Problem solver to problem causer – a narrative

If undergraduate research is the pedagogy for the 21st century, then as educators and curriculum developers we must redesign courses/programmes for a future that affords undergraduates the opportunity to take ownership of their own learning journey. We must provide them with a structure that encourages them to ask their own creative questions in order to create their own creative problem. This should be integral to the Creative Arts within Higher Education – it is time to remove all forms of didactic curricula  advocating the teaching model of ‘master and apprentice’ that has led to passive learning. All too often undergraduates come into higher education with the preconceived idea that they are going to be taught how to be something rather than learn about something. It is our duty to ensure our undergraduates are taught how to learn, that they are taught how to formulate creative questions, to cause themselves creative problems that will afford them scope to become confident researchers and practitioners. Consequently, they will be well informed, and no longer be at the mercy of ‘the master’.

Published on 19th October | Written by David Anderson | Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


‘Undergraduate research is the pedagogy for the 21st century.’ Council on Undergraduate Research and National Conference on Undergraduate Research, 2005.

I have enjoyed almost 18 successful years as a creative in both graphic design and advertising and 24 years in Further and Higher Education, for the most part as a course leader in HE, and have authored a number of award winning, successful BA courses. I am a senior fellow of the former Higher Education Academy (now Advance HE), and my research and professional activity in curriculum design, development and delivery has afforded me a broad-based experience that has informed and inspired this paper.

Within the context of creativity, vocational undergraduate courses in the creative arts often involve ‘problem solving skills’ and are to some extent aligned within ‘problem-based learning’ (PBL) as a key competency. PBL is cited within the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency’s (QAA) Subject Benchmark Statements for Higher Education, and to some degree is thought to be a graduate skill the creative industries ask for. However, this paper sets out to challenge its validity with the view that the QAA’s PBL paradigm was derived from the ‘master and apprentice’ paradigm for teaching and learning [in direct opposition to learning and teaching], and has perhaps become an unchallenged orthodoxy – even although it appears (on the surface) directly linked to the notion of creativity due to its problem-solving/analysis approach. In contrast, it will advocate the relevance of ‘creative problem causing’, a term coined by Tom Monahan (ex-creative director from advertising and founder and head creativity coach of Before & After, Inc) in his book: ‘The Do-It-Yourself Labotomy’ (2002) where he says: “…Leaders are proactive. They cause change. They create.” (Monahan, 2002:58)

This article includes a literature review to provide context and draw upon the results of a questionnaire (completed by 44 undergraduates at level 4, 5 and 6) – for insight, and explains the ‘story arc’ (Fig 1). This is the tool [method] used to provide undergraduates with a methodology, and could provide curriculum designers (particularly those in the creative arts) with a viable and alternative paradigm to problem solving within higher education. The questionnaire was primarily designed to elicit affirmation that level 4, 5 and 6 undergraduates studying BA (Hons) Advertising (BAA) at The University for the Creative Arts (UCA) during April of 2017, grasped the notion of themselves as creative problem causers, and as researchers that asked creative questions. In so doing, their work would be personally driven, and more importantly manifest in a unique story of their learning. When researching for this paper, consultation and permission was sought and granted to use the results of the questionnaire as data even although it was not designed specifically for the paper.

The emergence of ‘problem solving’ as an unchallenged orthodoxy

‘‘Teaching and learning’ and ‘knowledge and understanding’ are awkward terms for the arts and humanities… [an] education is understood primarily not as imparting knowledge, nor imparting skills. Rather, student and tutor alike are involved in the revision and making of knowledge… in short, teachers do not tell their students what to think or how to think it… they encourage their students to think for themselves.’ (Fry et al, 2009: 302).

