For some years I have been teaching conflict resolution to graduate and undergraduate students. For years I, like many others, have been emphasizing the value of creativity in problem solving. At its very heart integrative problem solving beats creativity. Mary Parker Follett, the industrial era creator of integrative problem solving, called it creative conflict for a reason.
You have all read, no doubt, the now infamous story of the two girls and the orange. It took mother’s creativity to see another solution that met both of the girls’ needs. (Two girls fight over an orange. Mother, tired of listening to them squabble takes the orange and tries to cut it in half. Both the girls scream, “NO!” Perplexed, mother asks why. One girl says she needs all the orange peel to make marmalade. The other girl says she needs all the orange pulp to make juice. Moral of the story — don’t accept the position of parties as gospel, try and understand the underlying needs and help create a solution that meets all needs.) It’s a story that captures audiences imaginations, and illustrates the brilliance in seeking negotiated outcomes that go beyond the limited positions articulated by the parties in conflict. Yet, most conflict resolution programs fail to adequately discuss what is meant by creativity. Few venture into the world of creativity research. Instead, most who teach urge participants to be creative. Some might hand out pipe cleaners, bits of paper and tape and offer students an exercise designed to encourage creativity. Having done this numerous times (in an MBA program as well as CR programs), and seen equally numerous results I can assure you the results are both banal and predictable.
Sorry to be such a downer on this, but it has bothered me for years that CR teachers don’t know the creativity research better and that CR students aren’t better informed. Of course, students don’t have to be ill informed. The Deutsch and Coleman Handbook of Conflict Resolution has a few good pieces on creativity, but this is more the exception than the rule. Deutsch and Coleman, as well as Howard Gruber, have chapters on creativity in conflict. Two chapters are not likely to really give CR students much of a basis go on, but it is a start.
Ideally, all CR students would be required to take an entire course in creativity. One that would not only present the research on the origins and nature of creativity, but a course that would also examine: how to encourage creativity, creativity and culture, overcoming impediments to fostering creativity, using technology to support creativity and so on.
Happily, if you are really interested in learning more about creativity you can get online and look at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at the State University of New York (Buffalo), http://www.buffalostate.edu/creativity/ . This program offers numerous ways to study creativity including an online distance package.