens and doesn’t get discarded or forgotten about.

One of the biggest barriers to thinking creatively is simply not being open to what is in front of you. Whether it’s rushing to use an existing solution without investigating alternatives, failing to listen or be present when something new is being presented, or sticking with your existing assumptions, a failure to stay open and reserve judgment can kill creative thinking.

Try to stay open and apply creative thinking without pressure or being overly critical in order to improve those skills and let more creative approaches surface in the future. 

One of the best ways to find new perspectives and alternative ways of thinking is by looking to others. Whether it’s finding inspiration from other creative thinkers via conversation, reading and researching new sources, or simply listening and observing, looking outside of yourself is one of the most effective ways you can jolt your creative thinking. 

Try finding sources outside of your normal circles, whatever the medium. It can be very easy to get into creative bubbles that might unwittingly exclude new forms of thinking. By broadening your social, creative and critical circles , you can be exposed to all kinds of potentially inspiring or creatively engaging ways of thinking and doing.

It’s hard to create space and an opportunity for new ways of thinking if you stick to the same routines and activities. You’ll often find that trying new things and exposing yourself to new hobbies, skills and approaches can be massively engaging and exciting too.

An important aspect of creative thinking is applying the learnings from one discipline or approach to another. If a developer were to throw themselves into learning how to dance, they might learn something they can apply to their role as a developer.

An open and honest desire to explore new experiences in and outside of your working life is a vital ingredient in the creative thinking process. Try saying yes to doing new things wherever you can find them – being alive to possibility and engaging in the world is a great way of supercharging your creativity! 

Creativity is even better when shared. Whether it’s crowdsourcing new ideas, iterating together, or helping others build their creative thinking skills, sharing the experience is often a useful and generative process for all involved.

Try bringing a group together to explore thinking creatively together or run a workshop on developing creative thinking skills in the workplace. Not only will it help your participants with their own creative discovery, but it will also help you develop your own creative skills. 

Over to you

As facilitators and advocates of the power of workshops, we’re passionate about how creative thinking can improve many aspects of a group’s personal and working lives. At its heart, creative thinking is an empathic, generative act, and by bringing those concepts to the fore, we believe everyone can see better outcomes when solving problems, generating ideas or communicating with others. 

We hope we’ve given you some great examples of creative thinking at work and how you might discover and nurture your own creative thinking skills . That said, this list is by no means exhaustive and there are many more ways you might try thinking creatively. Think of this post as a jumping-off point for further exploration and creative development!

Do you have any concepts or approaches you’ve used to become a better creative thinker? Did you find any of the creative thinking methods above particularly helpful? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

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Very nice information. Thanks for posting such an informative blog. Creative thinking is an unconventional thinking that looks at an issue from different perspectives. Innovative thinking is a thinking that converts / commercializes a creative idea into practical application.

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The Fosbury Flop is a very good example of a creative idea and trend when we apply “the learnings from one discipline or approach [Engineering] to another [High Jump].”

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thanks alot…very informative and thoroug

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problem solving methods for creative thinking in communication

Facilitation skills can be applied in a variety of contexts, such as meetings, events, or in the classroom. Arguably, the setting in which facilitation skills shine the most is the design and running of workshops.  Workshops are dedicated spaces for interaction and learning. They are generally very hands-on, including activities such as simulations or games designed to practice specific skills. Leading workshops is an exciting, rewarding experience! In this piece we will go through some of the essential elements of workshop facilitation: What are workshops? Workshops are a time set aside for a group of people to learn new skills, come up with the best ideas, and solve problems together.…

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So, you’ve decided to convene a workshop, a special time set aside to work with a team on a certain topic or project. You are looking for brilliant ideas, new solutions and, of course, great participation. To begin the process that will get you to workshop success, you’ll need three ingredients: participants willing to join, someone to facilitate and guide them through the process (aka, you) and a detailed agenda or schedule of the activities you’ve planned. In this article we will focus on that last point: what makes a good agenda design? Having a good agenda is essential to ensure your workshops are well prepared and you can lead…

problem solving methods for creative thinking in communication

What are facilitation skills and how to improve them?

Facilitation skills are the abilities you need in order to master working with a group. In essence, facilitation is about being aware of what happens when people get together to achieve a common goal, and directing their focus and attention in ways that serve the group itself.  When we work together at our best, we can achieve a lot more than anything we might attempt alone. Working with others is not always easy: teamwork is fraught with risks and pitfalls, but skilled facilitation can help navigate them with confidence. With the right approach, facilitation can be a workplace superpower.  Whatever your position, career path, or life story, you probably have…

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  • 4.1 Tools for Creativity and Innovation
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 Entrepreneurship Today
  • 1.2 Entrepreneurial Vision and Goals
  • 1.3 The Entrepreneurial Mindset
  • Review Questions
  • Discussion Questions
  • Case Questions
  • Suggested Resources
  • 2.1 Overview of the Entrepreneurial Journey
  • 2.2 The Process of Becoming an Entrepreneur
  • 2.3 Entrepreneurial Pathways
  • 2.4 Frameworks to Inform Your Entrepreneurial Path
  • 3.1 Ethical and Legal Issues in Entrepreneurship
  • 3.2 Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Entrepreneurship
  • 3.3 Developing a Workplace Culture of Ethical Excellence and Accountability
  • 4.2 Creativity, Innovation, and Invention: How They Differ
  • 4.3 Developing Ideas, Innovations, and Inventions
  • 5.1 Entrepreneurial Opportunity
  • 5.2 Researching Potential Business Opportunities
  • 5.3 Competitive Analysis
  • 6.1 Problem Solving to Find Entrepreneurial Solutions
  • 6.2 Creative Problem-Solving Process
  • 6.3 Design Thinking
  • 6.4 Lean Processes
  • 7.1 Clarifying Your Vision, Mission, and Goals
  • 7.2 Sharing Your Entrepreneurial Story
  • 7.3 Developing Pitches for Various Audiences and Goals
  • 7.4 Protecting Your Idea and Polishing the Pitch through Feedback
  • 7.5 Reality Check: Contests and Competitions
  • 8.1 Entrepreneurial Marketing and the Marketing Mix
  • 8.2 Market Research, Market Opportunity Recognition, and Target Market
  • 8.3 Marketing Techniques and Tools for Entrepreneurs
  • 8.4 Entrepreneurial Branding
  • 8.5 Marketing Strategy and the Marketing Plan
  • 8.6 Sales and Customer Service
  • 9.1 Overview of Entrepreneurial Finance and Accounting Strategies
  • 9.2 Special Funding Strategies
  • 9.3 Accounting Basics for Entrepreneurs
  • 9.4 Developing Startup Financial Statements and Projections
  • 10.1 Launching the Imperfect Business: Lean Startup
  • 10.2 Why Early Failure Can Lead to Success Later
  • 10.3 The Challenging Truth about Business Ownership
  • 10.4 Managing, Following, and Adjusting the Initial Plan
  • 10.5 Growth: Signs, Pains, and Cautions
  • 11.1 Avoiding the “Field of Dreams” Approach
  • 11.2 Designing the Business Model
  • 11.3 Conducting a Feasibility Analysis
  • 11.4 The Business Plan
  • 12.1 Building and Connecting to Networks
  • 12.2 Building the Entrepreneurial Dream Team
  • 12.3 Designing a Startup Operational Plan
  • 13.1 Business Structures: Overview of Legal and Tax Considerations
  • 13.2 Corporations
  • 13.3 Partnerships and Joint Ventures
  • 13.4 Limited Liability Companies
  • 13.5 Sole Proprietorships
  • 13.6 Additional Considerations: Capital Acquisition, Business Domicile, and Technology
  • 13.7 Mitigating and Managing Risks
  • 14.1 Types of Resources
  • 14.2 Using the PEST Framework to Assess Resource Needs
  • 14.3 Managing Resources over the Venture Life Cycle
  • 15.1 Launching Your Venture
  • 15.2 Making Difficult Business Decisions in Response to Challenges
  • 15.3 Seeking Help or Support
  • 15.4 Now What? Serving as a Mentor, Consultant, or Champion
  • 15.5 Reflections: Documenting the Journey
  • A | Suggested Resources

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe popular, well-supported, creative problem-solving methods
  • Understand which innovation or problem-solving methods apply best in different settings
  • Know where to look for emerging innovation practices, research, and tools

Creativity, innovation, and invention are key concepts for your entrepreneurial journey. Fostering creativity and innovation will add essential tools to your entrepreneurial toolkit. In this chapter, first you’ll learn about a few practical tools that can assist you in your efforts to create and innovate. Then, we’ll define and distinguish creativity, innovation, and invention, and note the differences between pioneering and incremental innovation. Finally, we’ll cover models and processes for developing creativity, innovation, and inventiveness. The science, study, and practice of creativity and design thinking are constantly evolving. Staying on top of well-documented, successful approaches can give you a competitive advantage and may remind you that entrepreneurship can be fun, exciting, and refreshing, as long as you keep your creative spirit alive and in constant motion.

Creative Problem-Solving Methods

Creative thinking can take various forms ( Figure 4.2 ). This section focuses on a few creative thinking exercises that have proven useful for entrepreneurs. After discussing ideation practices that you can try, we conclude with a discussion of an in-depth innovation exercise that can help you develop a habit of turning creative ideas into innovative products and services. In this section, outcomes are vital.

Three ideation practices are discussed here. Several others are offered in links at the end of this section. The first ideation practice comes from Stanford’s Design School. 2 The objective is to generate as many ideas as possible and start to develop some of those ideas. This practice is the quintessential design thinking practice, or human-centric design thinking exercise, and it consists of five parts: accessing and expressing empathy, defining the problem, ideating solutions (brainstorming), prototyping, and testing ( Figure 4.3 ). Empathy is the human ability to feel what other humans are feeling, which in the context of creativity, innovation, and invention is essential to beginning a process of human-centric design. Practicing empathy enables us to relate to people and see the problem through the eyes and feelings of those who experience it. By expressing empathy, you can begin to understand many facets of a problem and start to think about all of the forces you will need to bring to bear on it. From empathy comes the ability to proceed to the second step, defining the problem. Defining the problem must be based on honest, rational, and emotional observation for human-centric design to work. Third in the process is brainstorming solutions. The other two ideation exercises or practices in this section delve more deeply into brainstorming (also discussed in Problem Solving and Need Recognition Techniques ), what it means, and how you can brainstorm creatively beyond the basic whiteboard scribbling in almost every organization. Designing for other people means building a prototype—the fourth step—and to test it. Once you apply this process to developing a product or service, you need to return to the empathetic mindset to examine whether you have reached a viable solution and, thus, an opportunity.

Link to Learning

Watch this video on human-centered design for more information, including an explanation of the phases involved.

To delve more deeply into ideation as a practice, we introduce here the Six Thinking Hats method ( Figure 4.4 ). 3 There are different versions of this ideation game, but all of them are quite useful for encouraging thought by limiting the mindset of those involved in the game. Being encouraged to embody one mode of thinking frees you from considering other aspects of a problem that can limit creativity when you are looking for a solution. The six hats are:

  • White Hat: acts as information gatherer by conducting research and bringing quantitative analysis to the discussion; sticks to the facts
  • Red Hat: brings raw emotion to the mix and offers sensibilities without having to justify them
  • Black Hat: employs logic and caution; warns participants about institutional limitations; also known as the “devil’s advocate”
  • Yellow Hat: brings the “logical positive” of optimism to the group; encourages solving small and large problems
  • Green Hat: thinks creatively; introduces change and provokes other members when needed; new ideas are the purview of the Green Hat
  • Blue Hat: maintains the broader structure of the discussion and may set the terms by which progress will be judged; makes sure the other hats play by the rules, or stay in their respective lanes, so to speak

You can apply the Six Thinking Hats exercise to force structure on a discussion where, without it, several members of the group might try to wear several hats each. This game is not always easy to implement. If members cannot follow the rules, the process breaks down. When it works best, the Blue Hat maintains control and keeps the practice moving quickly. What you and your group should experience is a peculiar freedom arising from the imposition of limitations. By being responsible for only one mode of thinking, each participant can fully advocate for that point of view and can think deeply about that particular aspect of the solution. Thus, the group can be deeply creative, deeply logical, deeply optimistic, and deeply critical. This practice is meant to move entire groups past surface-level solutions. If you practice this exercise well, the challenges of implementing it are well worth the effort. It gives you the opportunity to vet ideas thoroughly while keeping many personality clashes at bay. If the participants stay in character, they can be accused only of acting in the best interests of their hat.

Your instructor may have your group members try different hats in different ideation exercises so you all can more fully develop each mindset. 4 This exercise forces you out of your most comfortable modes of thinking. You and your classmates can recognize in each other skills that you may not have realized you possess.

The third ideation practice is quite simple. If stagnant thinking has begun to dominate an ongoing discussion, it can be helpful to inject an ideation framework. This is the “ statement starters ” method. 5 Ask, “How might we ________?” or “What if we ________?” in order to open up new possibilities when you seem to have reached the limits of creativity. This method is more than simply asking “Why not?” because it seeks to uncover how a problem might be solved. For entrepreneurs, the simplest form of framing a problem in the form of a question can be eye opening. It assumes open possibilities, invites participation, and demands focus. Statement starters assume that, at least, there might be a solution to every problem. Ideation is about starting down new paths. This mode of thought applies to social problems as well as consumer pain points (discussed later). Creating a list of statement starters can help entrepreneurs examine different possibilities by simply adopting different points of view when asking questions. For example, the question, “How might we keep rivers clean?” is similar to the question, “How might we prevent animal waste runoff from entering our city’s waterways?” but the implications of each question are different for different stakeholders. Recall that stakeholders are individuals who have a vital interest in the business or organization. Statement starters almost always lead to a discussion of stakeholders and how they might be involved in finding solutions, offering support, and perhaps one day purchasing or contributing to dynamic, disruptive inventions or changes in social practice.

Are you curious about ways to improve your ability to think creatively? Consider trying out some of the creative thinking exercises provided at this site.

Matching Innovation Methods to Circumstances

Searching for innovation methods will often reveal many of the same, or similar, creativity exercises as we’ve just discussed. To go beyond ideation exercises, we will conclude with a foundation of thinking that can help when you are tackling all sorts of innovation problems. Simply put, open innovation involves searching for and finding solutions outside of the organizational structure. Open innovation is somewhat difficult to pin down. The educator and author Henry Chesbrough was one of the first to define it: “Open innovation is ‘the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively.’” 6 In other words, firms built on a structure of open innovation look beyond their own research and development capabilities to solve problems. This outlook can guide all sorts of product and service development processes. Open innovation models also allow innovations to be shared widely so that they can seed other innovations outside the original firm or institution.

Open innovation takes an optimistic view of sharing information and ideas across a society connected by instantaneous communication networks. It is also a shift from the classic research and development model. In a sense, you allow others to solve problems in your business, startup, or social entrepreneurship project. In this reciprocal world, you are open to the reality that information is difficult to keep under wraps. You may seek patents for your intellectual property, particularly in fixed product or service practice form, but you should expect, or even encourage, the widespread circulation of key elements of your solutions. This makes sense: If, as an entrepreneur or an innovative corporation, you are going to look beyond your own ideation, research, and development capabilities for solutions, you must expect that others will look to your solutions for ideas to borrow.

The open innovation model is far easier to describe in idealistic terms than it is to put into practice without ethical consequences. Unfortunately, industrial and corporate espionage, theft of intellectual property, and lawsuits are commonplace. Nevertheless, inspiration in innovation can come from myriad sources when constant streams of information are available to anyone with a high-speed data connection. Open innovation is a simple but essential framework for future innovation and for managing, even possibly guiding, disruption in an industry as discussed previously (i.e., disruptive innovation). Table 4.1 provides some examples of companies using disruptive technology.

Another element of the open innovation model is the connection between academic research and practical solutions. Reciprocal influence between academia, which often moves slowly, and leading corporate and entrepreneurial forces, which often focus too narrowly on short-term gains, could offer the balance this rapidly changing world needs. If you can manage to plug into the exchange of ideas between longstanding institutions and disruptive technological innovators, you may be positioned to effect positive change on society and to develop products that are received as useful and elegant, wildly new and creative, and essential to the human experience at the same time.

Staying on Top of Emerging Practices

Consider searching for ideation and innovation practice links using a web browser and comparing those results to what you can find in the academic literature via Google Scholar or other academic databases. To adopt a truly open innovation mindset, it is essential to leave yourself open to all sorts of influences, even if it demands time and much cognitive energy. The financial, social, and personal rewards may be great.

  • 2 Stanford d.school. https://dschool.stanford.edu/
  • 3 “10 Creative Techniques for You and Your Team.” MiroBlog . n.d. https://miro.com/blog/creative-techniques/
  • 4 “Six Thinking Hats.” The de Bono Group . n.d. http://www.debonogroup.com/six_thinking_hats.php
  • 5 Michelle Ferrier. “Ideation.” Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship . n.d. https://press.rebus.community/media-innovation-and-entrepreneurship/chapter/ideation-2/
  • 6 Henry Chesbrough. “Everything You Need to Know about Open Innovation.” Forbes . March 21, 2011. https://www.forbes.com/sites/henrychesbrough/2011/03/21/everything-you-need-to-know-about-open-innovation/#1861dd5275f4

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Creative problem solving: basics, techniques, activities

Why is creative problem solving so important.

