Brainstorming Versus Creative Problem-Solving

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

Creative Problem-Solving is NOT Brainstorming

It’s a common misconception that brainstorming and Creative Problem-Solving (CPS) are the same.

They are not.

While brainstorming is a technique for generating ideas, CPS is a comprehensive process for solving problems.

A technique is a specific method or approach used to accomplish a particular task or goal.

Brainstorming is a divergent thinking technique. It is designed to help an individual problem solver or a group of people generate many varied and unusual options. Notice the use of the word “options.” Most people associate brainstorming with generating creative solutions. However, brainstorming can also be used to generate questions, criteria to evaluate ideas, and action steps to implement solutions.

A process refers to a series of steps or stages that are followed in a particular order to achieve a desired result.

Processes are more comprehensive and overarching compared to techniques, as they encompass a broader set of activities and often involve the use of multiple techniques.

Creative Problem-Solving (CPS) is a process that involves various techniques, including brainstorming, to develop a solution to a problem. As you proceed through the process, you develop creative questions, generate ideas, refine ideas, and develop a plan to implement solutions. Think of Creative Problem-Solving as imagination applied to problem-solving or imagination applied to your future.

Generating Ideas with Brainstorming

A brainstorming session follows specific guidelines that team members must follow if they are going to effectively generate solutions to a problem. The brainstorming rules for generating ideas are:

  1. Defer judgment.
    Don’t judge your ideas while you are generating them.
  2. Strive for quantity.
    The more ideas you generate, the greater your chance of getting breakthrough ideas.
  3. Seek wild and unusual ideas.
    The reason why you are stymied with this problem is that the usual approaches haven’t worked. Go for unconventional ideas.
  4. Combine and build on ideas.
    Let one idea inspire another idea, and inspire another idea.
Creative Problem Solving Facilitation
Creative Problem Solving Facilitation

Generating Creative Questions

Because brainstorming is not limited to generating ideas, below you will find the guidelines for generating creative questions. By generating many creative questions, team members increase the probability of identifying the real problem getting in their way instead of just a symptom.

  1. Defer judgment.
    Don’t judge your creative questions while you are generating them.
  2. Strive for quantity.
    The more creative questions you generate, the greater your chance of identifying the real problem.
  3. Seek wild and unusual questions.
    Go for unconventional questions.
  4. Combine and build on other questions.
    Let one creative question inspire another creative question, and inspire another.
It is crucial to practice brainstorming before working on a specific challenge. I rrecommend a warm-up activity for a short period of time before you begin work on the actual problem. Learn more about the value of practice.

Wondering why your brainstorming sessions don’t work?

Don’t Botch Your Next Brainstorming Session!

Join me on Aug 22, 2024 12:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada) for a 1-hour live webinar in which we will talk about the number one reason why most brainstorming sessions don’t work. I promise that this session will focus on warming up and it will be highly interactive.

Alex Osborn, the “O” in the advertising agency BBDO, invented the brainstorming technique in the late 1940s and popularized it in his classic book Applied Imagination. From Osborn’s point of view, he recognized that brainstorming was a technique and nothing more. With that in mind, he collaborated with Sidney J. Parnes to develop the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem-Solving process. That process has continued to evolve over the years. The latest development in the Creative Problem-Solving process is the 21st Century Creative Problem-Solving process.

The process consists of four steps:


  1. Clarify the Problem,
  2. Generate Ideas,
  3. Develop Solutions,
  4. and Plan for Action.
Creative Problem Solving Process Steps

The brainstorming technique is used in each stage of the 21st Century Creative Problem-Solving process.

Brainstorming is used to generate creative questions in the Clarify the Problem stage of the process.

Brainstorming is used to generate ideas to solve the “real” problem that was identified in the Clarify the Problem stage.

In the Develop Solutions stage of the CPS process, brainstorming is used to generate ways to overcome any concerns identified in the solution that were identified by the PPCo (Pluses, Potentials, Concerns, Overcome concerns) technique.

In Plan for Action, brainstorming is used to generate all of the potential action steps that might be taken to implement solutions.

To recap…

Techniques are specific methods or tools used within a process, while a process is a more comprehensive framework that guides the overall approach to problem-solving or creativity.

Brainstorming FAQ’s

Although the scope of this article is to make a distinction between the brainstorming technique and the Creative Problem-Solving process, I would like to address some frequently asked questions.

Are there a variety of brainstorming techniques, or are there different types of brainstorming?


Osborn emphasized that brainstorming is not only a group technique. You can brainstorm individually. Just follow the same guidelines as when you are working in a group. It is unlikely that you will come up with the quantity of ideas that a group would generate, but you will come up with many more ideas than if you had not deferred judgment and strived for quantity.

A very popular brainstorming technique is Brainwriting. Brainwriting emphasizes the fourth brainstorming guideline, which is to “combine and build on other ideas.” In a traditional brainstorming session, group members say their ideas out loud. In a Brainwriting session, participants do not have to talk to each other. They work individually to generate ideas.  Video number eleven in the Create in a Flash Online Course shows the Brainwriting technique in action. 

Are there online brainstorming tools?


I have found the Mural platform especially helpful when it comes to Creative Problem-Solving. In addition to creating a variety of brainstorming templates on Mural we have also developed a number of templates for the entire Creative Problem-Solving.

Creative Problem-Solving has been used successfully to solve thousands of ambiguous and ill-defined problems.

My Breakthrough Lab has been used to develop ideas for new products, create strategies for international food guidance, plan and execute business transitions, develop methods to improve medical education, and create detailed plans for business expansion.

Creative Problem-Solving is perfect for challenges that are a part of everyday life like raising your children, solving community problems, starting your own business, or creating the life that you love.

The beauty of the Creative Problem-Solving process is that it can be applied to any ill-defined problem that needs creative ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving is a life-giving process.  It helps you see possibilities that you could have never imagined. 


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Through a series of structured learning experiences, you will learn to become deliberately creative and build your skills to lead innovation teams in your organization. You will be instructed by Dr. Roger Firestien who has presented programs on innovation to over 600 organizations around the world including: fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, universities, associations and religious institutions.


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