Many of the problems educators face have been around for a long time. Bullying, for example, has probably been around since the time when students first started going to school. Student conduct codes that address student bullying usually call for a trip to the principal’s office, and if it happened in the 19th Century, students were subject to corporal punishment. Nowadays, schools take other disciplinary actions to minimize bullying such as suspensions and expulsions. However, in a recent causal analysis of TIMSS, an international test that assesses student knowledge and perceptions about context within the school,  “bullying” was not associated with school safety and student discipline.


Student bullying had the strongest association with “students’ sense of belonging”.  When students perceived a strong sense of belonging, incidences of bullying occurred less often. This phenomenon explains the need for principals to be intentional in their pursuit of minimizing bullying by focusing on creating a school climate that places value on students accepting one another rather than having a single focus on discipline as the remedy. Bullying is just one example of many old, complex problems that need new solutions.


Creative people solve complex problems using novel and useful ideas. One powerful creativity skill is the ability to use the technique of generating new perspectives on old problems (Okuda, Runco, & Berger, 1991). This technique is referred to as problem finding. In education, problem finding is the individual or group’s ability to construct, then reconstruct problems that relate to the school (Hu, Shi, Han, Wang, & Adey, 2010).  However, educators don’t always focus on problem finding because design thinking is under-used and unfamiliar.


Getzel (1982, p. 38) provides another example of problem finding by offering the following vignette:














Like the person who quickly changed the car tire, creative people tend to raise new questions and look at old problems through a different lens (Reiter-Palmon et al., 1997).  Problems can look very different depending on factors such as: How much of the problem is known; how much the technical support for solving the problem is available; and, how much agreement there is in a group as to what constitutes a good solution (Nijstad & Levine, 2007).  When all factors for problem finding are present, people often feel inspired to participate in the process.


Problem finding can be an intrinsically motivating activity, especially when it is given to the right person or group (Amabile & Khaire, 2008). Problem finding is best suited to those who are closest to the situation because they are invested in the consequences of good or bad decisions. Teachers are well suited for identifying and solving system problems about learning. Moreover, students are well equipped to solve problems they face in school. All this implies the need for less control and more room for asking and using the contributions of many.


For those who are leading and teaching for creativity, facilitating problem finding serves two important functions. First, people are introduced to a problem and second, people are immediately engaged in creative thinking. Logical thinking, analysis, and generating alternatives are essential ingredients for generating creative ideas.  When the skill is cultivated in individuals and in groups, the realization of novel and useful solutions to complex problems are more likely to occur because the problem solvers took time and effort to find the right problem to solve.




Amabile, T. M., & Khaire, M. (2008). Creativity and the Role of the Leader. Harvard Business Review,

86(10), 100–109.


Getzels, J. W. (1982). The problem of the problem. in R. M. Hogarth (Ed.), 37–49.


Hu, W., Shi, Q. Z., Han, Q., Wang, X., & Adey, P. (2010). Creative Scientific Problem Finding and Its

Developmental Trend. Creativity Research Journal, 22(1), 46


Nijstad, B., & Levine, J. (2007). Group Creativity and the Stages of Creative Problem Solving.

Psychology Press, 159 – 171.


Okuda, S. M., Runco, M. A., & Berger, D. E. (1991). Creativity and the finding and solving of real-world

problems. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 9(1), 45–53.


Reiter-Palmon, R., & Illies, J. J. (2004). Leadership and Creativity: Understanding leadership from a

creative problem-solving perspective. The Leadership Quarterly, 15(1), 55–77.

“An automobile is traveling on a deserted country road and blows a tire. The occupants of  the automobile go to the trunk and discover that there is no jack. They define their dilemma by posing the problem: "Where can we get a jack? They look about, see some empty barns but no habitation, and recall that, several miles back they had passed a service station. They decide to walk back to the station to get a jack. While they are gone, an automobile coming from the other direction also blows a tire. The occupants of this automobile go to the trunk and discover that there is no jack. They define their dilemma by posing the problem: "How can we raise the automobile?" They look around and see, adjacent to the road, a barn with a pulley for lifting bales of hay to the loft. They move the automobile to the barn, raise it on the pulley, change the tire, and drive off”.

Larry Audet, Ph.D.

Problem Finding