Problem-solving is a part of almost every person's daily life at home and in the workplace. Creative problem solving helps us understand our environment, identify the things we want or need to change, and find a solution to improve the environment's performance.

Creative problem solving is essential for individuals and organizations because it helps us control what's happening in our environment.

Humans have learned to observe the environment and identify risks that may lead to specific outcomes in the future. Anticipating is helpful not only for fixing broken things but also for influencing the performance of items.

Creative problem solving is not just about fixing broken things; it's about innovating and creating something new. Observing and analyzing the environment, we identify opportunities for new ideas that will improve our environment in the future.

The 7-step creative problem-solving process

The creative problem-solving process usually consists of seven steps.

1. Define the problem.

The very first step in the CPS process is understanding the problem itself. You may think that it's the most natural step, but sometimes what we consider a problem is not a problem. We are very often mistaken about the real issue and misunderstood them. You need to analyze the situation. Otherwise, the wrong question will bring your CPS process in the wrong direction. Take the time to understand the problem and clear up any doubts or confusion.

2. Research the problem.

Once you identify the problem, you need to gather all possible data to find the best workable solution. Use various data sources for research. Start with collecting data from search engines, but don't forget about traditional sources like libraries. You can also ask your friends or colleagues who can share additional thoughts on your issue. Asking questions on forums is a good option, too.

3. Make challenge questions.

After you've researched the problem and collected all the necessary details about it, formulate challenge questions. They should encourage you to generate ideas and be short and focused only on one issue. You may start your challenge questions with "How might I…?" or "In what way could I…?" Then try to answer them.

4. Generate ideas.

Now you are ready to brainstorm ideas. Here it is the stage where the creativity starts. You must note each idea you brainstorm, even if it seems crazy, not inefficient from your first point of view. You can fix your thoughts on a sheet of paper or use any up-to-date tools developed for these needs.

5. Test and review the ideas.

Then you need to evaluate your ideas and choose the one you believe is the perfect solution. Think whether the possible solutions are workable and implementing them will solve the problem. If the result doesn't fix the issue, test the next idea. Repeat your tests until the best solution is found.

6. Create an action plan.

Once you've found the perfect solution, you need to work out the implementation steps. Think about what you need to implement the solution and how it will take.

7. Implement the plan.

Now it's time to implement your solution and resolve the issue.

Top 5 Easy creative thinking techniques to use at work

1. brainstorming.

Brainstorming is one of the most glaring CPS techniques, and it's beneficial. You can practice it in a group or individually.

Define the problem you need to resolve and take notes of every idea you generate. Don't judge your thoughts, even if you think they are strange. After you create a list of ideas, let your colleagues vote for the best idea.

2. Drawing techniques

It's very convenient to visualize concepts and ideas by drawing techniques such as mind mapping or creating concept maps. They are used for organizing thoughts and building connections between ideas. These techniques have a lot in common, but still, they have some differences.

When starting a mind map, you need to put the key concept in the center and add new connections. You can discover as many joints as you can.

Concept maps represent the structure of knowledge stored in our minds about a particular topic. One of the key characteristics of a concept map is its hierarchical structure, which means placing specific concepts under more general ones.

3. SWOT Analysis

The SWOT technique is used during the strategic planning stage before the actual brainstorming of ideas. It helps you identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your project, idea, or business. Once you analyze these characteristics, you are ready to generate possible solutions to your problem.

4. Random words

This technique is one of the simplest to use for generating ideas. It's often applied by people who need to create a new product, for example. You need to prepare a list of random words, expressions, or stories and put them on the desk or board or write them down on a large sheet of paper.

Once you have a list of random words, you should think of associations with them and analyze how they work with the problem. Since our brain is good at making connections, the associations will stimulate brainstorming of new ideas.

5. Storyboarding

This CPS method is popular because it tells a story visually. This technique is based on a step-creation process. Follow this instruction to see the storyboarding process in progress:

  • Set a problem and write down the steps you need to reach your goal.
  • Put the actions in the right order.
  • Make sub-steps for some steps if necessary. This will help you see the process in detail.
  • Evaluate your moves and try to identify problems in it. It's necessary for predicting possible negative scenarios.

7 Ways to improve your creative problem-solving skills

1. play brain games.

It's considered that brain games are an excellent way to stimulate human brain function. They develop a lot of thinking skills that are crucial for creative problem-solving.

You can solve puzzles or play math games, for example. These activities will bring you many benefits, including strong logical, critical, and analytical thinking skills.

If you are keen on playing fun math games and solving complicated logic tasks, try LogicLike online.

We created 3500+ puzzles, mathematical games, and brain exercises. Our website and mobile app, developed for adults and kids, help to make pastime more productive just in one place.

2. Practice asking questions

Reasoning stimulates you to generate new ideas and solutions. To make the CPS process more accessible, ask questions about different things. By developing curiosity, you get more information that broadens your background. The more you know about a specific topic, the more solutions you will be able to generate. Make it your useful habit to ask questions. You can research on your own. Alternatively, you can ask someone who is an expert in the field. Anyway, this will help you improve your CPS skills.

3. Challenge yourself with new opportunities

After you've gained a certain level of creativity, you shouldn't stop developing your skills. Try something new, and don't be afraid of challenging yourself with more complicated methods and techniques. Don't use the same tools and solutions for similar problems. Learn from your experience and make another step to move to the next level.

4. Master your expertise

If you want to keep on generating creative ideas, you need to master your skills in the industry you are working in. The better you understand your industry vertical, the more comfortable you identify problems, find connections between them, and create actionable solutions.

Once you are satisfied with your professional life, you shouldn't stop learning new things and get additional knowledge in your field. It's vital if you want to be creative both in professional and daily life. Broaden your background to brainstorm more innovative solutions.

5. Develop persistence

If you understand why you go through this CPS challenge and why you need to come up with a resolution to your problem, you are more motivated to go through the obstacles you face. By doing this, you develop persistence that enables you to move forward toward a goal.

Practice persistence in daily routine or at work. For example, you can minimize the time you need to implement your action plan. Alternatively, some problems require a long-term period to accomplish a goal. That's why you need to follow the steps or try different solutions until you find what works for solving your problem. Don't forget about the reason why you need to find a solution to motivate yourself to be persistent.

6. Improve emotional intelligence

Empathy is a critical element of emotional intelligence. It means that you can view the issues from the perspective of other people. By practicing compassion, you can understand your colleagues that work on the project together with you. Understanding will help you implement the solutions that are beneficial for you and others.

7. Use a thinking strategy

You are mistaken if you think that creative thinking is an unstructured process. Any thinking process is a multi-step procedure, and creative thinking isn't an exclusion. Always follow a particular strategy framework while finding a solution. It will make your thinking activity more efficient and result-oriented.

Develop your logic and mathematical skills. 3500+ fun math problems and brain games with answers and explanations.

Communication, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving: A Suggested Course for All High School Students in the 21st Century

  • Published: 05 December 2013
  • Volume 44 , pages 63–81, ( 2013 )
  • Terresa Carlgren 1  

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The skills of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving are essential to thriving as a citizen in the 21st century. These skills are required in order to contribute as a member of society, operate effectively in post-secondary institutions, and be competitive in the global market. Unfortunately they are not always intuitive or simple in nature. Instead these skills require both effort and time be devoted to identifying, learning, exploring, synthesizing, and applying them to different contexts and problems. This article argues that current high school students are hindered in their learning of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving by three factors: the structure of the current western education system, the complexity of the skills themselves, and the competence of the teachers to teach these skills in conjunction with their course material. The article will further advocate that all current high school students need the opportunity to develop these skills. Finally, it will posit that a course be offered to explicitly teach students these skills within a slightly modified western model of education.

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Terresa Carlgren

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Course Syllabus and Outline

Title: Communication, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving (an introduction)

Course Components

No exclusionary, discriminatory, or derogatory material will be taught in this course, nor will the content in this course be deemed controversial in any way.

Philosophy and Rationale

Much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uniformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated (Paul and Elder 2008 , p. 2).

The skills required of today’s youth are more pronounced than that of the past. Students are required to have basic knowledge of content in areas of Science, Math, and English; as well as technological skills, problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, and the ability to communicate (Sahlberg 2006 ). However, with the time constraints placed on teachers, knowledge outcomes taking priority on learning due to the high stakes standardized achievement tests, and an understanding that the particular skills of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving require explicit instruction (Rosefsky and Opfer 2012 ); students are not mastering these skills to an acceptable standard.

In order for students to acquire and master the skills necessary to compete and be successful in the work force, post secondary education, and life; students must have the opportunity to engage by learning these skills through practice, application, and devoted explicit attention. Furthermore, students must explore these skills without fear of failure but rather with hope that they can improve and move forward from the learning experience. In this way, learning these skills as a secondary item within the context of another content based course will not do the students justice.

Historically, the skills of sewing, cooking, woodworking, and mechanics where offered in high school as application based courses that required hands on and explorative learning with teacher guidance. More recently computer courses, and digital citizenship are taking hold in schools to teach students these skills. There is no reason why the skills of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving should be treated any differently.

Without the structure and organization of education making drastic changes to mandate these skills be made more of a priority in the classroom, it is feared that the teaching and learning of these skills will remain an oversight. It is unfortunate that the students; citizens, economic and market contributors of our future, will be underserved. It is with these reasons that this course offering takes place; such that an opportunity within the current educational structure can provide students the opportunity to guard themselves with new foundational skills for the future.

General Learner Expectations

By the end of this course, it is expected learners will have developed and ascertained explicit knowledge of communication, critical thinking and problem solving. More importantly, students will have acquired the skills of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving through application, exploration, and trial and error, such that they can utilize these skills in different contexts of their lives in preparation for the work force or post-secondary education.

Specific Learner Expectations

The following is a list of specific learner expectations for the course. Please note that the units identified for this course are titled ‘Skill-sets’ for a reason as they are not discrete topics to be taught in isolation, but rather guides toward the encompassing theme of acquiring these skills. This course is in no way designed as a check the outcome box course, nor is it organized in order by skill or outcome number. Rather, the outcomes and skill-sets must be taught in conjunction with each other through the duration of the course with trust being given to the fact that through student exploration and leadership; along side teacher guidance and facilitation, students will improve on their existing skill-set for these skills.

Skill Set A: Critical Thinking Skills Footnote 6

Knowledge Outcomes: (Students will be able to)

A.K.1 Define the difference between fact and inference.

A.K.2 Derive criteria for which to judge a problem or predicament.

A.K.3 List the elements of thought associated with critical thinking as per one critical thinking model (Paul and Elder, Rusten and Schuman).

A.K.4 Identify inherent and hidden bias in an argument.

A.K.5 Identify faults in thinking due to oversimplifying or over generalizing issues or problems.

A.K.6 Identify and state the purpose of thinking.

Skill Outcomes: (Students will be able to)

A.S.1 Utilize background knowledge to solve a problem or predicament.

A.S.2 Apply evidence to solve a problem or predicament.

A.S.3 Express an argument that is logical, clear, and concise.

A.S.4 Derive and model a process by which to critically analyze, think, and solve a problem or predicament that involves a reasonable, logical, and relevant thinking strategy.

A.S.5 Explore alternative options and methods before drawing a conclusion.

A.S.6 Illustrate and explore the consequences and implications following the solution of a problem or issue.

A.S.7 Model, display, or perform the ability to think critically through verbal, written, and physical means.

Attitudes Outcomes: (Students will)

A.A.1 Believe that it is possible for themselves to solve problems with a reasonable level of confidence.

A.A.2 Have confidence that they are able to ascertain information needed to help themselves think critically about a problem or issue.

A.A.3 Respect the diverse nature of thinking and problem solving that allows for others’ opinions and arguments to be taken into account without discrimination.

Skill Set B: Problem Solving Skills

B.K.1 Define convergent and divergent thinking.

B.K.2 State that for any given problem there is more than one problem solving strategy.

B.K.3 List possible problem solving strategies that exist.

B.K.4 State that problem solving strategies are used in context and explore the types of contexts that might exist.

B.K.5 Identify that for any problem solving strategy there must be an evaluative component and an ability to modify the strategy to fit a new context or problem.

B.S.1 Derive and model, illustrate, or describe a problem solving strategy that is context specific.

B.S.2 Derive and model a personal problem solving strategy to solve a personal problem.

B.S.3 Solve problems using mathematical reasoning.

B.S.4 Solve problems using technological means or supports.

B.S.5 Solve problems by modeling existing economic structures.

B.S.6 Solve problems by modeling existing political structures.

B.A.1 Have improved self-confidence in attempting to solve problems in a number of different contexts.

B.A.2 Be proud of the problem solving ability they have acquired.

B.A.3 Feel empowered to attempt new problem solving methods that are logical and relevant without fear of failure.

Skill Set C: Decision Making Skills

C.K.1 Identify that decision making is a process toward problem solving.

C.K.2 Identify personal bias in an argument.

C.K.3 State the difference between dialectic and rhetorical arguments.

C.K.4 Illustrate the types of decisions expected in personal, professional, and civic lives.

C.K.5 Describe the difference between rational and emotional expressions.

C.K.6 State and explain the difference between normative and naturalistic decision making.

C.K.7 Define the term dilemma.

C.K.8 State that the primary purpose of decision making is to decide on the best option, or provide maximum utility.

C.K.9 State that decision making can be made based on what is most consistent with personal beliefs or past experiences.

C.K.10 Identify that there is uncertainty and risk associated with every decision.

C.S.1 Construct a decision making process that includes identification, evidence, evaluation and modification of a problem.

C.S.2 Construct and apply a method of decision making to solve personal problems.

C.S.3 Construct and apply a method of decision making to solve professional problems.

C.S.4 Construct and apply a method of decision making to solve civic problems.

C.S.5 Examine positive and negative methods of modifying and changing decisions after they have been made.

C.S.6 Examine circumstances by which to modify, change, or renegotiate a decision.

Attitude Outcomes: (Students will)

C.A.1 Acknowledge that a commitment needs to be made upon making a decision.

C.A.2 Take ownership of decisions made using the decision making skills.

C.A.3 Understand that decisions require a course of action that is intended to yield results that are satisfying for special individuals.

C.A.4 Reflect on decisions made in their life and decide if they were appropriate or not.

Skill Set D: Communication Skills

Knowledge outcomes: (students will be able to).

D.K.1 Identify factors affecting communication.

D.K.2 State that communication involves more than one person.

D.K.3 Identify and explore the roles of speaker and listener in any conversation.

D.K.4 List and explore different environments involving communication (i.e.; formal language vs. slang, workplace vs. home life).

D.K.5 Describe the difference between teamwork and collaboration.

D.K.6 Describe what effective and ineffective communication looks, sounds, and feels like.

D.K.7 Explain the role of respect, honesty, fairness, and reason in any communication interaction.

D.S.1 Model and illustrate different conflict resolution strategies.

D.S.2 Identify and illustrate factors affecting teamwork.

D.S.3 Communicate effectively with peers while working collaboratively as a team.

D.S.4 Communicate effectively with teachers and parents regarding conflicts and successes.

D.S.5 Communicate clearly, logically, and precisely in verbal and written modes.

D.S.6 Ask and accept help in communicating when needed.

D.A.1 Feel empowered to communicate with peers.

D.A.2 Have confidence in the skill of communicating to discuss difficult issues with parents, teachers, and employers.

D.A.3 Feel empowered to ask and accept help by communicating in an appropriate fashion without fear of rejection or judgment.

Course Assessment

The assessment for this course is by way of individual student improvement in conjunction with final skill aptitude of the above stated skill sets by course end. This improvement and aptitude can be measured through a number of different means and will depend on the structure of the course as arranged and organized by the teacher. Outlined below are some classroom activities and possible assessments that might be of benefit to teachers planning this course.


A pre and post written statement of the intention for being in the course and the problems and skills a student would like to solve and understand.

Assessed formatively (both pre and post) for critical thinking skills such as clarity of work, logic, reasoning, and evidence provided.

Pre and post formative assessments then evaluated for level of improvement.

Debate as a form of argument, decision making, communication and problem solving.

Following and respecting debate rules and roles of speaker/listener.

Utilizing rubrics for argument, decision making, communication and problem solving.

Market modeling—modeling the course as a competitive market with students given roles based on an application from them on their expertise and motivation toward the given problem. The roles would dictate a level of income for the student as well as a level of responsibility and leadership for them.

Assessed by way of improvement and movement ‘up the market ladder’—i.e.—what by way of promotion, what conflict resolution strategies or problems needed to be overcome, how long did it take to resolve or solve the problem?