PBL is ‘an idea that has had currency since the 1960’s (Neufeld and Borrows, 1974), but was not widely used until the mid-1990’s’ (Fry et al., 2009:427), first coming to light in medical school when students took part in real-life situations. Trainee medics had to be able to ‘diagnose the problem by filling in gaps in their knowledge through a problem-solving/analysis approach similar to the approach they would take once practicing’ (Campbell & Norton 2007:33). This problem-based approach to learning grew in popularity in medicine, engineering, agriculture, law, business and computing – subjects that lent themselves to this type of teaching and learning. It differs from problem-solving in that in ‘PBL the problems are encountered before all relevant knowledge has been acquired and solving problems results in the acquisition of knowledge and problem-solving skills… and the curriculum is organized around the problems which must be matched to the desired learning outcomes’ (Fry et al., 2009:232). Subsequently, it has been integrated into most vocational courses.

Such an approach is based on a problem or issue that undergraduates might encounter within a real-life context. The outcomes would include evidence of problem analysis, use of relevant theories, possible solutions, problem solving, communication, research, application of knowledge, time management, dilemmas, conflict assertiveness and in some cases creativity and not least solving the problem. The tutor would be expected to suggest ‘useful lines of questioning, and where necessary, provide problem solving structures’ (Campbell & Norton 2007:31). Very often due to assessment requirements of the course, the problem being presented to students, to a large extent, was not only the same problem for all, but the problem that had already been solved. Which is to say, there was an existing broad based answer/solution seen as or accepted as relevant knowledge. Therefore, the learning merely reiterated what was already known – undergraduates ‘practice with ‘real-life scenarios’, behaving as a traditional apprentice in learning a craft before being allowed to act independently’ (Campbell & Norton 2007:32).

Despite this being seen as advancement in educational terms, there was always someone on hand with the answer to the problem, as there are teachers in schools, tutors in colleges and lecturers in universities, echoing themes relating to the ‘master and apprentice’: one of prescription. This appears to be the antithesis of creativity and would undoubtedly prohibit new ideas. Indeed, it is conceivable the concept of a ‘benchmark’ to measure success was agreed and accepted as a measuring tool in engineering, computing, medicine and law, setting a president that would become the norm in all vocational courses and continuing the didactic tutor-led paradigm in education.

180° thinking and a challenge to orthodoxy: problem solver to problem causer

In sharp contrast:

‘Csikszentmihalyi (1990:193) suggests that in many fields the mark of creativity is not the ability to solve the problem but to be able to discover a problem. For lecturers, this suggests that creative assessment methods should not prescribe particular solutions, but should give the students an opportunity to first find [create] a problem and then solve it’ (Courtney et al’, 2010:105).

Csikszentmihalyi appears to empathise with the notion of ‘creative problem causing’ – when research is derived from the creative problem caused – echoing Monahan’s suggestion that leaders don’t start with a problem caused by change. Very often, they provide the initiative to create the problem, create something new and change things – which is to say, when one makes changes, one leads rather than follows. One may assume that the aspiration of the creative arts in higher education is to lead rather than follow, and as custodians of higher education surely we have a duty to lead such a change? As creative thinkers, practitioners, researchers and educators, is it not our remit to actively pursue new and better ways to educate our undergraduates and equip them with the tools to create something new?

Ths ‘story arc’: curriculum design that affords undergraduates to take ownership of their own learning journey

To achieve this, perhaps the authors of higher education’s QAA Subject Benchmarks – and in particular, those writing programmes and courses within the creative arts – must surely take time to review how courses are designed and constructed. Consideration should be given to learning through research, through creating new problems, and through asking creative questions that generate a creative narrative. It is this narrative that demonstrates what is informing the decision-making and creative process, subsequently revealing the learning and attainment of the undergraduate, as ‘creativity can be considered to be both process and product’ (Courtney et al., 2010:124) – the product being the narrative, their creative journey, the story. Undergraduates studying BAA at UCA are involved in creating their own  narrative, in ‘seeing their creative work as a product of the theories and critical contexts, and being fed by them’ (Wisker, 2008:265) – the creative work being the narrative.

