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Multiple Solutions: Research and Resources

Multiple Solutions: Research and Resources

Generating more than one option to meet a given set of criteria.


Mycoted: Creativity and innovation in science and technology

An impressive list of activities, methods, and concepts to help stimulate, organize and increase the quality of creative thought.


Barker, A. (1997). 30 minutes…to brainstorm great ideas. London: Kogan Page.

This easy to read book provides many practical ideas for generating ideas and solutions. Chapters include "Exploring the Problem," "Generating Ideas," and "Developing the Solution." Attention is given to detailing formal brainstorming processes for groups or individuals.

Browne, N.M. & Keeley, S.M. (2010). What reasonable conclusions are possible? In Asking the right questions: A guide to critical thinking (9th Edition, pp.157-166). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

A concise overview of the importance of avoiding dichotomous thinking, how to generate many conclusions and then evaluate the merits of each.

VanGundy, A.B. (2004). 101 activities for teaching creativity and problem solving. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

The book explores both group activities and individual activities that are applicable to the college classroom. Though based on the author’s experience in the business world, the activities are useful across disciplines.

Weston, A. (2007). Creativity for critical thinkers. New York: Oxford University Press.

This practical book includes numerous strategies for promoting critical thinking. Chapters such as Multiplying Your Options and Reframing Problems offer concrete ways to build student skills in creative thinking.


Butler, D.L., & Kline, M.A. (1998). Good versus creative solutions: A comparison of brainstorming, hierarchical, and perspective-changing heuristics. Creativity Research Journal, 11(4), 325-331.

The purpose of this article was to explore the most effective methods for generating 1) the most solutions, 2) the best solutions, and 3) the most creative solutions. Participants were assigned to one of these conditions and given training in their assigned method: the hierarchical method, brainstorming, or the perspective-changing method. Participants were given a problem and asked to come up with solutions, then given training in their assigned method, then asked to go back to the original problem and generate more solutions. Results indicated:

  • Participants trained in the hierarchical method produced the most solutions
  • The largest proportion of participants who indicated their best solution came after training were in the hierarchical method
  • Those in the brainstorming treatment group had the highest proportion of participants who indicated their most creative solution came after training
  • The changing perspectives condition was the least helpful strategy for generating solutions

Dillon, P., Graham, W., & Aidells, A. (1972, December). Brainstorming on a 'hot' problem: Effects of training and practice on individual and group performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 56(6), 487-490.

The purpose of this article was to compare the effects of training on the production of solutions in a brain storming task. This exercise utilized a real problem, as opposed to hypothetical or artificially produced problem scenarios, which provides a more realistic picture of the use of brain storming in generating solutions. Findings indicated:

  • Individual brainstorming significantly outperformed group brainstorming
  • Group brainstorming practice followed by individual brainstorming was found to be the best method for generating ideas and solutions

Garst, J., Kerr, N., Harris, S., & Sheppard, L. (2002). Satisficing in hypothesis generation. American Journal of Psychology, 115(4), 475-500.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the satisficing effect in hypothesis generation. The authors suggest that the ability to consider alternative hypotheses is important in avoiding premature acceptance of a hypothesis. Results indicated:

  • Participants given a hypothesis that was consistent with the available data generated significantly less alternative hypotheses than participants given no initial hypotheses
  • An additional important finding was that even with high incentives participants tended to demonstrate satisficing behavior in generating alternative hypotheses

Hyams, N.B., & Graham, W.K. (1984). Effects of goal setting and initiative on individual brainstorming. The Journal of Social Psychology, 123, 283-284.

The purpose was to investigate the effects of an individual's level of motivation and goal setting on the number of ideas produced in a brainstorming task. Results indicated:

  • Participants with high trait levels of initiative outperformed low initiative participants in all conditions (goal setting vs. instructed to do their best)
  • There was no effect of goal setting on brainstorming performance

Kanekar, S., & Rosenbaum, M. (1972). Group performance on a multiple-solution task as a function of available time. Psychonomic Science, 27(6), 331-332.

Compared the performance of four member real groups on an anagrams task with the output of nominal groups assembled from the response protocols of 4 individuals working alone. Three levels of time available for solution were employed. Production of words increased directly as a function of time for both types of groups, and nominal groups produced more words than real groups at each level of available time. There was no interaction between the two variables.

Ray, W. (1966). Originality in problem solving as affected by single-versus multiple-solution training problems. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 64(1), 107-112.

The purpose of the study was to investigate the effects of training subjects in brainstorming multiple solutions via two treatment conditions: 1) practice with single solution problems and 2) practice with multiple solution problems. Results indicated:

  • Practice with single solution problems resulted in statistically significantly less solutions, when compared to practice with multiple solution problems
  • When given the primer of an expectation of the subject producing multiple solutions, participants produced more solutions
  • Thus, to help students generate multiple solutions, it may be helpful to inject experience into the classroom with these types of problems as well as creating an expectancy within a class for multiple solutions

Treffinger, D.J. (1995). Creative problem solving: Overview and educational implications. Educational Psychology Review, 7(3), 301-312.

This article describes the method of creative problem solving as a teachable approach to help increase individual's creative and critical thinking skills. The three major components of this approach include 1) understanding the problem, 2) generating ideas, and 3) planning for action. Specific to general multiple solutions, the stage of generating ideas focuses on fluent thinking, flexible thinking, original thinking, and elaborative thinking.

Vosburgm S.K. (1998). The effects of positive and negative mood on divergent-thinking performance. Creativity Research Journal,11(2) 165-172.

188 arts and psychology students were given an adjective-based mood test, and then given a divergent-thinking (brainstorming) task. Students who identified as being in a positive mood generated significantly more proposed solutions.