Take into account rationale for why students have chosen their particular role (provided this rationale is given in a clear, appropriate, relevant, and significant manner)—i.e. standard of living, other priorities at the time etc.

Socratic Seminar on issue at hand to interpret and illustrate improvement in speaking and communicating an argument.

Assessed by way of quality and strength of participation and argument.

Resume of students skills ascertained and improved on through the course.

Cross curricular problems and projects modeling real life i.e. effects of globalization, and marketization on students by multinational companies. Projects to be displayed and presented to the class.

Assessed by way of rubrics (teacher and peer).

Likert scale survey for teacher and student on level of improvement of outcomes throughout the course.

Utilization of pre-existing rubrics i.e. Decision Making (Jonassen 2012 ).

Cornell CT Test level X for critical thinking as a pre and post test? (a quantitative assessment ordered from http://www.criticalthinking.com/getProductDetails.do?code=c&id=05501 ) (Ennis and Millman 1985 ).

Assessment strategies as well as possible outcomes for skill-sets can be found in Greenstein’s ( 2012 ), Assessing 21st Century Skills: A guide to evaluating mastery and authentic learning .

It is expected that all students will learn skill-set outcomes through the duration of the course. The question is how much will be learned? The answer depends on the individual student as well as their incoming skill level in each given area. In this case equal does not mean equitable and the goal of assessment for this course is to ascertain what improvement as well as final level of understanding an individual student has.

It should be stated that the nature of the course is student-centered and driven by the student. The teacher, however, is responsible for setting up the course and providing students an opportunity to explore this learning. Therefore, the teacher must come up with valid, rich, open activities for students to work within while at the same time ideally allowing the students to come up with the problems, scenarios, and arguments with which to discuss and solve. Explicit instruction may be necessary but should be severely limited allowing students ample opportunity for application and practice.

It is highly recommended that students work the duration of this course in groups (and differing groups) as it is here that communication, collaboration, and teamwork skills will be developed. It is further recommended that students be a part of the assessment process in deciding on the nature of the assessments, the criteria for the assessment, and in self and peer assessment. Allowing students to direct and lead requires trust and openness on the part of the teacher but is in fact part of the learning process.

Learning Resources

Since the premise of this course is for the teacher to be a ‘guide on the side’ and not a ‘sage on the stage’, there are no required learning resources for this course. However, it is recommended that teachers undertake professional development in the skill-set areas to ensure they have developed the necessary skills to pass on. Books such as: Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher by Brookfield, Learning to Solve Problems: A Handbook for Designing Problem - Solving Learning Environments by Jonassen, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , Crucial Conversations, and The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking would be an introduction. Journal articles and professional publications regarding 21st century skills and the development of these would be helpful. Finally, professional development seminars or sessions by leading experts such as Richard Paul from The Foundation for Critical Thinking would be almost necessary.

From this learning, the teacher will need to develop a tool kit of resources at their disposal in which to best help their students. The nature of the course being student-centered will require a teacher to be flexible in the work that is undertaken. The teacher will also have to be reactive to issues, problems, and learning scenarios that take place in the classroom. However, as this is a course in allowing the students to ascertain skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and communication, it must be mentioned that it is the students who are doing the brunt of the work and actually doing the problem solving and critical thinking themselves. For instance, it would not be sufficient for a question to be: What book should we read to learn critical thinking? And have the answer to the problem be: go ask the teacher and he/she will tell us. Rather the answer should be: let us go to the library or use the internet and find out which book is the best book. What options are available? What type of critical thinking are we looking at? What is critical thinking? Who are the leading experts in the field? What bias do they have? Where can I actually find or order these books? What cost and what is my budget? In the end, a seemingly simple question—is wrought with learning experiences by the student provided the teacher take a backburner to the work and allow the student to take the reins.

Course Evaluation

The open nature of this course allows for a teacher at any time to make changes to the structure, organization, and assessment of the course due to evaluation and reflection. The evaluation and reflection of this course should therefore be ongoing by the student and teacher immersed in the learning environment. The teacher is responsible for periodically seeking feedback from students regarding the nature of the course, as well as professionally reflecting themselves on the presentation of the course to their students.

The teacher is also responsible for keeping records of the course, as well as feedback collected that identifies the (a) strengths and weaknesses of the course as it is being facilitated, (b) activities and assessments being implemented in the course, and (c) improvements to the course for a later date. The teacher should ideally create a long range plan (or running calendar) that becomes more descriptive as the course proceeds, about the level of difficulty, quality of problems, activities, resources, feedback, and assessments being utilized in the course to reference at a later date. Finally, the teacher should be able to provide evidence to the local school authority at any time in order for the authority to monitor, evaluate, and report progress should it be required.

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Carlgren, T. Communication, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving: A Suggested Course for All High School Students in the 21st Century. Interchange 44 , 63–81 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10780-013-9197-8

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Received : 19 April 2013

Accepted : 21 November 2013

Published : 05 December 2013

Issue Date : December 2013

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s10780-013-9197-8

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Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration: Assessment, Certification, and Promotion of 21st Century Skills for the Future of Work and Education

Branden thornhill-miller.

1 Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 6GG, UK

2 International Institute for Competency Development, 75001 Paris, France

Anaëlle Camarda

3 LaPEA, Université Paris Cité and Univ Gustave Eiffel, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt, France

4 Institut Supérieur Maria Montessori, 94130 Nogent-Sur-Marne, France

Maxence Mercier

Jean-marie burkhardt.

5 LaPEA, Univ Gustave Eiffel and Université Paris Cité, CEDEX, 78008 Versailles, France

Tiffany Morisseau

6 Strane Innovation, 91190 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

Samira Bourgeois-Bougrine

Florent vinchon, stephanie el hayek.

7 AFNOR International, 93210 Saint-Denis, France

Myriam Augereau-Landais

Florence mourey, cyrille feybesse.

8 Centre Hospitalier Guillaume Regnier, Université de Rennes 1, 35200 Rennes, France

Daniel Sundquist

Todd lubart, associated data.

Not Applicable.

This article addresses educational challenges posed by the future of work, examining “21st century skills”, their conception, assessment, and valorization. It focuses in particular on key soft skill competencies known as the “4Cs”: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. In a section on each C, we provide an overview of assessment at the level of individual performance, before focusing on the less common assessment of systemic support for the development of the 4Cs that can be measured at the institutional level (i.e., in schools, universities, professional training programs, etc.). We then present the process of official assessment and certification known as “labelization”, suggesting it as a solution both for establishing a publicly trusted assessment of the 4Cs and for promoting their cultural valorization. Next, two variations of the “International Institute for Competency Development’s 21st Century Skills Framework” are presented. The first of these comprehensive systems allows for the assessment and labelization of the extent to which development of the 4Cs is supported by a formal educational program or institution. The second assesses informal educational or training experiences, such as playing a game. We discuss the overlap between the 4Cs and the challenges of teaching and institutionalizing them, both of which may be assisted by adopting a dynamic interactionist model of the 4Cs—playfully entitled “Crea-Critical-Collab-ication”—for pedagogical and policy-promotion purposes. We conclude by briefly discussing opportunities presented by future research and new technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

1. Introduction

There are many ways of describing the massive educational challenges faced in the 21st century. With the appearance of computers and digital technologies, new means of interacting between people, and a growing competitiveness on the international level, organizations are now requiring new skills from their employees, leaving educational systems struggling to provide appropriate ongoing training. Indeed, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 “Future of Jobs Report”, studying 15 industries in 26 advanced and emerging countries, up to 50% of employees will need some degree of “reskilling” by 2025 ( World Economic Forum 2020 ). Although many national and international educational efforts and institutions now explicitly put the cultivation of new kinds of skills on their educational agendas, practical means of assessing such skills remains underdeveloped, thus hampering the valorization of these skills and the development of guidance for relevant pedagogy ( Care et al. 2018 ; Vincent-Lancrin et al. 2019 ; for overviews and discussion of higher education in global developmental context, see Blessinger and Anchan 2015 ; Salmi 2017 ).

This article addresses some of these challenges and related issues for the future of education and work, by focusing on so-called “21st Century Skills” and key “soft skills” known as the “4Cs” (creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration), more particularly. It begins with a brief discussion of these skills, outlining their conceptual locations and potential roles in the modern educational context. A section on each “C” then follows, defining the C, summarizing research and methods for its scientific assessment at the individual level, and then outlining some means and avenues at the systemic level for fostering its development (e.g., important aspects of curriculum, institutional structure, or of the general environment, as well as pedagogical methods) that might be leveraged by an institution or program in order to promote the development of that C among its students/trainees. In the next section, the certification-like process of “labelization” is outlined and proposed as one of the best available solutions both for valorizing the 4Cs and moving them towards the center of the modern educational enterprise, as well as for benchmarking and monitoring institutions’ progress in fostering their development. The International Institute for Competency Development’s 4Cs Framework is then outlined as an example of such a comprehensive system for assessing and labelizing the extent to which educational institutions and programs support the development of the 4Cs. We further demonstrate the possibility of labelizing and promoting support for the development of the 4Cs by activities or within less formal educational settings, presenting a second framework for assessment of the 4Cs in games and similar training activities. Our discussion section begins with the challenges to implementing educational change in the direction of 21st century skills, focusing on the complex and overlapping nature of the 4Cs. Here, we propose that promoting a “Dynamic Interactionist Model of the 4Cs” not only justifies grouping them together, but it might also assist more directly with some of the challenges of pedagogy, assessment, policy promotion, and ultimately, institutionalization, faced by the 4Cs and related efforts to modernize education. We conclude by suggesting some important future work for the 4Cs individually and also as an interrelated collective of vital skills for the future of education and work.

“21st Century Skills”, “Soft Skills”, and the “4Cs”

For 40 years, so-called “21st century skills” have been promoted as those necessary for success in a modern work environment that the US Army War College ( Barber 1992 ) has accurately described as increasingly “VUCA”—“volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous”. Various lists of skills and competencies have been formulated on their own or as part of comprehensive overarching educational frameworks. Although a detailed overview of this background material is outside the scope of this article (see Lamri et al. 2022 ; Lucas 2022 for summaries), one of the first prominent examples of this trend was the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), whose comprehensive “Framework for 21st Century Learning” is presented in Figure 1 ( Battelle for Kids 2022 ). This framework for future-oriented education originated the idea of the “4Cs”, placing them at its center and apex as “Learning and Innovation Skills” that are in need of much broader institutional support at the foundational level in the form of new standards and assessments, curriculum and instructional development, ongoing professional development, and appropriately improved learning environments ( Partnership for 21st Century Skills 2008 ). These points are also consistent with the approach and assessment frameworks presented later in this article.

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The P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning. (© 2019, Battelle for Kids. All Rights Reserved. https://www.battelleforkids.org/ ; accessed on 17 January 2023).

Other important organizations such as the World Economic Forum ( 2015 ) have produced similar overarching models of “21st century skills’’ with the 4Cs at their center, but the term “21st century skills’’ has been rightly criticized for a several reasons: the skills referred to are not actually all unique to, or uniquely important to, the 21st century, and it is a term that is often used more as an advertising or promotional label for systems that sometimes conflate and confuse different kinds of skills with other concepts that users lump together ( Lucas 2019 ). Indeed, though there is no absolute consensus on the definition of a “skill”, they are often described as being multidimensional and involve the ability to solve problems in context and to perform tasks using appropriate resources at the right time and in the right combination ( Lamri and Lubart 2021 ). At its simplest, a skill is a “learned capacity to do something useful” ( Lucas and Claxton 2009 ), or an ability to perform a given task at a specified performance level, which develops through practice, experience. and training ( Lamri et al. 2022 ).

The idea of what skills “are’’, however, has also evolved to some extent over time in parallel to the nature of the abilities required to make valued contributions to society. The digital and information age, in particular, has seen the replacement by machines of much traditional work sometimes referred to as “hard skills’’—skills such as numerical calculation or driving, budget-formulating, or copyediting abilities, which entail mastery of fixed sets of knowledge and know-how of standard procedures, and which are often learned on the job. Such skills are more routine, machine-related, or technically oriented and not as likely to be centered on human interaction. In contrast, the work that has been increasingly valued in the 21st century involves the more complex, human interactive, and/or non-routine skills that Whitmore ( 1972 ) first referred to as “soft skills”.

Unfortunately, researchers, educators, and consultants have defined, redefined, regrouped, and expanded soft skills—sometimes labeling them “transversal competencies”, “generic competencies”, or even “life skills” in addition to “21st century skills”—in so many different ways within and across different domains of research and education (as well as languages and national educational systems) that much progress towards these goals has literally been “lost in translation” ( Cinque 2016 ).

Indeed, there is also a long-standing ambiguity and confusion between the terms “competency” (also competence) and “skill” due to their use across different domains (e.g., learning research, education, vocational training, personnel selection) as well as different epistemological backgrounds and cultural specificities ( Drisko 2014 ; Winterton et al. 2006 ; van Klink and Boon 2003 ). The term “competency” is, however, often used as a broader concept that encompasses skills, abilities, and attitudes, whereas, in a narrower sense, the term “skill” has been defined as “goal-directed, well-organized behavior that is acquired through practice and performed with economy of effort” ( Proctor and Dutta 1995, p. 18 ). For example, whereas the command of a spoken language or the ability to write are skills (hard skills, to be precise), the ability to communicate effectively is a competence that may draw on an individual’s knowledge of language, writing skills, practical IT skills, and emotional intelligence, as well as attitudes towards those with whom one is communicating ( Rychen and Hersch 2003 ). Providing high-quality customer service is a competency that relies on listening skills, social perception skills, and contextual knowledge of products. Beyond these potential distinctions, the term “competency” is predominant in Europe, whereas “skill” is more commonly used in the US. Yet it also frequently occurs that both are used as rough synonyms. For example, Voogt and Roblin ( 2012, p. 299 ) examine the “21st century competences and the recommended strategies for the implementation of these skills”, and Graesser et al. ( 2022, p. 568 ) state that twenty-first-century skills “include self-regulated learning, collaborative problem solving, communication (…) and other competencies”. In conclusion, the term “competencies” is often used interchangeably with “skills” (and can have a particularly large overlap with “soft skills”), but it is also often considered in a broader sense as a set of skills, knowledge, and attitudes that, together, meet a complex demand ( Ananiadoui and Claro 2009 ). From this perspective, one could argue that the 4Cs, as complex, “higher-order” soft skills, might best be labeled competencies. For ease and convenience, however, in this text, we consider the two terms interchangeable but favor the term “skills”, only using “competency” in some instances to avoid cumbersome repetition.

Even having defined soft skills as a potentially more narrow and manageable focus, we are still aware of no large-scale study that has employed a comprehensive enough range of actual psychometric measures of soft skills in a manner that might help produce a definitive empirical taxonomy. Some more recent taxonomic efforts have, however, attempted to provide additional empirical grounding for the accurate identification of key soft skills (see e.g., Joie-La Marle et al. 2022 ). Further, recent research by JobTeaser (see Lamri et al. 2022 ) surveying a large, diverse sample of young workers about a comprehensive, systematic list of soft skills as actually used in their professional roles represents a good step towards some clarification and mapping of this domain on an empirical basis. Despite the fact that both these studies necessarily involved assumptions and interpretive grouping of variables, the presence and importance of the 4Cs as higher-order skills is evident in both sets of empirical results.

Various comprehensive “21st century skills” systems proposed in the past without much empirical verification also seem to have been found too complex and cumbersome for implementation. The 4Cs, on the other hand, seem to provide a relatively simple, persuasive, targetable core that has been found to constitute a pedagogically and policy-friendly model by major organizations, and that also now seems to be gaining some additional empirical validity. Gathering support from researchers and industry alike, we suggest that the 4Cs can be seen as highest-level transversal skills—or “meta-competencies”—that allow individuals to remain competent and to develop their potential in a rapidly changing professional world. Thus, in the end, they may also be one of the most useful ways of summarizing and addressing the critical challenges faced by the future of work and education ( National Education Association 2011 ).

Taking them as our focus, we note, however, that the teaching and development of the 4Cs will require a complex intervention and mobilization of educational and socio-economic resources—both a major shift in pedagogical techniques and even more fundamental changes in institutional structures ( Ananiadoui and Claro 2009 ). One very important issue for understanding the 4Cs and their educational implementation related to this, which can simultaneously facilitate their teaching but be a challenge for their assessment, is the multidimensionality, interrelatedness, and transdisciplinary relevance of the 4Cs. Thus, we address the relationships between the Cs in the different C sections and later in our Discussion, we present a “Dynamic Interactionist Model of the 4Cs’’ that we hope will assist in their understanding, in the further development of pedagogical processes related to them, and in their public promotion and related policy. Ultimately, it is partly due to their complexity and interrelationships, we argue, that it is important and expedient that the 4Cs are taught, assessed, and promoted together.

2. The 4Cs, Assessment, and Support for Development

2.1. creativity.