Fig. 1: slide from creative workshop © David Anderson 2016

Fig. 1 above illustrates the narrative (based on Aristotle’s story arc) within the context of the creative process as deployed by all the students on the BAA course. It clearly illustrates the method and process and how it relates to the student’s own story, the story of their learning. It is the narrative that is assessed, as this is the ‘end product’ – the learning outcome.

Integral to the story arc is the inciting incident also known as exposition: the creative problem caused when the problem causer ‘protagonist’ takes control of their own story. When the artists Braque and Picasso worked together at the outset of the 1900’s, they asked a creative question, a question that up until then no one had asked (the mark of creativity, according to Csikszentmihalyi). It was their exposition. They caused a creative problem for themselves when asking how could they paint ‘something’ they could see or/and know from a number of viewpoints – from which emerged Cubism. And through a creative narrative, generatively taking a number of years, they influenced others through the story of how they saw and represented the world in a way not seen before. The conflict in their story arc was the constraints they used in order to reach their story’s resolution. In addition, their story involved exploring out-with their domain, out-with their known zone, as most protagonists do – dealing with their conflict.

Teaching creativity is about developing a curriculum for guidance and inspiration, not about a fixed syllabus. Csikszentmihalyi (1996:1-2) offers a more upbeat view:

creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives… most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the results of creativity… when we are involved in it, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of our life”. (Courtney et al., 2010:7).

In her book Creating Contexts for Learning and Self-Authorship, Baxter Magolda suggests students become ‘knowledge constructors – thinkers capable of gathering, interpreting, and analysing information in order to form sound judgments… this ability to author one’s own perspective enables lifelong learning outside the context of formal education’ (Magolda, 1999:254). However, one has to ask a creative question in order to create something new. This kind of learning involves being creative and, in the frame of research, of asking high-level questions. Force (2000:1) sees the process of question-generation and, in particular, the design and use of quality questions, as exercises in the development of creative skills. ‘To enhance creativity, we must develop and maintain an attitude of creative questioning’ (Courtney et al., 2010:86). Furthermore, research ‘underpins and informs our understanding and appreciation of all aspects of the world, and its insights lead to physical, social and personal growth and change’ (Wisker, 2008:9). Research may lead the way to new discoveries leading to ‘change’, and change is an integral, if not innate, cycle of life. Creative problem causers who are proactive initiate change, they create something new and they change things. Consequently, creative problem causers are leaders of change.

Ironically, human beings’ pursuit to develop through change may justifiably be perceived as our greatest asset, indeed accomplishment, and yet how many resist – seeking to adopt surveys, processes, procedures, benchmarks, standards, consensus and tables of data, which often leads to mediocrity, the comfort zone, the status quo. It would be neither presumptuous nor misleading to suggest that problem-solving and PBL are nestled in the safe hands of the aforementioned comfort zone: vocational courses within higher education, perhaps to the detriment of the creative arts and, consequently, to creativity.

Throughout their educational journey, undergraduates are continuously confronted with problems to solve, many of which have an answer – an answer that fits nicely within the course/programme syllabus and their teacher’s/tutor’s/lecturer’s domain. Furthermore, the word ‘problem’ is literally a problem as it suggests there is only one answer, which perhaps reflects (sadly) the current place where much of didactic education is. Indeed, it appears that many undergraduates are being equipped with strategic tools in order to ‘train’ them to do things, verging on a formula, to the detriment of taking risks, to being imaginative, to being creative, to being able to fail in an attempt to create something out-with the prescription of the curriculum. ‘New ideas don’t reside in the known [zone]… staying in the known zone, which is our natural state of mind, prevents us from exploring other possibilities’ (Monahan, 2002:41).

Perhaps, now is the time to rethink the PBL paradigm and the importance of ‘problem-solving’. Perhaps it is time to lose our comfort zone, our ‘resistance to change, attachment to the old, and reluctance to even explore what might be a better way of doing things’ (Monahan, 2002:223). Perhaps it is time to lead rather than follow, to take risks and as a consequence dissuade undergraduates from being ‘strategic learners’ and support them in becoming ‘creative problem causers’, encouraging them to ask creative questions, become explorers, pioneers of learning rather than consumers of it, leaders rather than followers, pro-active rather than passive.

