Originally written by Daniel H. Pink
In the mid-1960s, two soon-to-be-legendary University of Chicago social scientists – Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – began studying the elusive subject of creativity. For one of his first investigations, in 1964, Csikszentmihalyi went to the nearby School of the Art Institute of Chicago and recruited about three dozen fourth-year art students for an experiment. He brought them into a studio that had two large tables. On one table were twenty-seven objects, exotic and mundane, that the school often used in its drawing classes. Csikzentmihalyi asked the students to select one or more objects from the first table, arrange a still life on the second table, and produce a drawing of the result. The young artists approached their task in two distinct ways. Some examined relatively few objects, outlined their idea swiftly, and moved quickly to draw their still life. Others took their time. They handles more objects, turned them this way and that, rearranged them several times, and needed much longer to complete the drawing. As Csikszentmihalyi saw it, the first group was trying to solve a problem: How can I produce a good drawing? The second was trying to find a problem: What good drawing can I produce?
Then Csikszentihalyi conducted a mini art show of the student creations and asked a panel of art experts to evaluate the works. (These experts didn’t know what Csikszentmihalyi was studying, nor did they know the source of art.) When he tabulated the ratings, Csikszentmihalyi discovered that the experts deemed the problem finders’ works far more creative than the problem solvers’. In 1970, Csikszentmihalyi and Getzels tracked down these same artists, now out of school and working for a living, to see how they were faring. About half the students had left the art world altogether. The other half was working, and often succeeding, as professional artists. The composition of that second group? Nearly all were problem finders back in their school days. When Csikzentmihalyi and Getzels followed up again in the early 1980s, they discovered that the problem finders “were 18 years later significantly more successful – by the standards of the artistic community – than their peers” who had approach ether still life drawings as more craftmanlike problem solvers. “The quality of the problem that is found is a forerunner of the quality of the solution that is attained…” Getzels concluded. “It is in fact the discovery and creation of problems rather than any superior knowledge, technical skill or craftsmanship that often sets the creative person apart from others in his field.”
Although a few academics took issue with the Csikszentihalyi – Getzels distinction between solving and finding, the duo’s research influenced both the modern understanding and the academic study of creativity. In subsequent research, they and other scholars found that people most disposed to creative breakthroughs in art, science, or any other endeavor tend to be problem finders. These people sort through vast amounts of information and inputs, often from multiple disciplines; experiment with a variety of different approaches; are willing to switch directions in the course of a project; and often take longer than their counterparts to complete their work.