In psychology, creativity is usually defined as the capacity to produce novel, original work that fits with task constraints and has value in its context (for a recent overview, see Lubart and Thornhill-Miller 2019 ). This basic definition, though useful for testing and measurement, is largely incomplete, as it does not contain any information about the individual or groups doing the creating or the nature of physical and social contexts ( Glăveanu 2014 ). Moreover, Corazza ( 2016 ) challenged this standard definition of creativity, arguing that as it focuses solely on the existence of an original and effective outcome, it misses the dynamics of the creative process, which is frequently associated with periods of creative inconclusiveness and limited occasions of creative achievements. To move away from the limitations of the standard definition of creativity, we can consider Bruner’s description of creativity as “figuring out how to use what you already know in order to go beyond what you currently think” (p. 183 in Weick 1993 ). This description echoes the notion of potential, which refers to a latent state that may be put to use if a person has the opportunity.

Creativity is a multifaceted phenomenon that can be approached from many different angles. There are three main frameworks for creativity studies: the 4Ps ( Rhodes 1961 ), the 5As ( Glăveanu 2013 ), and the 7Cs model ( Lubart 2017 ). These frameworks share at least four fundamental and measurable dimensions: the act of creating (process), the outcome of the creative process (product), the characteristics of creative actor(s) enacting the process (person), and the social and physical environment that enable or hinder the creative process (press). Contrary to many traditional beliefs, however, creativity can be trained and taught in a variety of different ways, both through direct, active teaching of creativity concepts and techniques and through more passive and indirect means such as the development of creativity-supporting contexts ( Chiu 2015 ; Thornhill-Miller and Dupont 2016 ). Alongside intelligence, with which it shares some common mechanisms, creativity is now recognized as an indispensable element for the flexibility and adaptation of individuals in challenging situations ( Sternberg 1986 ).

2.1.1. Individual Assessment of Creativity

Drawing upon previous efforts to structure creativity research, Batey ( 2012 ) proposed a taxonomic framework for creativity measurement that takes the form of a three-dimensional matrix: (a) the level at which creativity may be measured (the individual, the team, the organization, and the culture), (b) the facets of creativity that may be assessed (person/trait, process, press, and product), and (c) the measurement approach (objective, self-rating, other ratings). It is beyond the scope of this article to offer a literature review of all these dimensions, but for the purposes of this paper, we address some important aspects of individual-level and institutional-level assessment here.

Assessing creativity at an individual level encompasses two major approaches: (1) creative accomplishment based on production and (2) creative potential. Regarding the first approach focusing on creative accomplishment , there are at least four main assessment techniques (or tools representing variations of assessment techniques): (a) the historiometric approach, which applies quantitative analysis to historically available data (such as the number of prizes won or times cited) in an effort to understand eminent, field-changing creativity ( Simonton 1999 ); (b) the Consensual Assessment Technique (CAT) ( Amabile 1982 ), which offers a method for combining and validating judges’ subjective evaluations of a set of (potentially) creative productions or ideas; (c) the Creative Achievement Questionnaire ( Carson et al. 2005 ), which asks individuals to supply a self-reported assessment of their publicly recognizable achievement in ten different creative domains; and (d) the Inventory of Creative Activities and Achievements (ICAA) ( Jauk et al. 2014 ; Diedrich et al. 2018 ), which includes self-report scales assessing the frequency of engagement in creative activity and also levels of achievement in eight different domains.

The second major approach to individual assessment is based on creative potential, which measures the cognitive abilities and/or personality traits that are important for creative work. The two most popular assessments of creative potential are the Remote Associations Test (RAT) and the Alternative Uses Task (AUT). The RAT, which involves identifying the fourth word that is somehow associated with each of three given words, underscores the role that the ability to convergently associate disparate ideas plays as a key capacity for creativity. In contrast, the AUT, which requires individuals to generate a maximum number of ideas based on a prompt (e.g., different uses for a paperclip), is used to assess divergent thinking capacity. According to multivariate models of creative potential ( Lubart et al. 2013 ), there are cognitive factors (e.g., divergent thinking, mental flexibility, convergent thinking, associative thinking, selective combination), conative factors (openness, tolerance of ambiguity, intuitive thinking, risk taking, motivation to create), and environmental factors that all support creativity. Higher creative potential is predicted by having more of the ingredients for creativity. However, multiple different profiles among a similar set of these important ingredients exist, and their weighting for optimal creative potential varies according to the profession, the domain, and the task under consideration. For example, Lubart and Thornhill-Miller ( 2021 ) and Lubin et al. ( forthcoming ) have taken this creativity profiling approach, exploring the identification and training of the components of creative potential among lawyers and clinical psychologists, respectively. For a current example of this sort of comprehensive, differentiated measurement of creative potential in adults in different domains and professions, see CreativityProfiling.org. For a recent battery of tests that are relevant for children, including domain-relevant divergent-exploratory and convergent-integrative tasks, see Lubart et al. ( 2019 ). Underscoring the growing recognition of the importance of creativity assessment, measures of creative potential for students were introduced internationally for the first time in the PISA 2022 assessment ( OECD 2019a ).

2.1.2. Institutional and Environmental Support for Development of Creativity

The structural support that institutions and programs can provide to promote the development of creativity can be described as coming through three main paths: (1) through design of the physical environment in a manner that supports creativity, (2) through teaching about creativity, the creative process, and creativity techniques, and (3) through training opportunities to help students/employees develop personal habits, characteristics, and other ingredients associated with creative achievement and potential.

Given the multi-dimensionality of the notion of creativity, the environment can positively influence and help develop creative capacities. Studies have shown that the physical environment in which individuals work can enhance their positive emotions and mood and thus their creativity. For example, stimulating working environments might have unusual furniture and spaces that have natural light, windows open to nature, plants and flowers, a relaxing atmosphere and colors in the room (e.g., green and blue), or positive sounds (e.g., calm music or silence), as well as inspiring and energizing colors (e.g., yellow, pink, orange). Furthermore, the arrangement of physical space to promote interpersonal exchange rather than isolation, as well as the presence of tools, such as whiteboards, that support and show the value of exchange, are also important (for reviews, see Dul and Ceylan 2011 ; Samani et al. 2014 ).

Although it has been claimed that “creativity is intelligence having fun” ( Scialabba 1984 ; Reiman 1992 ), for most people, opportunities for fun and creativity, especially in their work environment, appear rather limited. In fact, the social and physical environment often hinders creativity. Corazza et al. ( 2021 )’s theoretical framework concerning the “Space-Time Continuum”, related to support for creativity, suggests that traditional education systems are an example of an environment that is “tight” both in the conceptual “space” it affords for creativity and in the available time allowed for creativity to happen—essentially leaving little room for original ideas to emerge. Indeed, though world-wide data suggest that neither money nor mere time spent in class correlate well with educational outcomes, both policies and pedagogy that direct the ways in which time is spent make a significant difference ( Schleicher 2022 ). Research and common sense suggest that teachers, students, and employees need more space and time to invest energy in the creative process and the development of creative potential.

Underscoring the importance of teaching the creative process and creativity techniques is the demonstration, in a number of contexts, that groups of individuals who generate ideas without a specific method are often negatively influenced by their social environment. For example, unless guarded against, the presence of others tends to reduce the number of ideas generated and to induce a fixation on a limited number of ideas conforming to those produced by others ( Camarda et al. 2021 ; Goldenberg and Wiley 2011 ; Kohn and Smith 2011 ; Paulus and Dzindolet 1993 ; Putman and Paulus 2009 ; Rietzschel et al. 2006 ). To overcome these cognitive and social biases, different variants of brainstorming techniques have shown positive effects (for reviews of methods, see Al-Samarraie and Hurmuzan 2018 ; Paulus and Brown 2007 ). These include: using ( Osborn 1953 ) initial brainstorming rules (which aim to reduce spontaneous self-judgment of ideas and fear of this judgment by others); drawing attention to ideas generated by others by writing them down independently (e.g., the technique known as “brainwriting”); and requiring incubation periods between work sessions by forcing members of a problem-solving group to take breaks ( Paulus and Yang 2000 ; Paulus and Kenworthy 2019 ).

It is also possible to use design methods that are structured to guide the creative process and the exploration of ideas, as well as to avoid settling on uncreative solution paths ( Chulvi et al. 2012 ; Edelman et al. 2022 ; Kowaltowski et al. 2010 ; see Cotter et al. 2022 for a valuable survey of best practices for avoiding the suppression of creativity and fostering creative interaction and metacognition in the classroom). Indeed, many helpful design thinking-related programs now exist around the world and have been shown to have a substantial impact on creative outcomes ( Bourgeois-Bougrine 2022 ).

Research and experts suggest the utility of many additional creativity enhancement techniques (see, e.g., Thornhill-Miller and Dupont 2016 ), and the largest and most rapid effects are often attributed to these more method- or technique-oriented approaches ( Scott et al. 2004 ). More long-term institutional and environmental support for the development of creativity, however, should also include targeted training and understanding of personality and emotional traits associated with the “creative person” (e.g., empathy and exploratory habits that can expand knowledge, as well as increase tolerance of ambiguity, openness, and mental flexibility; see Lubart and Thornhill-Miller 2021 ). Complementing these approaches and focusing on a more systemic level, recent work conducted by the OECD exemplifies efforts aimed to foster creativity (and critical thinking) by focusing simultaneously on curriculum, educational activities, and teacher support and development at the primary, secondary, and higher education levels (see Vincent-Lancrin et al. 2019 ; Saroyan 2022 ).

2.2. Critical Thinking

Researchers, teachers, employers, and public policymakers around the world have long ranked the development of critical thinking (CT) abilities as one of the highest educational priorities and public needs in modern democratic societies ( Ahern et al. 2019 ; Dumitru et al. 2018 ; Pasquinelli et al. 2021 ). CT is central to better outcomes in daily life and general problem solving ( Hitchcock 2020 ), to intelligence and adaptability ( Halpern and Dunn 2021 ), and to academic achievement ( Ren et al. 2020 ). One needs to be aware of distorted or erroneous information in the media, of the difference between personal opinions and proven facts, and how to handle increasingly large bodies of information required to understand and evaluate information in the modern age.

Although much research has addressed both potentially related constructs, such as intelligence and wisdom, and lists of potential component aspects of human thought, such as inductive or deductive reasoning (for reviews of all of these, see Sternberg and Funke 2019 ), reaching a consensus on a definition has been difficult, because CT relies on the coordination of many different skills ( Bellaera et al. 2021 ; Dumitru et al. 2018 ) and is involved in, and sometimes described from the perspective of, many different domains ( Lewis and Smith 1993 ). Furthermore, as a transversal competency, having the skills to perform aspects of critical thinking in a given domain does not necessarily entail also having the metacognitive ability to know when to engage in which of its aspects, or having the disposition, attitude, or “mindset” that motivates one to actually engage in them—all of which are actually required to be a good critical thinker ( Facione 2011 ).

As pointed out by the American Philosophical Association’s consensus definition, the ideal “critical thinker” is someone who is inquisitive, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded, and keeps well-informed, thus understanding different points of view and perspectives ( Facione 1990b ). These characteristics, one might note, are also characteristic of the “creative individual” ( Facione 1990b ; Lai 2011 ), as is the ability to imagine alternatives, which is often cited as a component of critical thinking ability ( Facione 1990b ; Halpern 1998 ). Conversely, creative production in any domain needs to be balanced by critical appraisal and thought at each step of the creative process ( Bailin 1988 ). Indeed, it can be argued that creativity and critical thinking are inextricably linked and are often two sides of the same coin. Representing different aspects of “good thought” that are linked and develop in parallel, it seems reasonable that they should, in practice, be taught and considered together in teaching and learning ( Paul and Elder 2006 ).

Given its complexity, many definitions of critical thinking have been offered. However, some more recent work has helpfully defined critical thinking as “the capacity of assessing the epistemic quality of available information and—as a consequence of this assessment—of calibrating one’s confidence in order to act upon such information” ( Pasquinelli et al. 2021 ). This definition, unlike others proposed in the field (for a review, see: Bellaera et al. 2021 ; Liu et al. 2014 ), is specific (i.e., it limits the use of poorly defined concepts), as well as consensual and operational (i.e., it has clear and direct implications for the education and assessment of critical thinking skills; Pasquinelli et al. 2021 ; Pasquinelli and Bronner 2021 ). Thus, this approach assumes that individuals possess better or worse cognitive processes and strategies that make it possible to judge the reliability of the information received, by determining, for example, what the arguments provided actually are. Are the arguments convincing? Is the source of information identifiable and reliable? Does the information conflict with other information held by the individual?

It should also be noted that being able to apply critical thinking is necessary to detect and overcome the cognitive biases that can constrain one’s reasoning. Indeed, when solving a problem, it is widely recognized that people tend to automate the application of strategies that are usually relevant in similar and analogous situations that have already been encountered. However, these heuristics (i.e., automatisms) can be a source of errors, in particular, in tricky reasoning situations, as demonstrated in the field of reasoning, arithmetic problems ( Kahneman 2003 ) or even divergent thinking tasks ( Cassotti et al. 2016 ; for a review of biases, see Friedman 2017 ). Though some cognitive biases can even be seen as normal ways of thinking and feeling, sometimes shaping human beliefs and ideologies in ways that make it completely normal—and even definitely human— not to be objective (see Thornhill-Miller and Millican 2015 ), the mobilization of cognitive resources such as those involved in critical reasoning on logical bases usually makes it possible to overcome cognitive biases and adjust one’s reasoning ( West et al. 2008 ).

According to Pasquinelli et al. ( 2021 ), young children already possess cognitive functions underlying critical thinking, such as the ability to determine that information is false. However, until late adolescence, studies have demonstrated an underdevelopment of executive functions involved in resistance to biased reasoning ( Casey et al. 2008 ) as well as some other higher-order skills that underlie the overall critical thinking process ( Bloom 1956 ). According to Facione and the landmark American Philosophical Association’s task force on critical thinking ( Facione 1990b ; Facione 2011 ), these components of critical thinking can be organized into six measurable skills: the ability to (1) interpret information (i.e., meaning and context); (2) analyze information (i.e., make sense of why this information has been provided, identify pro and con arguments, and decide whether we can accept the conclusion of the information); (3) make inferences (i.e., determine the implications of the evidence, its reliability, the undesirable consequences); (4) evaluate the strength of the information (i.e., its credibility, determine the trust in the person who provides it); (5) provide explanations (i.e., summarize the findings, determine how the information can be interpreted, and offer verification of the reasoning); (6) self-regulate (i.e., evaluate the strength of the methods applied, determine the conflict between different conclusions, clarify the conclusions, and verify missing elements).

2.2.1. Individual Assessment of Critical Thinking

The individual assessment of critical thinking skills presents a number of challenges, because it is a multi-task ability and involves specific knowledge in the different areas in which it is applied ( Liu et al. 2014 ; Willingham 2008 ). However, the literature provides several tools with which to measure different facets of cognitive functions and skills involved in the overarching critical thinking process ( Lai 2011 ; Liu et al. 2014 ). Most assessments involve multiple-choice questions requiring reasoning within a particular situation based upon a constrained set of information provided. For example, in one of the most widely used tests, the California Critical Thinking Skills Test ( Facione 1990a ), participants are provided with everyday scenarios and have to answer multiple questions targeting the six higher-order skills described previously. Similarly, the Watson–Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal ( Watson 1980 ; Watson and Glaser 2010 ) presents test takers with passages and scenarios measuring their competencies at recognizing assumptions, evaluating arguments, and drawing conclusions. Although the Watson–Glaser is one of the oldest and most frequently used assessments internationally for hiring and promotion in professional contexts, its construct validity, like many other measures of this challenging topic, has some limitations ( Possin 2014 ).

Less frequently, case study or experiential methods of assessment are also used. This approach may involve asking participants to reflect on past experiences, analyze the situations they faced and the way they behaved or made judgments and decisions and then took action ( Bandyopadhyay and Szostek 2019 ; Brookfield 1997 ). These methods, often employed by teachers or employers on students and employees, usually involve the analysis of qualitative data that can cast doubt on the reliability of the results. Consequently, various researchers have suggested ways to improve analytic methods, and they emphasize the need to create more advanced evaluation methods ( Brookfield 1997 ; Liu et al. 2014 ).

For example, Liu et al. ( 2014 ) reviewed current assessment methods and suggest that future work improves the operational definition of critical thinking, aiming to assess it both in different specific contexts and in different formats. Specifically, assessments could be contextualized within the major areas addressed by education programs (e.g., social sciences, humanities, and/or natural sciences), and the tasks themselves should be as practically connected to the “real world” as possible (e.g., categorizing a set of features, opinions, or facts based on whether or not they support an initial statement). Moreover, as Brookfield ( 1997 ) argues, because critical thinking is a social process that takes place in specific contexts of knowledge and culture, it should be assessed as a social process, therefore, involving a multiplicity of experiences, perceptions, and contributions. Thus, Brookfield makes three recommendations for improving the assessment of critical thinking that are still relevant today: (1) to assess critical thinking in specific situations, so one can study the process and the discourse related to it; (2) to involve students/peers in the evaluation of critical thinking abilities, so that the evaluation is not provided only by the instructor; and (3) to allow learners or participants in an experiment to document, demonstrate, and justify their engagement in critical thinking, because this learning perspective can provide insight into basic dimensions of the critical thinking process.