‘In recent years there has been an increasing emphasis on the important role that students’ questions play in learning, as questions are an essential component of discursive activity, dialectical thinking (Chin & Osborne, 2008), and dialogic teaching (Lange, in this volume; Wolfe & Alexander, 2008). Student-generated questions are an important element in the teaching and learning process and play a significant role in in motivating meaningful learning’ (Courtney et al., 2010:89).

Creativity can arguably be aligned with science, insofar as one is progressing through a process of trial and error, and the trials are determined through the creative questions being asked. The act of questioning encourages learners to engage in deep, scientific and creative reasoning. Undergraduates, studying BAA at UCA, and those I worked with at Leeds College of Art (now Arts University Leeds) selected a course of study, which considered them as an individual, and not simply as a consumer of knowledge and skills who are systematically corralled into lecture theatres and talked at. Undergraduates were and are taught how to become creative problem causers. It starts at their interview, as one of my graduates wrote in 2014 on Linkedin: ‘My first interview with Dave was unconventional to say the least and this was a theme which continued throughout the course… It taught me to approach business problems from a lateral, creative angle” (Nunney, 2014)*. Once enrolled on the course, students are referred to as ‘creative colleagues and fellow researchers’ – a fusion of researching behind, in-and-through, in-front and for (fig ii). They learn through engaging in activities which are either fully authentic examples or replicas of those undertaken by practitioners in creative advertising departments. Similarly, the University of Bournemouth states that ‘fusion’ is at the heart of their university, fusion between research, education and professional practice, and that their students co-create research ideas with staff.

Through research and asking creative questions, undergraduates studying BAA at UCA are encouraged to explore what advertising can be rather than what it is. Consequently, they may find themselves and be recognized by the [advertising] community as junior but legitimate members of [advertising]. As ‘creative problem causers’ they create new problems and explore new possibilities – solutions through research. This is only possible providing the learning outcomes afford the undergraduates freedom to do so. BAA undergraduates who won a Design & Art Director (D&AD) yellow pencil – an internationally recognized award for creativity – have progressed into world leading advertising agencies such as Bartle Bogle and Hegarty (BBH) amongst others, including a winner of Global Cannes Lion (July 2010). Many graduates of the courses I authored and led have gone on to become Creative Directors of world leading advertising agencies, and our curriculum and delivery have been strongly supported by Sir John Hegarty (BBH), Rory Sutherland (Vice Chairman of Ogilvy UK) and Mark Waites (Founding Partner and Creative Director of Mother Advertising), with the latter two becoming visiting professors at UCA.

Advocating a change from problem-solving to problem-causing highlights the need to reconsider the intended learning outcomes prescribed on unit/module descriptors within the creative arts. As it stands, all too often learning outcomes prescribe problems to be solved and are normally preceded by the phrase ‘on satisfactory completion of this unit you will be able to’. This raises the question: does anyone really want to be able to do anything to a satisfactory level? What’s more, undergraduates further exacerbate this:

‘A useful differentiation is the continuum between what Freeman (2006) calls “weak” and “strong” acts of creativity, when the student only solves the problem to which s/he was directed it is seen as “weak”, whereas a “strong” act is when the student further problematises the subject at hand, opening it up to multiple possibilities’ (Courtney et al, 2010:49).

This echoes the views of Csikszentmihalyi regarding creativity, as well as, to an extent, Monohan’s. ‘Crucial to the development of creativity is experimentation and play drawing on the student’s whole personality, processes through which they gain a sense of “self”’ (Winnicott, 1971). What this requires in practical terms are assessment tasks and methods that involve undergraduates in ‘actively questioning or creating problems from the set assignment topic or brief (Freeman, 2006; Reid & Solomonides, 2007) rather than slavishly finding solutions’ (Courtney et al, 2010:49). Which is to say, undergraduates should be afforded the opportunity to create their own problem to solve by asking a creative question of their making.

