Ed Glassman
Ed Glassman

How to Solve Problems Using Permanent Creativity Teams at Work

Permanent creativity teams consist of people in your organization who are specially trained in diverse creativity triggers, and who can generate numerous problem statements and many ideas to help solve problems. They operate this way.

First: choose an experienced creativity member as temporary head of the team, to make the arrangements and act as recorder during the creative session. In addition, this head person will coach the problem-presenter in the roles he/she must play in order for the process to work; and also help the problem-presenter analyze the problem presented to the group.

Second: choose the five to eight members of the group. They provide the different perspectives to fuel the creative energy to generate endless How-to problem statements and new ideas. Their only reward: the inner fun of creative thinking and helping others to solve problems.

Finally: the problem-presenter must spend the time to clearly present the problem to the group. As an expert, the problem-presenter should stay non-evaluative and temporarily suspend judgment throughout to help the process work. A unique role of the problem-presenter: choose the problem statements for the group to tackle. No one else has this choice.

A TRUE STORY: I presented a one-day creative thinking workshop for a director and 33 of his managers. I formed six groups who worked on a problem presented by their director.

They helped analyze the problem by suggesting over 50 problem statements. He chose six of these, one for each group. They generated hundreds of ideas using non-evaluative listing, improve bizarre ideas game, idea gallery, and idea card.

They had a good time and the problem seemed on the way toward solution. Later, he asked me the best way to sort and select ideas.


1. Clarify whether your problem has to do with a situation, an individual, a group, or a thing?

2. Outline your problem. Make sure you have responsibility for the problem and can implement solutions.

Write a problem statement: How to…

3. Write: I would like this problem resolved because…

4. List some possible indicators of success

5. List the resources available to help resolve the problem

6. List the obstacles you have to overcome

7. Note any deadlines

8. Include other issues

9. Write a broad-brush overview of your problem

10. List what you might lose if the problem continues

11. List what you will gain if you solve the problem

12. List the approaches and solutions you have already tried and why each has failed

13. List the benefits of the status quo and the advantages of doing nothing

14. Non-evaluatively list dozens of How-to problem statements and chose 2 to 4.

15. Summarize your problem in one How-to problem statement: How to…

16. Whose problem?

17. What kind of problem?






18. Scope




Other Resources:

19. Indicate your gut feelings about the problem?

20. Include intangible Issues?

21. Include other issues?

List the criteria to select your How-to problem statement to give to the group.


The sequence of creativity triggers and the time allotted for a session will vary with the importance of the problem. Sometimes a 60 minute buzz group session does the job. Sometimes you will need an entire day, or more, using many creativity triggers for defining problems and generating ideas. I find the following sequence of creativity triggers useful:

(1) The problem-presenter presents the problem.

(2) The recorder non-evaluatively lists the How-to problem statements suggested by the group. (Set a quota for 10-20 How-to statements.)

(3) The problem-presenter chooses the problem statement on which the group will focus.

(4) The recorder non-evaluatively lists the ideas suggested by the group. (Set a quota of 30-50 ideas.)

(5) The recorder non-evaluatively lists 10-15 bizarre trigger-ideas suggested by the group.

(6) The group combines and improves the most bizarre ideas.

(7) Each member of the group then sits quietly alone and writes ideas on 5×8 index cards, one idea per card (Idea Card).

(8) Give all the papers and cards to the problem-presenter.

(9) The group then uses ‘like-improve analysis’ to analyze how the group functioned. The recorder seeks feedback as the group non-evaluatively lists what each person liked and what each wants improved to make the group even more effective.

During the session, the problem presenter

  • presents a low profile
  • does not act defensively
  • does not put any idea down using statements, such as “we thought of that one” or “we tried that one”
  • thanks everyone at the end for the excellent ideas generated
  • answers an enthusiastic “yes” if asked if any of the ideas seem useful, an important reward for the group.

Use the triggers of creative thinking to achieve the highest quality solutions to the problem. Your creative thinking will soar as you use them on a regular basis. Enforce them by using them on important problems, especially recurring problems that lack clear focus. Ignite the creative flame within, and keep it lit with frequent use. Make creative thinking a daily, ongoing habit.

Creativity & Innovation Meetings, Not Workshops, Provide The Best Creativity Training

People ask me which type of training in creative thinking would be best for their company. The answer depends on the nature of their company and their goals. Often, not enough time is spent thinking through exactly what outcome is wanted by the end of the event. Since I have led many creativity events in small and large companies I have developed a way of viewing it that may be helpful.

One approach to creativity training involves large numbers of participants, 100 or more, for a relatively short time, one day or less. The benefits are that people who will not attend a longer event will find time for this shortened version, it’s highly cost-effective, and a lot of people can be introduced to creativity and creative thinking.

I have presented 3 to 4 hour creative thinking workshops for 25 to 150 people that works well, and has been quite successful with executives, managers, and key professionals in large and small companies. Even though many people are involved, it is still a workshop, not a lecture, since everyone is immediately organized into groups of six people, the micro-environment of each person is supportive and friendly, and learning also occurs through doing, as well as through listening.

I have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of this approach: it seems too short for the participants to become involved long enough to get the point. Still, it can be a good start toward enhancing creative thinking in a company.

Another approach to creativity training is the 2 day workshop for 25 to 30 people. There is a longer exposure to creativity and creative thinking, a deeper involvement of each person, enough time for each person to get it right, and the development of applications to work. The difficulty is persuading busy and skeptical people to give up this amount of time. Also, there is sometimes a lack of transfer of the workshop learnings to the work place.

I have led many 2 day creativity and creative thinking workshops which work very well; there is high transfer of the workshop learnings to work, and the evaluations by the attenders is quite positive. Still, I have mixed feelings. It is long, the cost per person is high, and it’s sometimes hard to motivate busy people to stop thinking about the current crisis they left back at work.

A third approach to creativity training is a 3 to 4 day problem-solving Creativity & Innovation Meeting, the purpose of which is to learn creativity and creative thinking by applying it to solve an important company business or technological problem. The rationale is that since we are going to bang heads together learning to be more creative at work, let’s solve an important company problem at the same time. The benefits are that people are motivated to participate and learn advanced creativity triggers so they can solve the important company problem. In addition, the exposure to the concepts of creative thinking and the involvement of each person increases, and the transfer of the learnings back to the job is effortless, since the focus of the creativity meeting is to solve a real work problem.

I have led creativity & innovation meetings for large and small companies to solve diverse problems, including identifying new products; improving quality; increasing chemical yield; solving mutual problems creatively with customers; increasing effectiveness of environmental cleanup; developing a new technology for manufacturing; and more. Each very successful.

I consider these creativity & innovation meetings the most effective way to teach advanced creativity techniques and creative thinking at work. And they solve important company business and technological problems. They produce hundreds of ideas which are screened to produce quality proposals, one proposal by each person present, and 5 to 6 blockbuster proposals, one by each creativity team. The high quality and creativeness of the solutions always amaze and delight.

For other ways to encourage creativity at work, check out my book:


How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life.” 


Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine, and a Visiting Scientist at SRI International in Palo Alto, California.

His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available: CLICK here OR HERE.

His other book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work” is also available.   CLICK here  OR HERE

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.