Finally, another more recent and less widely used form of assessment targets the specific executive functions that underlie logical reasoning and resistance to cognitive biases, as well as the ability of individuals to resist these biases. This form of assessment is usually done through specific experimental laboratory tasks that vary depending on the particular executive function and according to the domain of interest ( Houdé and Borst 2014 ; Kahneman 2011 ; West et al. 2008 ).

2.2.2. Institutional and Environmental Support for Development of Critical Thinking Skills

The executive functions underlying general critical thinking, the ability to overcome bias ( Houdé 2000 ; Houdé and Borst 2014 ), and meta-cognitive processes (i.e., meta information about our cognitive strategies) can all be trained and enhanced by educational programs ( Abrami et al. 2015 ; Ahern et al. 2019 ; Alsaleh 2020 ; Bellaera et al. 2021 ; Uribe-Enciso et al. 2017 ; Popil 2011 ; Pasquinelli and Bronner 2021 ; Yue et al. 2017 ).

Educational programs and institutions can support the development of critical thinking in several different ways. The process of developing critical thinking focuses on the interaction between personal dispositions (attitudes and habits), skills (evaluation, reasoning, self-regulation), and finally, knowledge (general and specific knowledge, as well as experience) ( Thomas and Lok 2015 ). It is specifically in regard to skills and knowledge that institutions are well suited to develop critical thinking through pedagogical elements such as rhetoric training, relevance of information evaluation (e.g., media literacy, where and how to check information on the internet, dealing with “fake news”, etc.), deductive thinking skills, and inductive reasoning ( Moore and Parker 2016 ). A few tools, such as case studies or concept mapping, can also be used in conjunction with a problem-based learning method, both in individual and team contexts and in person or online ( Abrami et al. 2015 ; Carmichael and Farrell 2012 ; Popil 2011 ; Thorndahl and Stentoft 2020 ). According to Marin and Halpern ( 2011 ), training critical thinking should include explicit instruction involving at least the four following components and objectives: (1) working on attitudes and encouraging individuals to think; (2) teaching and practicing critical thinking skills; (3) training for transfer between contexts, identifying concrete situations in which to adopt the strategies learned; and (4) suggesting metacognition through reflection on one’s thought processes. Supporting these propositions, Pasquinelli and Bronner ( 2021 ), in a French national educational report, proposed practical advice for creating workshops to stimulate critical thinking in school classrooms, which appear relevant even in non-school intervention situations. For example, the authors suggest combining concrete examples and exercises with general and abstract explanations, rules and strategies, which can be transferred to other areas beyond the one studied. They also suggest inviting learners to create examples of situations (e.g., case studies) in order to increase the opportunities to practice and for the learner to actively participate. Finally, they suggest making the process of reflection explicit by asking the learner to pay attention to the strategies adopted by others in order to stimulate the development of metacognition.

2.3. Communication

In its most basic definition, communication consists of exchanging information to change the epistemic context of others. In cooperative contexts, it aims at the smooth and efficient exchange of information contributing to the achievement of a desired outcome or goal ( Schultz 2010 ). But human communication involves multiple dimensions. Both verbal and non-verbal communication can involve large quantities of information that have to be both formulated and deciphered with a range of purposes and intentions in mind ( Jones and LeBaron 2002 ). These dimensions of communication have as much to do with the ability to express oneself, both orally and in writing and the mastering of a language (linguistic competences), as with the ability to use this communication system appropriately (pragmatic skills; see Grassmann 2014 ; Matthews 2014 ), and with social skills, based on the knowledge of how to behave in society and on the ability to connect with others, to understand the intentions and perspectives of others ( Tomasello 2005 ).

Like the other 4Cs, according to most authorities, communication skills are ranked by both students and teachers as skills of the highest priority for acquisition in order to be ready for the workforce in 2030 ( OECD 2019b ; Hanover Research 2012 ). Teaching students how to communicate efficiently and effectively in all the new modalities of information exchange is an important challenge faced by all pedagogical organizations today ( Morreale et al. 2017 ). All dimensions of communication (linguistic, pragmatic, and social) are part of what is taught in school curricula at different levels. But pragmatic and social competencies are rarely explicitly taught as such. Work on social/emotional intelligence (and on its role in students’ personal and professional success) shows that these skills are both disparate and difficult to assess ( Humphrey et al. 2007 ). Research on this issue is, however, becoming increasingly rigorous, with the potential to provide usable data for the development of science-based practice ( Keefer et al. 2018 ). Teachers and pedagogical teams also have an important, changing role to play: they also need to master new information and communication technologies and the transmission of information through them ( Zlatić et al. 2014 ).

Communication has an obvious link with the three other Cs. Starting with critical thinking, sound communication implies fostering the conditions for a communicative exchange directed towards a common goal, which is, at least in educational and professional contexts, based on a fair evaluation of reality ( Pornpitakpan 2004 ). Collaboration too has a strong link with communication, because successful collaboration is highly dependent on the quality of knowledge sharing and trust that emerges between group members. Finally, creativity involves the communication of an idea to an audience and can involve high-quality communication when creative work occurs in a team context.

2.3.1. Individual Assessment of Communication

Given the vast field of communication, an exhaustive list of its evaluation methods is difficult to establish. A number of methods have been reported in the literature to assess an individual’s ability to communicate non-verbally and verbally. But although these two aspects are intrinsically linked, they are rarely measured together with a single tool. Moreover, as Spitzberg ( 2003 ) pointed out, communication skills are supported by different abilities, classically conceptualized as motivational functions (e.g., confidence and goal-orientation), knowledge (e.g., content and procedural knowledge), or cognitive and socio-cognitive functions (e.g., theory of mind, verbal cognition, emotional intelligence, and empathy; McDonald et al. 2014 ; Rothermich 2020 ), implying different specific types of evaluations. Finally, producing vs. receiving communication involve different skills and abilities, which can also vary according to the context ( Landa 2005 ).

To overcome these challenges, Spitzberg ( 2003 ) recommends the use of different assessment criteria. These criteria include the clarity of interaction, the understanding of what was involved in the interaction, the satisfaction of having interacted (expected to be higher when communication is effective), the efficiency of the interaction (the more competent someone is, the less effort, complexity, and resources will be needed to achieve their goal), its effectiveness or appropriateness (i.e., its relevance according to the context), as well as criteria relative to the quality of the dialogue (which involves coordination, cooperation, coherence, reciprocity, and mutuality in the exchange with others). Different forms of evaluation are also called for, such as self-reported questionnaires, hetero-reported questionnaires filled out by parents, teachers, or other observers, and tasks involving exposure to role-playing games, scenarios or videos (for a review of these assessment tools, see Cömert et al. 2016 ; Landa 2005 ; Sigafoos et al. 2008 ; Spitzberg 2003 ; van der Vleuten et al. 2019 ). Results from these tools must then be associated with others assessing underlying abilities, such as theory of mind and metacognition.

2.3.2. Institutional and Environmental Support for Development of Communication Skills

Although communication appears to be a key employability skill, the proficiency acquired during studies rarely meets the expectations of employers ( Jackson 2014 ). Communication must therefore become a priority in the training of students, beyond the sectors in which it is already known as essential (e.g., in medicine, nursing, engineering, etc.; Bourke et al. 2021 ; D’Alimonte et al. 2019 ; Peddle et al. 2018 ; Riemer 2007 ), and also through professional development ( Jackson 2014 ). Training programs involving, for example, communication theory classes ( Kruijver et al. 2000 ) and self-assessment tools that can be used in specific situations ( Curtis et al. 2013 ; Rider and Keefer 2006 ) have had convincingly positive results. The literature suggests that interactive approaches in small groups, in which competencies are practiced explicitly in an open and feedback-safe environment, are more effective ( Bourke et al. 2021 ; D’Alimonte et al. 2019 ; AbuSeileek 2012 ; Fryer-Edwards et al. 2006 ). These can take different forms: project-based work, video reviews, simulation or role-play games (see Hathaway et al. 2022 for a review; Schlegel et al. 2012 ). Finally, computer-assisted learning methods can be relevant for establishing a secure framework (especially, for example, when learning another language): anonymity indeed helps to overcome anxiety or social blockages linked to fear of public speaking or showing one’s difficulties ( AbuSeileek 2012 ). Each of these methods tackles one or more dimensions of communication that must then be assessed as such, by means of tools specifically developed and adapted to the contexts in which these skills are expressed (e.g., see the two 4Cs evaluation grids for institutions and for games outlined in Section 4 and Section 5 , below).

2.4. Collaboration

Collaborative problem solving—and more generally, collaboration—has gained increasing attention in national and international assessments (e.g., PISA) as an educational priority encompassing social, emotional, and cognitive skills critical to efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation in the modern global economy ( Graesser et al. 2018 ; OECD 2017 ). Understanding what makes effective collaboration is of crucial importance for professional practice and training ( Détienne et al. 2012 ; Graesser et al. 2018 ), as evidenced by the long line of research on group or team collaboration over the past 40 years (for a review, see e.g., Salas et al. 2004 ; Mathieu et al. 2017 ). Although there is no consensus on a definition of collaboration, scholars often see it as mutual engagement in a coordinated effort to achieve a common goal that involves the sharing of goals, resources, and representations relating to the joint activity of participants; and other important aspects relate to mutual respect, trust, responsibilities, and accountability within situational rules and norms ( Détienne et al. 2012 ).

In the teamwork research literature, skills are commonly described across three classes most often labeled Knowledge, Behavior, and Attitudes (e.g., Cannon-Bowers et al. 1995 ). Knowledge competencies refer to the skills related to elaborating the knowledge content required for the group to process and successfully achieve the task/goal to which they are assigned. Behavior includes skills related to the actualization of actions, coordination, communication, and interactions within the group as well as with any other relevant interlocutors for the task at hand. Note here that effective collaboration involves skills that have also been identified elsewhere as essential competencies, including communication, creativity, and critical thinking. Finally, several attitudes have been evidenced or hypothesized as desirable competencies in the team context, for example, attitude towards teamwork, collective orientation, cohesion/team morale, etc. Another common distinction lies between teamwork and taskwork. Teamwork refers to the collaborative, communicative, or social skills required to coordinate the work within the participants in order to achieve the task, whereas taskwork refers to specific aspects related to solving the task such as using the tools and knowing the procedure, policies, and any other task-related activities ( Salas et al. 2015 ; Graesser et al. 2018 ). Furthermore, collaborative competences can have specific (to a group of people or to a task) and general dimensions (i.e., easily transferable to any group or team situation and to other tasks). For example, skills related to communication, information exchange, conflict management, maintaining attention and motivation, leadership, etc. are present and transferable to a large number of group work situations and tasks (team-generic and task-contingent skills). Other skills can, on the other hand, be more specific to a team or group, such as internal organization, motivation, knowledge of the skills distributed in the team, etc.

2.4.1. Individual Assessment of Collaboration

Assessing collaboration requires capturing the dynamic and multi-level nature of the collaboration process, which is not as easily quantifiable as group/team inputs and outputs (task performance, satisfaction, and changes at group/team and individual level). There are indeed multiple interactions between the context, the collaboration processes, the task processes, and their (various) outcomes ( Détienne et al. 2012 ). The integrative concept of “quality of collaboration” ( Burkhardt et al. 2009 ) encapsulates much of what is currently known about collaborative processes and what constitutes effective collaboration. According to this approach, collaborative processes can be grouped along several dimensions concerning communication processes such as grounding, task-related processes (e.g., exchanges of knowledge relevant for the task at hand), and organization/coordination processes ( Burkhardt et al. 2009 ). Communication processes are most important for ensuring the construction of a common referential within a group of collaborators. Task-related processes relate to how the group resolves the task at hand by sharing and co-elaborating knowledge, by confronting their various perspectives, and by converging toward negotiated solutions. Collaboration also involves group management activities such as: (a) common goal management and coordination activities, e.g., allocation and planning of tasks; (b) meeting/interaction management activities, e.g., ordering and postponing of topics in the meeting. Finally, the ability to pursue reflexive activity, in the sense of reflecting not only on the content of a problem or solution but on one’s collaboration and problem-solving strategies, is critical for the development of the team and supports them in changing and improving their practices. Graesser et al. ( 2018 ) identify collaborative skills based on the combination of these dimensions with a step in the problem-solving process.

A large body of methodology developed to assess collaboration processes and collaborative tools has been focused on quantifying a restricted subset of fine-grained interactions (e.g., number of speakers’ turns; number of words spoken; number of interruptions; amount of grounding questions). This approach has at least two limitations. First, because these categories of analysis are often ad hoc with respect to the considered situation, they are difficult to apply in all situations and make it difficult to compare between studies. Second, quantitative variations of most of these indicators are non-univocal: any increase or decrease of them could signify either an interactive–intensive collaboration or else evidence of major difficulties in establishing and/or maintaining the collaboration ( Détienne et al. 2012 ). Alternatively, qualitative approaches based on multidimensional views of collaboration provide a more elaborated or nuanced view of collaboration and are useful for identifying potential relationships between distinctive dimensions of collaboration and aspects of team performance, in order to identify processes that could be improved. Based on the method of Spada et al. ( 2005 ) in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) research, Burkhardt et al. ( 2009 ) have proposed a multi-dimensional rating scheme for evaluating the quality of collaboration (QC) in technology-mediated design. QC distinguishes seven dimensions, grouped along five aspects, identified as central for collaboration in a problem-solving task such as design: communication (1, 2), task-oriented processes (3, 4), group-oriented processes (5), symmetry in interaction—an orthogonal dimension—(6), and individual task orientation (7). This method has recently been adapted for use in the context of assessing games as a support to collaborative skills learning.

2.4.2. Institutional and Environmental Support for Development of Collaboration and Collaborative Skills

Support for individuals’ development of collaborative skills provided by institutions and programs can take a variety of forms: (a) through the social impact of the physical structure of the organization, (b) the nature of the work required within the curriculum, (c) content within the curriculum focusing on collaboration and collaborative skills, and (d) the existence and promotion of extracurricular and inter-institutional opportunities for collaboration.

For instance, institutional support for collaboration has taken a variety of forms in various fields such as healthcare, engineering, public participation, and education. Training and education programs such as Interprofessional Education or Team Sciences in the health domain ( World Health Organization 2010 ; Hager et al. 2016 ; O’Carroll et al. 2021 ), Peer-Led Team Learning in chemistry and engineering domains ( Wilson and Varma-Nelson 2016 ), or Collaborative Problem Solving in education ( Peña-López 2017 ; Taddei 2009 ) are notable examples.

Contextual support recently arose from the deployment of online digital media and new mixed realities in the workplace, in the learning environments and in society at large—obviously stimulated and accentuated with the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led many organizations to invest in proposing support for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration (notably remote, between employees, between students and educators or within group members, etc.) in various ways, including the provision of communication hardware and software, computer-supported cooperative work and computer-supported collaborative learning platforms, training and practical guides, etc. Users can collaborate through heterogeneous hybrid collaborative interaction spaces that can be accessed through virtual or augmented reality, but also simple video conferencing or even a voice-only or text-only interface. These new spaces for collaboration are, however, often difficult to use and less satisfactory than face-to-face interactions, suggesting the need for more research on collaborative activities and on how to support them ( Faidley 2018 ; Karl et al. 2022 ; Kemp and Grieve 2014 ; Singh et al. 2022 ; Waizenegger et al. 2020 ).

A substantive body of literature on teams, collaborative learning, and computer-supported technologies provides evidence related to individual, contextual, and technological factors impacting the collaboration quality and efficiency. For example, teacher-based skills that are critical for enhancing collaboration are, among others, the abilities to plan, monitor, support, consolidate, and reflect upon student interaction in group work ( Kaendler et al. 2016 ). Research focuses also on investigating the most relevant tasks and evaluating the possibilities offered by technology to support, to assess (e.g., Nouri et al. 2017 ; Graesser et al. 2018 ), and/or to learn the skills involved in pursuing effective and satisfying collaboration (see e.g., Schneider et al. 2018 ; Doyle 2021 ; Ainsworth and Chounta 2021 ).

3. Labelization: Valorization of the 4Cs and Assessing Support for Their Development

Moving from the nature of the 4Cs and their individual assessment and towards the ways in which institutions can support their development in individuals, we can now address the fundamentally important question of how best to support and promote this 21st century educational mission within and among institutions themselves. This also raises the question of the systemic recognition of educational settings that are conducive to the development of the 4Cs. In response to these questions, the nature and value of labelization is now presented.