Moreover, for undergraduates to become a ‘creative problem causer’ they often have to reconcile with their childhood sense of adventure, of freedom, perhaps even naivety in order to take risks. It is therefore important that we create an environment they perceive as supportive and non-threatening, giving rise for space to fail through experimentation, trial and error, and a place to play, to take risks. ‘Much like child’s play, environments need to be created where risk is not thwarted by the threat of failure – a challenge where assessment casts a negative shadow on the curriculum’ (Courtney et al., 2010:49).

Additionally, ‘tudents should be provided with opportunities to practice speaking and presenting work in informal small group settings’ (Fry et al, 2009: 351). On the BAA course at UCA students have the opportunity and are encouraged to work in pairs ‘as discussion and debate help to develop confidence in using critical vocabulary and in understanding how to evaluate successful work’ (ibid.). They develop a confidence founded on their abilities to be creative, to ask creative questions, to take risks and embrace failure as integral to learning. Indirectly, they are questioning the current educational paradigm; however, failure has become a bad word. And yet, how much film ends up on the editor’s floor having failed to make the final cut? How much time is spent by scientist’s testing and failing before finding the answer? How many times does one edit a novel, or indeed a paper for a journal, how many drafts fail?

The science of creativity resulting in reactivity

Perhaps, it is no coincidence that creativity is an anagram of reactivity – a word synonymous with science – suggesting the words are one and the same. Perhaps this also hints that creativity and science in both practice and process are very similar, if not the same. Chin and Osborne (2008) appear to agree with the notion of creative problem causing in principle, when citing that undergraduates’ questions play an important role in meaningful learning and scientific inquiry:

They are a potential resource for both teaching and learning science. Despite the capacity of their questions for enhancing learning, much of this potential still remains untapped. We need to highlight the importance and role of undergraduates’ questions from the perspectives of both the learner and the teacher.” (Chin & Osborne, 2008)

Again, this appears to support the notion that undergraduates may be regarded as ‘colleagues and fellow researchers’ and echoes Bournemouth’s ‘fusion’. This is the antithesis of strategic learners – ‘…the strategic or achieving approach (Biggs 1987) associated with assessment’ (Fry et al, 2009:11). The notion of strategic learners has become prevalent throughout higher education and reflects a confusion of learning with ‘achievement’. The tendency for learners to be driven by grades has its roots in compulsory education, and leads to a situation where undergraduates will protect themselves by choosing the most predictable options. In doing so, they are avoiding risk-taking by electing to remain in their known zone (Monahan, 2002), their comfort zone, the tried and tested.

Altering behavior, overcoming fear and taking risks

During the first week of joining the BAA course at UCA, new undergraduates are invited to take part in Monahan’s creative IQ (Monahan, 2002:239-240) and answer honestly. They are made aware that the answers are for their eyes only, they are not asked to share their responses with anyone. Providing they are honest, they will learn something about themselves. They are given the following five questions and asked to circle the answer that best describes their standpoint:

  1. Are you quick to find fault with ideas – your own or those of others?
  2. How frequently do you get attached to how things are done, to the tried and tested?
  3. How often do you hold back from mentioning ideas for fear of looking silly or being “wrong”?
  4. Do you ever have a tendency to stop at your first good idea?
  5. How many ideas do you tend to generate – good or bad – when tackling a project?

On completion, the questions are further explored, and the resulting conversation often reflects Sir Ken Robinson’s views in his book Out of Our Minds where he writes: ‘I believe profoundly that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Often we are educated out of it… the dominant forms of education actively stifle the conditions that are essential to creative development’ (Robinson, 2011: 49). The discussion following the IQ test often reveals that undergraduates are fearful of ‘getting it wrong’ and follow the pathways of past successes.

