Creative Problem Solving

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Course Date: 10 September 2014 to 29 October 2014 (7 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

This course deals directly with your ability for creativity which is a critical skill in any field. It focuses on divergent thinking, the ability to develop multiple ideas and concepts to solve problems. Through a series of creativity building exercises, short lectures, and readings, learners develop both an understanding of creativity and increase their own ability.

Estimated Workload: 3-5 hours/week

Course Instructors

Brad Hokanson

Brad Hokanson
is a professor in Graphic Design at the University of Minnesota and serves as Associate Dean for Research and Outreach for the College of Design. He has taught an ongoing course on Creative Problem Solving at the University of Minnesota since 2000 and it remains the focus of his academic work. He has received multiple teaching awards at the University.

He has a diverse academic record, including degrees in art [Carleton], architecture [Minnesota], urban design [Harvard], and received his Ph.D. in Instructional Technology from the University of Minnesota. He is a registered architect with a number of award winning projects, although no longer in active practice.

His research focus is on the development of creativity. Within his courses, he has seen increases in measured creativity of 50-70%. He has published his research in a wide range of journals and he has presented the results at various conferences.

He currently is researching the relationship between creativity and achievement in school children, comparing measured creativity with standardized achievement scores in approximately 2000 students in a suburban school district.

Visits to Buenos Aires support his Argentine tango habit.

Marit McCluske

Marit McCluske is an instructor in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, where she received her MFA in Graphic Design. Her research explores the perceptive connections between auditory, visual, and tactile design elements, and how they can be used in interaction design to develop creativity, problem solving and other cognitive skills. Her current work integrates design theory with cognitive and educational psychology to develop multi-sensory interaction through emerging technology, applied in learning environments. She is an award-winning educator, and was a teaching assistant for many sections of Creative Problem Solving over the course of two years. She teaches classes in design, photography and drawing, and also continues a practice as an interactive designer, photographer, and illustrator. 

Course Description

This course will help you understand the role of creativity, innovation, and problem solving in your own life and across disciplines. It will challenge you to move outside of your existing comfort zone and to recognize the value of that exploration. What makes an idea creative, anyway? This course will help you understand the importance of diverse ideas, and to convey that understanding to others. It will cover methods for generating new ideas, increasing motivation, and ways to increase your own creative ability through assessment and discussion. 

The principal learning activity in the course is a series of "differents" where you will be challenged to identify and change your own cultural, habitual, and normal patterns of behavior. Creative prompts such as "eat something different" and "do something as a child" will encourage you to recognize your limits and overcome them. In addition, you are encouraged to understand that creativity is based on societal norms, and that by its nature, it will differ from and be discouraged by society; in this course, the persistence of the creative person is developed through practice. You will learn how to approach problems in divergent ways and apply this knowledge to your daily endeavors. 


Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?
Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

What resources will I need for this class?
You'll need an internet connection, weekly access to a camera or some form of digital image recorder to document your projects, and the ability to upload files to a computer. You'll need some time and enthusiasm to get out and do some different things. You'll also need time to read, watch, write and discuss. 

What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?
You'll have the opportunity to try new things and develop one of the most useful skills you can have – creativity! This course aspires to help everyone have more creative ideas, experience the world in novel ways, and find value in doing things differently. 

How is this course graded? 
This course sets out to measure your increasing creative ability through class exercises and creativity drills. Much of the homework in this course is the series of "do something different" activities which you will document through a written description and images. One aspect in determining the value of a creative idea is how it holds up in the social realm. Therefore, part of your grade regarding these activities will incorporate a peer grading system, where you'll be asked to evaluate the creative ideas and projects of others in the class. Additionally, your participation in promoting the most creative projects is encouraged. 

How do I draw the line between doing something different and doing something dangerous?
While you're encouraged to get out of your comfort zone and try something new each week in the name of "it's for class," at the same time, these exercises are constrained by concerns of safety, legality, and economics, which are addressed in their creative process. You'll need to use your best judgment: don't do anything illegal or detrimental to others or to yourself. 


  1. Introduction: including creativity as an area of study, course methods, and doing something different. 

  2. Divergent and convergent thinking: developing multiple ideas as a skill.

  3. Creative methods: Mindmapping and attribute listing as ways to generate more ideas.

  4. Creativity and observation: Random image stimulation and room observations; left and right brain thinking; applying divergent and convergent thinking. 

  5. Creativity models and theories: Evaluating creativity; associations test v. Torrance tests. Osborne, Epstein.

  6. Creativity and motivation: Building a creative lifestyle; the importance of internal and external motivation; the value of failure.

  7. Conclusion: Applying new creativity skills in real life; general review and connection with other fields. Testing your own creativity. Convincing others to be creative.  Other opportunities to be "different".


  • Lecture videos, some of which contain activities to complete
  • Series of 6 "different" assignments to implement, document, and discuss
  • Peer and self evaluations of each assignment
  • 3 quizzes on video and reading material 
  • Creativity drills to measure your increasing creative ability 
  • 1 reflective essay 

Suggested Reading

Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. Penguin, 2010.
[ Portions of this book and video of the author will be included with this course, but we would recommend reading the entire book as part of your learning about creativity. ]

Lehrer, Jonah. Imagine: How Creativity Works. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

Berger, Warren. CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies, and T-Shaped People: Inside the World of Design Thinking and How It Can Spark Creativity and Innovation. Penguin, 2010.
[ Addresses the concept of design thinking and is a peripheral topic to the course. ]

Course Workload

3-5 hours/week

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