A label is “a special mark created by a trusted third party and displayed on a product intended for sale, to certify its origin, to guarantee its quality and to ensure its conformity with the standards of practices in force” ( Renard 2005 ). A label is therefore a way of informing the public about the objective properties and qualities of a product, service, or system. The label is usually easily identifiable and can be seen as a proof that a product or service, a company, or an organization complies with defined criteria. Its effectiveness is therefore closely linked to the choice of requirements set out in its specifications, as well as to the independence and rigor of the body that verifies compliance with the criteria.

3.1. Labeling as a Means of Trust and Differentiation

As a sign of recognition established by a third party, the label or certification can constitute a proof of trust aiming to reassure the final consumer. According to Sutter ( 2005 ), there are different means of signaling trust. First, the brand name of a product or service and its reputation can, in itself, constitute a label when this brand name is recognized on the market. Second, various forms of self-declaration, such as internal company charters, though not statements assessed by a third party, show an internal commitment that can provide reassurance. Finally, there is certification or labeling, which is awarded by an external body and requires a third-party assessment by a qualified expert, according to criteria set out in a specific reference framework. It is this external body, a trusted third party, which guarantees the reliability of the label and constitutes a guarantee of credibility. Its objectivity and impartiality are meant to guarantee that the company, organization, product, or service meets defined quality or reliability criteria ( Jahn et al. 2005 ).

Research on populations around the world (e.g., Amron 2018 ; Sasmita and Suki 2015 ) show that the buying decisions of consumers are heavily influenced by the trust they have in a brand. More specifically, third-party assurances and labelization have been shown to strongly influence customer buying intentions and purchasing behavior (e.g., Kimery and McCord 2002 ; Lee et al. 2004 ). Taking France as an example, research shows that quality certification is seen as “important” or “significant” by 76% of companies ( Chameroy and Veran 2014 ), and decision makers feel more confident and are more willing to invest with the support of third-party approval than if their decision is merely based on the brand’s reputation or its demonstrated level of social responsibility ( Etilé and Teyssier 2016 ). Indeed, French companies with corporate social responsibility labels have been shown to have higher than average growth rates, and the adoption of quality standards is linked with a 7% increase in the share of export turnover ( Restout 2020 ).

3.2. Influence on Choice and Adoption of Goods and Services

Studies diverge in this area, but based on the seminal work of Parkinson ( 1975 ); Chameroy and Veran ( 2014 ), in their research on the effect of labels on willingness to pay, found that in 75% of cases, products with labels are chosen and preferred to those without labels, demonstrating the impact of the label on customer confidence—provided that it is issued by a recognized third party. Thus, brands that have good reputations tend to be preferred over cheaper new brands, because they are more accepted and valued by the individual social network ( Zielke and Dobbelstein 2007 ).

3.3. Process of Labelizing Products and Services

The creation of a label may be the result of a customer or market need, a request from a private sector of activity or from the government. Creating a label involves setting up a working group including stakeholders who are experts in the field, product managers, and a certification body in order to elaborate a reference framework. This is then reviewed by a specialized committee and validated by the stakeholders. The standard includes evaluation criteria that must be clearly defined ( Mourad 2017 ). An audit system is set up by a trusted third party. It must include the drafting of an audit report, a system for making decisions on labeling, and a system for identifying qualified assessors. The validity of the assessment process is reinforced by this double evaluation: a first level of audit carried out by a team of experts according to a clearly defined set of criteria and a second level of decision making assuring that the methodology and the result of the audit are in conformity with the defined reference framework.

3.4. Labelization of 21st Century Skills

The world of education is particularly concerned by the need to develop and assess 21st century skills, because it represents the first link in the chain of skills acquisition, preparing the human resources of tomorrow. One important means of simultaneously offering a reliable, independent assessment of 21st century skills and valorizing them by making them a core target within an educational system (schools, universities, and teaching and training programs of all kinds) is labelization. Two examples of labelization processes related to 21st century skills were recently developed by the International Institute for Competency Development ( 2021 ; see iicd.net; accessed on 20 November 2022) working with international experts, teachers, and researchers from the University of Paris Cité (formerly Université Sorbonne Paris Cité), Oxford University, and AFNOR UK (an accredited certification body and part of AFNOR International, a subsidiary of the AFNOR group, the only standards body in France).

The last two or three decades has seen the simultaneous rise of international ranking systems and an interest in quality assurance and assessment in an increasingly competitive educational market ( Sursock 2021 ). The aim of these labelization frameworks is to assist in the development of “quality culture” in education by offering individual programs, institutions, and systems additional independent, reliable means of benchmarking, charting progress, and distinguishing themselves based on their capacity to support and promote the development of crucial skills. Importantly, the external perspectives provided by such assessment system should be capable of being individually adapted and applied in a manner that can resist becoming rigidly imposed external standards ( Sursock and Vettori 2017 ). Similarly, as we have seen in the literature review, the best approach to understanding and assessing a particular C is from a combination of different levels and perspectives in context. For example, important approaches to critical thinking have been made from educationally, philosophically, and psychologically focused vantage points ( Lai 2011 ). We can also argue that understandings of creativity are also results of different approaches: the major models in the literature (e.g., the “4Ps” and “7Cs” models; see Lubart and Thornhill-Miller 2019 ) explicitly result from and include the objectives of different education-focused, process-focused, and “ingredient” or component-focused approaches.

The two assessment frameworks outlined in the sections that follow were formulated with these different perspectives and objective needs in mind. Given the complexity and very different natures of their respective targets (i.e., one assessing entire formal educational contexts such as institutions or programs, whereas the other targets the less multi-dimensional, informal educational activities represented by games), the assessment of the individual Cs also represents what experts consider a target-appropriate balance of education- and curriculum-focused, process-focused, and component-focused criteria for assessing each different C.

4. The International Institute for Competency Development’s 21st Century Competencies 4Cs Assessment Framework for Institutions and Programs

One comprehensive attempt to operationalize programmatic-level and institutional-level support for the development of the 4Cs is the International Institute for Competency Development’s 4Cs Assessment Framework ( International Institute for Competency Development 2021 ). Based upon expert opinion and a review of the available literature, this evaluation grid is a practical tool that divides each of the 4Cs into three “user-friendly” but topic-covering components (see Table 1 and definitions and further discussion in the sections that follow). Each of these components is then assessed across seven dimensions (see Table 2 , below), designed to cover concisely the pedagogical process and the educational context. Examples for each point level are provided within the evaluation grid in order to offer additional clarity for educational stakeholders and expert assessors.

Three different components of each C in IICD’s 21st Century Skills 4Cs Assessment Framework.

Seven dimensions evaluated for the 3 different components of each C.

* Educational-level dependent and potentially less available for younger students or in some contexts.

The grid itself can be used in several important and different ways by different educational stakeholders: (1) by the institution itself in its self-evaluation and possible preparation for a certification or labelization process, (2) as an explicit list of criteria for external evaluation of the institution and its 4Cs-related programs, and (3) as a potential long-term development targeting tool for the institution or the institution in dialogue with the labelization process.

4.1. Evaluation Grid for Creativity

Dropping the component of “creative person” that is not relevant at the institutional level, this evaluation grid is based on Rhodes’ ( 1961 ) classic “4P” model of creativity, which remains the most concise model today ( Lubart and Thornhill-Miller 2019 ). The three “P” components retained are: creative process , creative environment , and creative product . Creative process refers to the acquisition of a set of tools and techniques that students can use to enhance the creativity of their thinking and work. Creative environment (also called “Press” in earlier literature) is about how the physical and social surroundings of students can help them be more creative. Finally, creative product refers to the evaluation of actual “productions” (e.g., a piece of art, text, speech, etc.) generated through the creative process.

4.2. Evaluation Grid for Critical Thinking

Our evaluation grid divides critical thinking into three main components: critical thinking about the world , critical thinking about oneself (self-reflection), as well as critical action and decision making . The first component refers to having an evidence-based view of the exterior world, notably by identifying and evaluating sources of information and using them to question current understandings and solve problems. Self-reflection refers to thinking critically about one’s own life situation, values, and actions; it presupposes the autonomy of thought and a certain distance as well as the most objective observation possible with regard to one’s own knowledge (“meta-cognition”). The third and final component, critical action and decision making, is about using critical thinking skills more practically in order to make appropriate life decisions as well as to be open to different points of view. This component also addresses soft skills and attitudes such as trusting information.

Our evaluation framework for critical thinking was in part inspired by Barnett’s “curriculum for critical being” (2015), whose model distinguishes two axes: one defined by the qualitative differences in the level of criticality attained and the second comprised of three different domains of application: formal knowledge, the self, and the world. The first two components of our framework (and the seven dimensions on which they are rated) reflect and encompass these three domains. Similar to Barrett’s proposal, our third rubric moves beyond the “skills-plus-dispositions” model of competency implicit in much theorizing about critical thinking and adds the importance of “action”—not just the ability to think critically and the disposition to do so, but the central importance of training and practicing “critical doing” ( Barnett 2015 ). Critical thinking should also be exercised collectively by involving students in collective thinking, facilitating the exchange of ideas and civic engagement ( Huber and Kuncel 2016 ).

4.3. Evaluation Grid for Collaboration

The first component of collaboration skills in the IICD grid is engagement and participation , referring to the active engagement in group work. Perspective taking and openness concerns the flexibility to work with and accommodate other group members and their points of view. The final dimension— social regulation —is about being able to reach for a common goal, notably through compromise and negotiation, as well as being aware of the different types of roles that group members can hold ( Hesse et al. 2015 ; Rusdin and Ali 2019 ; Care et al. 2016 ). (These last two components include elements of leadership, character, and emotional intelligence as sometimes described in other soft-skill and competency-related systems.) Participation, social regulation, and perspective taking have been identified as central social skills in collaborative problem solving ( Hesse et al. 2015 ). Regarding social regulation in this context, recognizing and profiting from group diversity is key ( Graesser et al. 2018 ). When describing an assessment in an educational setting of collaborative problem solving (with a task in which two or more students have to collaborate in order to solve it, each using a different set of resources), two main underpinning skills were described for the assessment: the social skill of audience awareness (“how to adapt one’s own behavior to suit the needs of the task and the partner’s requirements”, Care et al. 2016, p. 258 ) and the cognitive skill of planning and executing (developing a plan to reach for a goal) ( Care et al. 2016 ). The former is included in the perspective taking and openness rubric and the latter in the social regulation component in the IICD grid. Evans ( 2020 ) identified four main collaboration skills consistently mentioned in the scientific literature that are assessed in the IICD grid: the ability to plan and make group decisions (example item from the IICD grid: teachers provide assistance to students to overcome differences and reach a common goal during group work); the ability to communicate about thinking with the group (assessed notably in the meta-reflection strand of the IICD grid); the ability to contribute resources, ideas, and efforts and support group members (included notably in the engagement and participation as well as the social regulation components); and finally, the ability to monitor, reflect, and adapt individual and group processes to benefit the group (example item from the IICD grid: students use perspective-taking tools and techniques in group activities).

4.4. Evaluation Grid for Communication

The evaluation grid for communication is also composed of three dimensions: message formulation, message delivery, and message and communication feedback . Message formulation refers to the ability to design and structure a message to be sent, such as outlining the content of an argument. Message delivery is about effectively transmitting verbal and non-verbal aspects of a message. Finally, message and communication feedback refers to the ability of students and teachers to understand their audience, analyze their social surroundings, and interpret information in context. Other components of communication skills such as theory of mind, empathy, or emotional intelligence are also relevant and included in the process of applying the grid. Thompson ( 2020 ) proposes a four-component operationalized definition of communication for its assessment in students. First, they describe a comprehension strand covering the understanding and selection of adequate information from a range of sources. Message formulation in the IICD grid captures this dimension through its focus on content analysis and generation. Second, the presentation of information and ideas is mentioned in several different modes, adjusted to the intended audience, verbally as well as non-verbally. The message delivery component of the IICD grid focuses on these points. Third, the authors note the importance of communication technology and its advanced use. The IICD grid also covers the importance of technology use in its tools and techniques category, with, for example, an item that reads: students learn to effectively use a variety of formats of communication (social media, make a video, e-mail, letter writing, creating a document). Finally, Thompson ( 2020 ) describes the recognition of cultural and other differences as an important aspect of communication. The IICD grid aims at incorporating these aspects, notably in the meta-reflection category under each of the three dimensions.

5. Assessing the 4Cs in Informal Educational Contexts: The Example of Games

5.1. the 4cs in informal educational contexts.

So far, the focus has been on rather formal ways of nurturing the 4Cs. Although institutions and training programs are perhaps the most significant and necessary avenues of education, they are not the sole context in which 4Cs’ learning and improvement can manifest. One other important potential learning context is game play. Games are activities that are present and participated in throughout human society—by those of all ages, genders, and socio-economic statuses ( Bateson and Martin 2013 ; Huizinga 1949 ; Malaby 2007 ). This informal setting can also provide favorable conditions to help improve the 4Cs ( van Rosmalen et al. 2014 ) and should not be under-appreciated. Games provide a unique environment for learning, as they can foster a space to freely explore possibilities and one’s own potential ( de Freitas 2006 ). We argue that games are a significant potential pathway for the improvement of the 4Cs, and as such, they merit the same attention as more formal ways of learning and developing competencies.

5.2. 4Cs Evaluation Framework for Games

Compared to schools and educational institutions, the focus of IICD’s evaluation framework for games (see International Institute for Competency Development 2021 ) is more narrow. Thus, it is fundamentally different from the institutional grid: games, complex and deep as they can sometimes be, cannot directly be compared to the complexity of a school curriculum and all the programs it contains. The evaluation of a game’s effectiveness for training/improving a given C rests on the following principle: if a game presents affordances conducive to exercising a given skill, engaged playing of that game should help improve that skill.

The game’s evaluation grid is scored based on two criteria. For example, as a part of a game’s rating as a tool for the development of creativity, we determine the game must first meet two conditions. First, whether or not the game allows the opportunity for creativity to manifest itself: if creativity cannot occur in the game, it is obviously not eligible to receive ratings for that C. Second, whether or not creativity is needed in order to perform well in the game: if the players can win or achieve success in the game without needing creativity, this also means it cannot receive a rating for that C. If both conditions are met, however, the game will be considered potentially effective to improve creativity through the practice of certain components of creative behavior. This basic principle applies for all four of the Cs.

As outlined in Table 3 , below, the evaluation grid for each of the four Cs is composed of five components relevant to games that are different for each of the Cs. The grid works as follows: for each of the five components of each C, we evaluate the game on a list of sub-components using two yes/no scales: one for whether it is “possible” for that subcomponent to manifest and one for whether that sub-component is “required for success” in the game. This evaluation is done for all sub-components. After this, each general component is rated on the same two indicators. If 60% (i.e., three out of five) or more sub-components are positively rated as required, the general component is considered required. Then, the game is evaluated on its effectiveness for training and improving each of the 4Cs. If 60% or more components are positively rated as required, the game will be labelized as having the potential to be effective for training and improving the corresponding C.

Five different components evaluated for each C by the 4Cs assessment framework for games.

The evaluation grid for creativity is based on the multivariate model of creative potential (see Section 2.1.1 and Lubart et al. 2013 for more information) and is composed of four cognitive factors and one conative factor: originality , divergent thinking , convergent thinking , mental flexibility , and creative dispositions . Originality refers to the generation of ideas that are novel or unexpected, depending on the context. Divergent thinking corresponds to the generation of multiple ideas or solutions. Convergent thinking refers to the combination of multiple ideas and the selection of the most creative idea. Mental flexibility entails changing perspectives on a given problem and breaking away from initial ideas. Finally, creative dispositions concerns multiple personality-related factors conducive to creativity, such as openness to experience or risk taking.

The evaluation grid for critical thinking echoes Halpern’s ( 1998 ) as well as Marin and Halpern’s ( 2011 ) considerations for teaching this skill, that is, taking into consideration thinking skills, metacognition, and dispositions. The five components of the critical thinking grid are: goal-adequate discernment, objective thinking, metacognition, elaborate reasoning, and uncertainty management. Goal-adequate discernment entails the formulation of inferences and the discernment of contradictions when faced with a problem. Objective thinking corresponds to the suspension of one’s own judgment and the analysis of affirmations and sources in the most objective manner possible. Metacognition, here, is about questioning and reassessing information, as well as the awareness of one’s own cognitive biases. Elaborate reasoning entails reasoning in a way that is cautious, thorough, and serious. Finally, uncertainty management refers to the dispositional propensity to tolerate ambiguity and accept doubt.

The evaluation grid for collaboration is based on the quality of collaboration (QC) method ( Burkhardt et al. 2009 ; see Section 2.4.2 for more details) and is composed of the following five components: collaboration fluidity, well-argued deliberation and consensus-based decision, balance of contribution, organization and coordination, and cognitive syncing, input, and support. Collaboration fluidity entails the absence of speech overlap and the presence of a good flow in terms of turns to speak. Well-argued deliberation and consensus-based decision is about contributing to the discussion and task at hand, as well as participating in discussions and arguments, in order to obtain a consensus. Balance of contribution refers to having equal or equivalent contributions to organization, coordination, and decision making. Organization and coordination refers to effective management of roles, time, and “deadlines”, as well as the attribution of roles depending on participants’ skills. Finally, cognitive syncing, input, and support is about bringing ideas and resources to the group, as well as supporting and reinforcing other members of the group.