Moreover, Robinson’s belief appears vindicated in the face of the FHEQ in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This framework states that the fundamental premise of qualifications is that they should be awarded on the basis of achievement of outcomes and attainment. A bachelor’s degree with honours should be awarded to students who have demonstrated the ability ‘to devise and sustain arguments, and/or to solve problems, using ideas and techniques, some of which are at the forefront of a discipline’ (QAA, 2008: 26) – which is to say knowledge that is already known. Ideas and techniques that already exist, even if they are at the forefront, already exist in the known zone, then make their to the comfort zone. This is not to say that these ideas and techniques have no importance or relevance, it is more that they can become entrenched in tried and tested the ways of working. Consequently, this may result in working against creativity and risk taking, giving rise to the question: are ‘creativity’, and its ally ‘research’, merely myths within the creative arts in higher education? All too often, the known zone acts as a benchmark for education where learning outcomes have a commonality. One could conceive that research may be likened to a lamp post used to prop up an idea, rather than used as illumination to find new idea.

What’s more, where are the genuine opportunities for failure within the context of the aforementioned unit/module descriptors and learning outcomes? Where are the opportunities for ‘real’ experimentation, where students are rewarded for taking risks in their pursuit of new concepts and ideas? And when they do create something that is new, how often do teachers, tutors and lecturers refer to the known zone, the acceptable zone, the easy-to-explain zone? Through no fault of their own, students’ experience is of one of having the processes and regulations imposed on them, and of ssessment criteria that don’t always accommodate and reward failure in the pursuit of creativity. It would be neither misleading nor presumptuous to suggest that learning outcomes are prescribed; as is often the case, they will be preceded by “On satisfactory completion of this unit/module you will be able to…” followed by a number of specified outcomes based on knowledge, understanding and application.

Who wants to be referred to as ‘satisfactory? If one were told in a meeting that one’s work was satisfactory, one might well be not only disappointed, but – perhaps more importantly – concerned. The conditions for creativity necessitate a pedagogic approach that “…is facilitating, enabling, responsive, open to possibilities, and collaborative, and which values process as much as product” (Jackson, 2004: 9). How this translates into assessment practices, which are commonly accepted to heavily influence undergraduates’ approach to and experience of learning, is the central concern. Perhaps it is time for assessment to focus on process, affording a different conception of failure, and to encourage productive rather than reproductive thinking. Perhaps the key to this lies in focusing on the process from creative problem being caused to the factors informing the decision-making process.

As mentioned previously, on the BAA course we encourage our undergraduates to deploy a ‘creative narrative’ based on the story arc. The process affords undergraduates the opportunity to narrate the factors that informed their decision-making process through their research. The creative narrative is accompanied with an adaptation of Errington, Maycroft and Shorthouse’s ‘research leading to innovation through four interwoven perspectives’, as illustrated below:

A guide for research – placing the undergraduate at the centre

Research for Creative Practice Research behind Creative Practice
You as Creative Colleague & Fellow Researcher
Research in through Creative Practice Research in front of Creative Practice

Research Leading to innovation

Research behind Exploring various broad contexts against which advertising and the creative genre you work within is connected, and the other broad social, economic, political and cultural features that impact upon the particular circumstances surrounding your creativity and potential for innovation.
Research in/through Concerned with the specific insights gained from the actual processes involved in your creativity. Simply put, innovation can come from this kind of research because you can learn from it as you are doing it. This is the other meaning of the word practice: what you learn and how to formulate creative questions; and how you develop your narrative.
Research in front of This explores your target audience from tutor to creative director [in order to gain employment] – how will they view your work? How do you want them to view your work? Better understand the language of your audience;

There is an alternative audience, the one that will become the receiver or consumer that engages with your ‘text’.

Research for The creative process, finding your methodology, your place as well as how you conceptualise, develop ideas, construct, write etc;

Fig.2: Research leading to innovation – adapted from
Errington, Maycroft & Shorthose (2008)

The BAA course at UCA is ‘research based’, which is to say our undergraduates are aware that they frame their own enquiries. This can involve examining existing material and/or creating new material, and is reinforced throughout the feedback from a questionnaire which is conducted across all year groups.

