Skip to main content

IACT: Creativity for Tomorrow

Skills for the Future: Creative Problem Solving

By Adrienne Ausdenmoore, Director of IACT

Whether it’s the newest video game console that you stay up until 3 am to reserve online, the trendiest show on Netflix that everyone seems to be talking about, or that new pair of glasses you keep getting targeted ads for, there’s always going to be that one “thing” that’s topping everyone’s list. For employers, that “thing” isn’t going to be restocked on grocery store shelves and, even worse, it will never be available for overnight delivery. That “thing” is Creative Problem Solving. Seriously - everyone is talking about Creative Problem Solving. Back in 2016, Bloomberg cited creative problem solving as one of the most desired, but hardest to find skill sets. That same year, the World Economic Forum indicated that the three skills that would be in the highest demand by 2020 were complex problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity. And they were right: earlier this year, employers identified problem solving skills as a top resume attribute (NACE). 

IACT Executive Director Brian LaDuca shares why it’s so important to be equipping our students with these essential skills: “Applied creativity is meant to be applied to something. It’s a mindset that we can apply to engineering, or to business, or to any other field of thought. These are not just ‘soft skills.’ The 21st century workforce needs people who can be curious, think critically and be creative problem solvers. If we model and apply that creative mindset, then we can unleash a transformation in all of our students.” It’s not about teaching the “right” answers, but rather, empowering our students to develop their own innovative approaches to complex problems. This is why Creative Problem Solving is one of the applied creativity micro-credentials from Education Design Lab now being offered through UD’s Institute of Applied Creativity for Transformation (IACT)

So if Creative Problem Solving is one of the skills that employers view as most critical for future career success, then how do you learn it? The world is full of complex issues that don’t have easy solutions, which means there are plenty of opportunities to practice your creative problem solving skills every day. Think of a problem or complex issue that you currently face. To get started, write a challenge question that summarizes the problem. Think of a challenge question as: “How might I/we ______ so that_____?” This general formula gives you (and others) the opportunity to consider different kinds of solutions to the problem and welcomes all ideas, while still having an understanding of the intended outcome. For example: “How might I manage my time so that I can get more rest?” orHow might we provide healthier food options for people in need?”

Now that you are ready to start working toward a solution, here are just a few ways to apply the creative problem solving process: 

  1. Use Divergent and Convergent Thinking:  
    1. Divergent thinking means first expanding the range of possible solutions (sometimes also called “brainstorming” or “ideation”). Write down as many possible ideas you can think of to address your problem, without any judgement. You might also use free association or a mindmap to expand the possibilities even further. Wild ideas are encouraged! If you don’t take creative risks at this step, you’ll never know what kinds of new ideas might emerge. 
    2. Now it is time to converge, or narrow in: How might you evaluate the ideas you have generated so far? Establish 3-4 criteria that are most important to you in solving the problem (ex: cost, accessibility, etc). How does each idea measure up to those criteria? By analyzing and sorting your ideas, you’ll be able to focus in on 1 or 2 possible solutions for the next step.  
  2. Identifying Patterns happens when we are able to recognize commonalities among seemingly unrelated situations. You might be surprised at how many patterns you can find in subjects of interest that are seemingly unrelated. For instance, although NBA basketball and philharmonic orchestras might seem like polar opposites, listing the characteristics of each might help point out the common themes of teamwork, oneness, and composition.
    1. What themes did you notice in your divergent and convergent thinking?
    2. Are there 2 unrelated ideas that you could combine to create a new, unexpected solution?
  3. Apply an Iterative Process:  How might you test or “prototype” your ideas? Rather than assuming the first solution is the right one, a creative problem solver gathers and integrates feedback to further refine (or “iterate”) an idea. As you discover new information along the way, you may even expand the range of potential solutions (see “divergent and convergent thinking” above, and repeat as needed). 
  4. Managing Ambiguity happens when we are faced with unexpected challenges and a future that we cannot predict. Often, we find ourselves avoiding the unknown because of how uneasy it may make us feel. Even an effective Creative Problem Solver can’t know exactly what will happen in the future, but you can make use of the available information to consider and plan for possible implications. Someone who manages ambiguity well embraces those uncertainties and develops actionable strategies to approach them. 

The Institute of Applied Creativity for Transformation (IACT) is an academic institute training students in the creative competencies that today’s job market demands —

critical thinking, creative problem solving and cross-disciplinary collaboration — while applying those same skills to the students’ diverse disciplines of study. IACT is now launching micro-credentialing opportunities in partnership with Education Design Lab. Students enrolled in our courses have the opportunity to earn badges through Acclaim by Credly that can be added immediately and directly to their resume and LinkedIn profile, demonstrating to employers their ability to navigate applied creativity skills within their organization and setting them apart from other job/internship/co-op candidates. Learn more at

Badge graphics and competencies copyright Education Design Lab, 2019.

Workforce statistics from Adobe’s “Get Hired” report (November 2019) and the National Association of Colleges and Employers (January 2020).

Previous Post

Skills for the Future: Collaboration

Collaboration includes the capacity to work productively with different individuals and groups towards a common goal, and it’s one of the applied creativity micro-credentials from Education Design Lab being offered through UD's Institute of Applied Creativity (IACT).

Read More
Next Post

Skills for the Future: Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is, well, critical for success in any line of work. To think critically means having the capacity to reason logically and rigorously - and it’s one of the applied creativity micro-credentials from Education Design Lab being offered through UD’s Institute of Applied Creativity for Transformation (IACT).

Read More