The five components used to evaluate communication in games include both linguistic, pragmatic, and social aspects. Linguistic skills per se are captured by the mastery of written and spoken language component. This component assesses language comprehension and the appropriate use of vocabulary. Pragmatic skills are captured by the verbal and non-verbal communication components and refer to the efficient use of verbal and body signals in the context of the game to achieve one’s communicative goals ( Grassmann 2014 ; Matthews 2014 ). Finally, the grid also evaluates social skills with its two last components, social interactions and social cognition, which, respectively, refer to the ability to interact with others appropriately—including by complying with the rules of the game—and to the understanding of other people’ mental states ( Tomasello 2005 ).

6. Discussion and Conclusions

Each of the 4Cs is a broad, multi-faceted concept that is the subject of a tremendous amount of research and discussion by a wide range of stakeholders in different disciplines, professions, and parts of the educational establishment. The development of evaluation frameworks to allow support for the 4Cs to be assessed and publicly recognized, using a label, is an important step for promoting and fostering these skills in educational contexts. As illustrated by IICD’s 4Cs Framework for educational institutions and programs, as well as its games/activities evaluation grid, the specific criteria to detect support for each C can vary depending upon the educational context (e.g., formal and institutional level or informal and at the activity level). Yet considering the 4Cs together highlights some additional observations, current challenges, and opportunities for the future that are worthy of discussion.

6.1. Interrelationships between the 4Cs and a New Model for Use in Pedagogy and Policy Promotion

One very important issue for understanding the 4Cs and their educational implementation that can be simultaneously a help and a hindrance for teaching them—and also a challenge when assessing them—is their multidimensionality and interrelatedness. In other words, the 4Cs are not entirely separate entities but instead, as Figure 2 shows, should be seen as four interlinked basic “elements” for future-oriented education that can help individuals in their learning process and, together, synergistically “bootstrap” the development of their cognitive potentials. Lamri and Lubart ( 2021 ), for example, found a certain base level of creativity was a necessary but not sufficient condition for success in managerial tasks, but that high-level performance required a combination of all four Cs. Some thinkers have argued that one cannot be creative without critical thinking, which also requires creativity, for example, to come up with alternative arguments (see Paul and Elder 2006 ). Similarly, among many other interrelationships, there is no collaboration without communication—and even ostensibly individual creativity is a “collaboration” of sorts with the general culture and precursors in a given field. As a result, it ranges from impossible to suboptimal to teach (or teach towards) one of the 4Cs without involving one or more of the others, and this commingling also underscores the genuine need and appropriateness of assessing them together.

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“‘Crea-Critical-Collab-ication’: a Dynamic Interactionist Model of the 4Cs”. (Illustration of the interplay and interpenetration of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication shown in dimensional space according to their differing cognitive/individual vs. social/interpersonal emphases; (© 2023, Branden Thornhill-Miller. All Rights Reserved. thornhill-miller.com; accessed on 20 January 2023)).

From this perspective, Thornhill-Miller ( 2021 ) proposed a “dynamic interactionist model of the 4Cs” and their interrelated contributions to the future of education and work. Presented in Figure 2 , this model is meant to serve as a visual and conceptual aid for understanding the 4Cs and their interrelationships, thereby also promoting better use and understanding of them in pedagogical and policy settings. In addition to suggesting the portmanteau of “crea-critical thinking” as a new term to describe the overlap of much of the creative and critical thinking processes, the title of this model, “Crea-Critical-Collab-ication”, is a verbal representation of the fluid four-way interrelationship between the 4Cs visually represented in Figure 2 (a title meant to playfully repackage the 4Cs for important pedagogical and policy uses). This model goes further to suggest some dimensional differences in emphases that, roughly speaking, also often exist among the 4Cs: that is to say, the frequently greater emphasis on cognitive or individual elements at play in creativity and critical thinking in comparison to the social and interpersonal aspects more central to communication and collaboration ( Thornhill-Miller 2021 ).

Similarly focused on the need to promote a phase change towards future-oriented education, Lucas ( 2019 ) and colleagues have suggested conflating creative thinking and critical thinking in order to propose “3Cs” (creative thinking, communication, and collaboration) as new “foundational literacies” to symmetrically add to the 3Rs (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic) of previous educational eras. Although we applaud these efforts, from our applied research perspective, we believe that the individual importance of, and distinct differences between, creative thinking and critical thinking support preserving them both as separate constructs in order to encourage the greatest development of each of them. Moreover, if only three categories were somehow required or preferable, one could argue that uniting communication and collaboration (as “collab-ication” suggests) might be preferable—particularly also given the fact that substantial aspects of communication are already covered within the 3Rs. In any case, we look forward to more such innovations and collaborations in this vibrant and important area of work at the crossroads between research, pedagogy, and policy development.

6.2. Limitations and Future Work

The rich literature in each of the 4Cs domains shows the positive effects of integrating these dimensions into educational and professional curricula. At the same time, the complexity of their definitions makes them difficult to assess, both in terms of reliability (assessment must not vary from one measurement to another) and of validity (tests must measure that which they are intended to measure). However, applied research in this area is becoming increasingly rigorous, with a growing capacity to provide the necessary tools for evidence-based practice. The development of these practices should involve interdisciplinary teams of teachers and other educational practitioners who are equipped and trained accordingly. Similarly, on the research side, further exploration and clarification of subcomponents of the 4Cs and other related skills will be important. Recent efforts to clarify the conceptual overlap and hierarchical relations of soft skills for the future of education and work, for example, have been helpful and promising (e.g., Joie-La Marle et al. 2022 ; Lamri et al. 2022 ). But the most definitive sort of taxonomy and measurement model that we are currently lacking might only be established based on the large-scale administration of a comprehensive battery of skill-measuring psychometric tests on appropriate cross sections of society.

The rapid development and integration of new technologies will also aid and change the contexts, resources, and implementation of the 4Cs. For example, the recent developments make it clear that the 4Cs will be enhanced and changed by interaction with artificially intelligence, even as 4Cs-related skills will probably, for the same reason, increasingly constitute the core of available human work in the future (see, e.g., Ross 2018 ). Similarly, research on virtual reality and creativity suggest that VR environments assist and expand individual and collaborative creativity ( Bourgeois-Bougrine et al. 2022 ). Because VR technologies offer the possibility of enhanced and materially enriched communication, collaboration, and information availability, they not only allow for the enhancement of creativity techniques but also for similar expansions and improvements on almost all forms of human activity (see Thornhill-Miller and Dupont 2016 )—including the other three Cs.

6.3. Conclusion: Labelization of the 4Cs and the Future of Education and Work

Traditional educational approaches cannot meet the educational needs of our emergent societies if they do not teach, promote, and assess in line with the new learner characteristics and contexts of the 21st century ( Sahin 2009 ). The sort of future-oriented change and development required by this shift in institutional practices, programming, and structure will likely meet with significant resistance from comfortably entrenched (and often outdated) segments of traditional educational and training establishments. Additional external evaluation and monitoring is rarely welcome by workers in any context. We believe, however, that top-down processes from the innovative and competition-conscious administrative levels will be met by bottom-up demands from students and education consumers to support these institutional changes. And we contend that efforts such as labelizing 4C processes will serve to push educators and institutions towards more relevant offerings, oriented towards the future of work and helping build a more successful future for all.

In the end, the 4Cs framework seems to be a manageable, focused model for modernizing education, and one worthy of its growing prevalence in the educational and research marketplace for a number of reasons. These reasons include the complexity and cumbersome nature of larger alternative systems and the 4Cs’ persuasive presence at the core of a number of early and industry-driven frameworks. In addition, the 4Cs have benefitted from their subsequent promotion by organizations such as the OECD and the World Economic Forum, as well as some more direct support from recent empirical research. The promotion, teaching, and assessment of the 4Cs will require a complex social intervention and mobilization of educational resources—a major shift in pedagogy and institutional structures. Yet the same evolving digital technologies that have largely caused the need for these massive, rapid changes can also assist in the implementation of solutions ( van Laar et al. 2017 ). To the extent that future research also converges on such a model (that has already been found pedagogically useful and policy-friendly by so many individuals and organizations), the 4Cs framework has the potential to become a manageable core for 21st century skills and the future of education and work—one that stakeholders with various agendas can already begin building on for a better educational and economic future together.

Funding Statement

This research received no external funding.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, B.T.-M. and T.L.; writing—original draft preparation, B.T.-M., A.C., M.M., J.-M.B., T.M., S.B.-B., S.E.H., F.V., M.A.-L., C.F., D.S., F.M.; writing—review and editing, B.T.-M., A.C., T.L., J.-M.B., C.F.; visualization, B.T.-M.; supervision, B.T.-M., T.L.; project administration, B.T.-M., T.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Data availability statement, conflicts of interest.

B.T.-M. and T.L. are unpaid academic co-founder and project collaborator for the International Institute for Competency Development, whose labelization frameworks (developed in cooperation with Afnor International and the LaPEA lab of Université Paris Cité and Université Gustave Eiffel) are used as examples in this review. S.E.H. and M.A.-L. are employees of AFNOR International. No funding was received to support this research or article, which reflects the views of the scientists and researchers and not their organizations or companies.

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11 Engaging in Group Problem-Solving

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss the common components and characteristics of problems
  • Explain the five steps of the group problem-solving process

Although the steps of problem-solving and decision-making that we will discuss next may seem obvious, we often don’t think to or choose not to use them. Instead, we start working on a problem and later realize we are lost and have to backtrack. I’m sure we’ve all reached a point in a project or task and had the “OK, now what?” moment. I’ve recently taken up some carpentry projects as a functional hobby, and I have developed a great respect for the importance of advanced planning. It’s frustrating to get to a crucial point in building or fixing something only to realize that you have to unscrew a support board that you already screwed in, have to drive back to the hardware store to get something that you didn’t think to get earlier, or have to completely start over. In this section, we will discuss group problem-solving and important steps in the process.

Group Problem Solving

The  problem-solving process involves thoughts, discussions, actions, and decisions that occur from the first consideration of a problematic situation to the goal. The problems that groups face are varied, but some common problems include budgeting funds, raising funds, planning events, addressing customer or citizen complaints, creating or adapting products or services to fit needs, supporting members, and raising awareness about issues or causes.

According to Adams and Galanes (2009), problems of all sorts have three common components:

  • An undesirable situation. When conditions are desirable, there isn’t a problem.
  • The desired situation. Even though it may only be a vague idea, there is a drive to better the undesirable situation. The vague idea may develop into a more precise goal that can be achieved, although solutions are not yet generated.
  • Obstacles between undesirable and desirable situations. These are things that stand in the way between the current situation and the group’s goal of addressing it. This component of a problem requires the most work, and it is the part where decision-making occurs. Some examples of obstacles include limited funding, resources, personnel, time, or information. Obstacles can also take the form of people who are working against the group, including people resistant to change or people who disagree.

Discussion of these three elements of a problem helps the group tailor its problem-solving process, as each problem will vary. While these three general elements are present in each problem, the group should also address specific characteristics of the problem. Five common and important characteristics to consider are task difficulty, the number of possible solutions, group member interest in the problem, group member familiarity with the problem, and the need for solution acceptance (Adams & Galanes, 2009).

  • Task difficulty. Difficult tasks are also typically more complex. Groups should be prepared to spend time researching and discussing difficult and complex tasks to develop a shared foundational knowledge. This typically requires individual work outside of the group and frequent group meetings to share information.
  • Number of possible solutions. There are usually multiple ways to solve a problem or complete a task, but some problems have more potential solutions than others. Figuring out how to prepare a beach house for an approaching hurricane is fairly complex and difficult, but there are still a limited number of things to do—for example, taping and boarding up windows; turning off water, electricity, and gas; trimming trees; and securing loose outside objects. Other problems may be more creatively based. For example, designing a new restaurant may entail using some standard solutions but could also entail many different types of innovation with layout and design.
  • Group member interest in problem. When group members are interested in the problem, they will be more engaged with the problem-solving process and invested in finding a quality solution. Groups with high interest in and knowledge about the problem may want more freedom to develop and implement solutions, while groups with low interest may prefer a leader who provides structure and direction.
  • Group familiarity with problem. Some groups encounter a problem regularly, while other problems are more unique or unexpected. A family who has lived in hurricane alley for decades probably has a better idea of how to prepare their house for a hurricane than does a family that just recently moved from the Midwest. Many groups that rely on funding have to revisit a budget every year, and in recent years, groups have had to get more creative with budgets as funding has been cut in nearly every sector. When group members aren’t familiar with a problem, they will need to do background research on what similar groups have done and may also need to bring in outside experts.
  • Need for solution acceptance. In this step, groups must consider how many people the decision will affect and how much “buy-in” from others the group needs for their solution to be successfully implemented. Some small groups have many stakeholders on whom the success of a solution depends. Other groups are answerable only to themselves. When a small group is planning on building a new park in a crowded neighborhood or implementing a new policy in a large business, it can be very difficult to develop solutions that will be accepted by all. In such cases, groups will want to poll those who will be affected by the solution and may want to do a pilot implementation to see how people react. Imposing an excellent solution that doesn’t have buy-in from stakeholders can still lead to failure.

Group Problem-Solving Process

There are several variations of similar problem-solving models based on American scholar John Dewey’s reflective thinking process (Bormann & Bormann, 1988). As you read through the steps in the process, think about how you can apply what you learned regarding the general and specific elements of problems. Some of the following steps are straightforward, and they are things we would logically do when faced with a problem. However, taking a deliberate and systematic approach to problem-solving has been shown to benefit group functioning and performance. A deliberate approach is especially beneficial for groups that do not have an established history of working together and will only be able to meet occasionally. Although a group should attend to each step of the process, group leaders or other group members who facilitate problem-solving should be cautious not to dogmatically follow each element of the process or force a group along. Such a lack of flexibility could limit group member input and negatively affect the group’s cohesion and climate.

Step 1: Define the Problem

Define the problem by considering the three elements shared by every problem: the current undesirable situation, the goal or more desirable situation, and obstacles in the way (Adams & Galanes, 2009). At this stage, group members share what they know about the current situation, without proposing solutions or evaluating the information. Here are some good questions to ask during this stage:

  • What is the current difficulty?
  • How did we come to know that the difficulty exists?
  • Who/what is involved?
  • Why is it meaningful/urgent/important?
  • What have the effects been so far?
  • What, if any, elements of the difficulty require clarification?

At the end of this stage, the group should be able to compose a single sentence that summarizes the problem called a problem statement . Avoid wording in the problem statement or question that hints at potential solutions. A small group formed to investigate ethical violations of city officials could use the following problem statement: “Our state does not currently have a mechanism for citizens to report suspected ethical violations by city officials.”

Step 2: Analyze the Problem

During this step, a group should analyze the problem and the group’s relationship to the problem. Whereas the first step involved exploring the “what” related to the problem, this step focuses on the “why.” At this stage, group members can discuss the potential causes of the difficulty. Group members may also want to begin setting out an agenda or timeline for the group’s problem-solving process, looking forward to the other steps.

To fully analyze the problem, the group can discuss the five common problem variables discussed before. Here are two examples of questions that the group formed to address ethics violations might ask: Why doesn’t our city have an ethics reporting mechanism? Do cities of similar size have such a mechanism? Once the problem has been analyzed, the group can pose a problem question that will guide the group as it generates possible solutions. “How can citizens report suspected ethical violations of city officials and how will such reports be processed and addressed?” As you can see, the problem question is more complex than the problem statement, since the group has moved on to a more in-depth discussion of the problem during step 2.

Step 3: Generate Possible Solutions

During this step, group members generate possible solutions to the problem. This is where brainstorming techniques to enhance creativity may be useful to the group (see earlier chapter on “Enhancing Creativity”). Again, solutions should not be evaluated at this point, only proposed and clarified. The question should be what could we do to address this problem, not what should we do to address it. It is perfectly OK for a group member to question another person’s idea by asking something like “What do you mean?” or “Could you explain your reasoning more?” Discussions at this stage may reveal a need to return to previous steps to better define or more fully analyze a problem. Since many problems are multifaceted, group members must generate solutions for each part of the problem separately, making sure to have multiple solutions for each part. Stopping the solution-generating process prematurely can lead to groupthink.

Two people stand by a whiteboard with diagrams on it

For the problem question previously posed, the group would need to generate solutions for all three parts of the problem included in the question. Possible solutions for the first part of the problem (How can citizens report ethical violations?) may include “online reporting system, e-mail, in-person, anonymously, on-the-record,” and so on. Possible solutions for the second part of the problem (How will reports be processed?) may include “daily by a newly appointed ethics officer, weekly by a nonpartisan non-government employee,” and so on. Possible solutions for the third part of the problem (How will reports be addressed?) may include “by a newly appointed ethics commission, by the accused’s supervisor, by the city manager,” and so on.

Step 4: Evaluate Solutions

During this step, solutions can be critically evaluated based on their credibility, completeness, and worth. Once the potential solutions have been narrowed based on more obvious differences in relevance and/or merit, the group should analyze each solution based on its potential effects—especially negative effects. Groups that are required to report the rationale for their decision or whose decisions may be subject to public scrutiny would be wise to make a set list of criteria for evaluating each solution. Additionally, solutions can be evaluated based on how well they fit with the group’s charge and the abilities of the group. To do this, group members may ask, “Does this solution live up to the original purpose or mission of the group?” and “Can the solution actually be implemented with our current resources and connections?” and “How will this solution be supported, funded, enforced, and assessed?” Conflict may emerge during this step of problem-solving, and group members will need to employ effective critical thinking and listening skills.

Decision-making is part of the larger process of problem-solving and it plays a prominent role in this step. While there are several fairly similar models for problem-solving, there are many varied decision-making techniques that groups can use (see earlier chapter on “Decision-Making in Groups”). For example, to narrow the list of proposed solutions, group members may decide by majority vote, by weighing the pros and cons, or by discussing them until a consensus is reached. There are also more complex decision-making models like the “six hats method,” which we will discuss later. Once the final decision is reached, the group leader or facilitator should confirm that the group is in agreement. It may be beneficial to let the group break for a while or even to delay the final decision until a later meeting to allow people time to evaluate it outside of the group context.

Step 5: Implement and Assess the Solution

A traffic light is lit up at night

Implementing the solution requires some advanced planning, and it should not be rushed unless the group is operating under strict time restraints or delay may lead to some kind of harm. Although some solutions can be implemented immediately, others may take days, months, or years. As was noted earlier, it may be beneficial for groups to poll those who will be affected by the solution as to their opinion of it or even do a pilot test to observe the effectiveness of the solution and how people react to it. Before implementation, groups should also determine how and when they would assess the effectiveness of the solution by asking, “How will we know if the solution is working or not?” Since solution assessment will vary based on whether or not the group is disbanded, groups should also consider the following questions: If the group disbands after implementation, who will be responsible for assessing the solution? If the solution fails, will the same group reconvene or will a new group be formed?

Certain elements of the solution may need to be delegated out to various people inside and outside the group. Group members may also be assigned to implement a particular part of the solution based on their role in the decision-making or because it connects to their area of expertise. Likewise, group members may be tasked with publicizing the solution or “selling” it to a particular group of stakeholders. Last, the group should consider its future. In some cases, the group will get to decide if it will stay together and continue working on other tasks or if it will disband. In other cases, outside forces determine the group’s fate.

Six Thinking Hats Method

Edward de Bono developed the Six Thinking Hats method of thinking in the late 1980s, and it has since become a regular feature in problem-solving and decision-making training in business and professional contexts (de Bono, 1985). The method’s popularity lies in its ability to help people get out of habitual ways of thinking and to allow group members to play different roles and see a problem or decision from multiple points of view. The basic idea is that each of the six hats represents a different way of thinking, and when we figuratively switch hats, we switch the way we think. The hats and their style of thinking are as follows:

  • White hat. Objective—focuses on seeking information such as data and facts and then neutrally processes that information.
  • Red hat. Emotional—uses intuition, gut reactions, and feelings to judge information and suggestions.
  • Black hat. Critical—focuses on potential risks, points out possibilities for failure, and evaluates information cautiously and defensively.
  • Yellow hat. Positive—is optimistic about suggestions and future outcomes, gives constructive and positive feedback, points out benefits and advantages.
  • Green hat. Creative—tries to generate new ideas and solutions, thinks “outside the box.”
  • Blue hat. Process—uses metacommunication to organize and reflect on the thinking and communication taking place in the group, facilitates who wears what hat and when group members change hats.

Specific sequences or combinations of hats can be used to encourage strategic thinking. For example, the group leader may start off wearing the Blue Hat and suggest that the group start their decision-making process with some “White Hat thinking” to process through facts and other available information. During this stage, the group could also process through what other groups have done when faced with a similar problem. Then the leader could begin an evaluation sequence starting with two minutes of “Yellow Hat thinking” to identify potential positive outcomes, then “Black Hat thinking” to allow group members to express reservations about ideas and point out potential problems, then “Red Hat thinking” to get people’s gut reactions to the previous discussion, then “Green Hat thinking” to identify other possible solutions that are more tailored to the group’s situation or completely new approaches. At the end of a sequence, the Blue Hat would want to summarize what was said and begin a new sequence. To successfully use this method, the person wearing the Blue Hat should be familiar with different sequences and plan some of the thinking patterns ahead of time based on the problem and the group members. Each round of thinking should be limited to a certain time frame (two to five minutes) to keep the discussion moving.

  • This problem-solving method has been praised because it allows group members to “switch gears” in their thinking and allows for role-playing, which lets people express ideas more freely. How can this help enhance critical thinking? Which combination of hats do you think would be best for a critical thinking sequence?
  • What combinations of hats might be useful if the leader wanted to break the larger group up into pairs and why? For example, what kind of thinking would result from putting Yellow and Red together, Black and White together, or Red and White together, and so on?
  • Based on your preferred ways of thinking and your personality, which hat would be the best fit for you? Which would be the most challenging? Why?

Review & Reflection Questions

  • What are the three common components of a problem? Based on these, what problems have you encountered in your group?
  • What are the five steps of the reflective thinking process?
  • What challenges might you face during the process and what strategies could you use to address those challenges?
  • Adams, K., & Galanes, G. G. (2009). Communicating in groups: Applications and skills (7th ed.). McGraw-Hill.
  • Bormann, E. G., & Nancy C. Bormann, N. C. (1988). Effective small group communication ( 4th ed). Burgess CA.
  • de Bono, E. (1985). Six thinking hats. Little Brown.

Authors & Attribution

The chapter is adapted from “ Problem Solving and Decision Making in Groups ” in Communication in the Real World from the University of Minnesota. The book was adapted from a work produced and distributed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution. This work is made available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license .

involves thoughts, discussions, actions, and decisions that occur from the first consideration of a problematic situation to the goal

a five step process to aid in group problem solving involving (1) defining the problem, (2) analyzing the problem, (3) generating possible solutions, (4) evaluating solutions, and (5) implementing and assessing the solution

a method of problem-solving developed by Edward de Bono that aims to help people get out of habitual ways of thinking and to allow group members to play different roles and see a problem or decision from multiple points of view

Small Group Communication Copyright © 2020 by Jasmine R. Linabary, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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11 leadership skills to build in 2024 for executives and emerging leaders.

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In 2024, leaders face a work landscape that has been transformed by generational diversity, complex hybrid work structures, and a rapid infusion of technology. To be a successful leader today – a modern, authentic, human leader – you must amplify a unique set of skills to meet this vastly changed environment. This is a combination of traditional leadership skills with an emphasis on soft skills (also called social skills). Here are 11 critical competencies you need to demonstrate so you can build your personal brand as a relevant and accomplished leader:

1. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

The ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of others, is vital for leading effectively and empathetically. At the core of this skill is self-awareness. Being self-aware is the first step in Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence model , and it’s the foundation for being able to build meaningful relationships with stakeholders.

2. Adaptability

The modern lexicon of the workplace includes words like 'change,' 'pivot,' and 'evolve.' Leaders must demonstrate flexibility, being able to swiftly adjust strategies and actions in response to technological shifts, worker preferences and market demands.

3. Inclusivity

Embracing and leveraging diversity, fostering an inclusive environment where all team members can thrive, is a non-negotiable leadership skill. Belonging is the key element here. When you cultivate a culture of belonging , your people do their best work in support of your mission.

4. Communication

Leaders must be storytellers, articulating visions and strategies with clarity and authenticity. Specializing in video communication for both synchronous and asynchronous interactions is vital in a hybrid work era, where in-person exchanges are less frequent. That means delivering compelling communications, while leveraging tech–messaging software and virtual meeting platforms.

The Biggest Tech Talent Gap Can Be Found In The SAP Ecosystem

Google slashes diversity programs after big promises, new year, new layoffs: 3 ways to prepare if your job is at risk, 5. creative problem-solving.

The ability to approach challenges from fresh angles and spark innovation is invaluable. Creativity is the foundation of innovation, offering potential solutions to vexing challenges.

6. Collaboration

Building and sustaining a collaborative team in a remote or hybrid setting demands skills beyond the traditional. Leaders must inspire, engage, and leverage technology to integrate collaboration into how the team works. Building team cohesion and connection is the key to engaging today’s workforce.

7. Resilience

We all learned from our experience with Covid that unexpected challenges can hijack well thought out plans. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, adapt to adversity, and continue to move forward is key to leadership longevity and success.

8. Strategic Thinking

Leaders have always been creators and stewards of strategy. They must be able to see the big picture, anticipate future trends and challenges, and plan accordingly. That requires an interest in what’s happening and a desire to learn and grow.

9. Learning

The only way to remain relevant in an ever-evolving environment is by being a lifelong learner. Leaders need to engage regularly in learning and become the model for team members, encouraging them to grow knowledge and skills.

10. Sustainability and Social Responsibility

Leaders must grasp the broader impact of their decisions and advocate for practices that ensure environmental care and social good. This helps them build organizations that are principled and appreciated by today’s workforce. It also helps them deliver greater profits. “72% of executives surveyed see ESG as an enabler rather than cost center,” according to a study from IBM .

11. Digital Literacy

Technology is accelerating into the workplace with the speed and precision of a NASCAR vehicle making a pit stop. Leaders need not be tech experts but must be tech-literate. They must adopt a digital mindset. “The digital mindset is a set of attitudes and behaviors that enable people and organizations to see new possibilities and chart a path for the future,” according to Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley, authors of The Digital Mindset.

These skills form the mosaic of modern leadership. Mastering them does not merely equip leaders to survive in today's work environment but to thrive, driving their organizations towards success and innovation in 2024 and beyond.

William Arruda is a keynote speaker , co-founder of CareerBlast.TV and creator of the 360Reach Personal Brand Survey that helps you get candid, meaningful feedback from people who know you.

William Arruda

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An innova(ve approach to remodelling bioscience undergraduate final year projects to develop key transferable skills sought by graduate employers running (tle: remodelling bioscience undergraduate project disserta(ons.

  • 1 Aston University, United Kingdom

The final, formatted version of the article will be published soon.

Undergraduate Biomedical Science dissertations are the culmination of a student's academic journey and allow students to refine technical proficiencies, experimental design and data analysis. However, traditional dissertation projects may not fully meet the requirements of diverse student populations and employer's needs. This research project aims to assess the effectiveness of modifying the assessment format for finalyear projects, incorporating elements such as lay summaries, project proposals, scientific research papers, and oral poster defences. The objective was to cultivate higher-order critical thinking skills and enhance written and verbal communication competencies, in addition to developing a suite of transferable skills which are highly sought by employers. Quantitative data were primarily generated via end-of-module feedback reports and the module satisfaction survey. Students rated their confidence in a suite of transferable skills pre and post-completion of the project module using a four-point Likert scale. Staff perceptions (n = 30) and module board reports were also evaluated. For all data, a paired t-test for related groups was conducted. Thematic analysis was used to analyse qualitative data using the Braun and Clark Framework. The end-of-module feedback was overwhelmingly positive with all students agreeing that they were satisfied with the module. Students reported a statistically significant increase in confidence within eleven transferable skills which are considered core within the industry, for example, critical thinking, problem-solving and time management. Furthermore, the mean module mark increased following the module redesign from 66.3 ± 0.2% in 2019 to 70.9 ± 0.6% in 2020 (p =<0.05). Staff provided free text comments, reporting an overall improvement in the module, a reduction in workload and a better teaching experience. Students exhibited appreciation of the new module structure, assessment suit and creative liberty within the projects. The redesigned project module enhanced the teaching experience for staff, whilst students appreciated the diverse range of projects and assessments that featured shorter word limits and a creative flair. Universities must reinvent undergraduate dissertations to equip students with essential employability skills.

Keywords: Biomedical Science, higher education, Final Year Projects, Dissertations, Transferable skills

Received: 02 Aug 2023; Accepted: 03 Jan 2024.

Copyright: © 2024 Rana, Bashir and Pallett. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Karan S. Rana, Aston University, Birmingham, United Kingdom

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    The goal of this creative thinking program is to help you develop the strategic concepts and tactical skills to lead creative problem solving for your team and your organization. You will learn to: Retrain your brain to avoid negative cognitive biases and long-held beliefs and myths that sabotage creative problem solving and innovation

  11. 19 Creative Thinking Skills (and How to Use Them!)

    How to improve your creative thinking skills? What is creative thinking? Creative thinking is the ability to approach a problem or challenge from a new perspective, alternative angle, or with an atypical mindset.

  12. Developing critical thinking, collective creativity skills and problem

    • PDJs integrate playful elements and teamwork motivation enhancers. • A PDJ 3-phase process highlights critical moments for teamwork and collaboration. • Criteria is developed to analyse creative collaboration, communication and critical thinking. • PDJs facilitate collaborative engagement that inspires motivation. •

  13. How to Communicate Better with Interdisciplinary Problem-Solving Methods

    What are some interdisciplinary problem-solving methods for effective communication? Powered by AI and the LinkedIn community 1 Design Thinking 2 Systems Thinking 3 Computational...

  14. 4.1 Tools for Creativity and Innovation

    Creative Problem-Solving Methods. Creative thinking can take various forms ... Open innovation takes an optimistic view of sharing information and ideas across a society connected by instantaneous communication networks. It is also a shift from the classic research and development model. In a sense, you allow others to solve problems in your ...

  15. Creative problem solving: process, techniques, examples

    The creative problem-solving process usually consists of seven steps. The very first step in the CPS process is understanding the problem itself. You may think that it's the most natural step, but sometimes what we consider a problem is not a problem. We are very often mistaken about the real issue and misunderstood them.

  16. A Mixed-Methods Study of Creative Problem Solving and Psychosocial

    Creative problem-solving includes the combination of skills such as communication, critical thinking, complex problem solving, and creativity. The focus of the future of work literature and the need for creative problem-solving in the workplace is not recent; the World Economic Forum [WEF] (2016 , 2018 , 2020) has been sharing these predictions ...

  17. Mindfulness and creativity: Implications for thinking and learning

    For example, while open-monitoring may increase creative thinking, some have found that focused-attention meditation may be either unrelated to ... Prior research has shown that analytic and insight problem-solving methods are associated with markedly different patterns of brain activity. ... It increases the interhemispheric communication ...

  18. How To Adopt A Collaborative Problem-Solving Approach Through ...

    Collaborative problem solving occurs as you collaborate with other people to exchange information, ideas or perspectives. The essence of this type of collaboration is based on "yes, and ...

  19. Communication, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving: A Suggested Course

    This article argues that current high school students are hindered in their learning of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving by three factors: the structure of the current western education system, the complexity of the skills themselves, and the competence of the teachers to teach these skills in conjunction with their course m...

  20. Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration

    Similarly focused on the need to promote a phase change towards future-oriented education, Lucas and colleagues have suggested conflating creative thinking and critical thinking in order to propose "3Cs" (creative thinking, communication, and collaboration) as new "foundational literacies" to symmetrically add to the 3Rs (Reading ...

  21. Engaging in Group Problem-Solving

    Creative—tries to generate new ideas and solutions, thinks "outside the box." Blue hat. Process—uses metacommunication to organize and reflect on the thinking and communication taking place in the group, facilitates who wears what hat and when group members change hats. ... This problem-solving method has been praised because it allows ...

  22. 14 Effective Problem-Solving Strategies

    14 types of problem-solving strategies. Here are some examples of problem-solving strategies you can practice using to see which works best for you in different situations: 1. Define the problem. Taking the time to define a potential challenge can help you identify certain elements to create a plan to resolve them.

  23. Role of Creative Thinking as an Imperative Tool in Communication at

    Hence, creative thinking embodies mental subsets like inquisitiveness, cognizance and perceptive means to foster new ideas and problem solving methods. The section below discusses the role of creative thinking imperative at various levels in workplace that places on the basis of communication.

  24. 11 Leadership Skills To Build In 2024 For Executives And ...

    Leaders must demonstrate flexibility, being able to swiftly adjust strategies and actions in response to technological shifts, worker preferences and market demands. 3. Inclusivity. Embracing and ...

  25. PDF Creative thinking and Problem-solving

    creative thinking/problem-solving techniques, e.g. Delphi technique Force-field analysis Brainstorming Mind mapping Nominal group technique SCAMPER ... Delphi Technique -A group communication process to deal with a complex problem by panel of experts.' Force-field Analysis -Factors (forces) that influence a situation, and forces that are ...

  26. Frontiers

    The objective was to cultivate higher-order critical thinking skills and enhance written and verbal communication competencies, in addition to developing a suite of transferable skills which are highly sought by employers. ... for example, critical thinking, problem-solving and time management. Furthermore, the mean module mark increased ...