Analysis of data from the questionnaire

The philosophy around ‘creative problem causing’ is overtly referred to throughout the BAA course. It is discussed during the interview process, peppered throughout the course documentation and the delivery of the curriculum across all levels of the course, and supported by the story arc the method.

Initially, the questionnaire was designed to elicit undergraduates’ response to a seminar. This aimed to capture their perception, definition and understanding of the differences relating to ‘creative problem causing’ and ‘problem solving’ that followed from a presentation outlining the course curriculum and its delivery. It is worth noting that undergraduates may well have answered through memory as well as comprehension. Furthermore, it may also be prudent to reiterate that the idea of ‘creative problem causing’ does not suggest that undergraduates become activists. Instead, it encourages students to become authors of their own learning insofar as they conceive of the creative problem to be solved, a practice which is integral to every assignment throughout levels 4, 5 and 6.

The seminar was delivered in 2017 to each level across two days due to timetabling, and 90% of the cohort took part. It is important to note that not all of the questions had comments as 95% answered ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ,Don’t Know,.

Q1 Do you consider being a ‘creative problem causer’ is different from being a problem solver?

  1. A creative problem solver simply solves problems brought to them by others, whereas creative problem causers find solutions based on questions they themselves ask.
  2. It goes further than answering questions, solving problems. It’s about being creative researchers. It’s about reflecting, always asking why and looking for different strategic approaches.
  3. It’s always more interesting asking the questions that people don’t know the answers to.
  4. You’re allowed the fluidity to constantly investigate, you’re not pressured to find the one ‘right’ answer as sometimes there may be many
  5. A creative problem causer must ask one’s own questions and raise its own issues to solve a new problem. This may entail asking questions that haven’t been asked before.

95% answered ‘Yes’. Moreover, those who did comment appear to agree that ‘asking questions that haven’t been asked before’ and having ‘fluidity to constantly investigate’ are essence of being a creative researcher and a creative problem causer. Anecdotally, students talking about the course during an open day cited the course as having a ‘revolutionary way of teaching that was relevant, interesting and effective’.

Q2 Do you understand what is meant by the term ‘creative problem causer’?

  1. From my understanding, a creative problem causer is a person with the ability to solve a problem with no given answers. The person will ask questions (causing their own problems) and research into a given topic.
  2. Someone who creates a problem / question and then solves it by using creative thinking tools (e.g. De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats).
  3. By being a creative problem causer you’re an explorer, you interrogate and cross examine, ask questions that have not been asked before, see things from a completely different angle
  4. A different way of thinking, going beyond ‘answering the brief’.

90% answered ‘Yes’ and 4% answered ‘No’. The highlight of the responses, which perhaps best illustrates the aspiration of the course, is that creative problem causers ‘ask questions that have not been asked before’ through interrogation. This has direct links with the interview process, attempting to capture the very essence of being creative.

Q3 Do you consider failure as integral to the creative process?

  1. It is important to make mistakes, as only then do you learn from them and become more successful.
  2. I consider failure as integral to EVERY process. In life you will only succeed in the things you’ve failed a few times at. Lessons are learnt through failure, sometimes learning what not to do is more important than learning what to do.
  3. It’s a part of risk-taking. It’s an intrinsic part of life itself. You would’ve never learnt these lessons without failure, it makes you vulnerable and allows room for growth and depth – essential to any creative.
  4. I do, because without failure you would just play it safe and never take risks. If you don’t fail, you don’t know what works and what doesn’t but also you won’t create something better than anything else.

81% of the cohort answered ‘Yes’ whilst 15% answered ‘Don’t Know’. Again, the comments suggest comprehension in the undergraduates regarding the underlying philosophy of the course and how the curriculum is both designed and delivered. To learn what one doesn’t know and take risks being creative will involve failure, and trial and error. The willingness to ‘silence one’s judge’ is paramount, which is to say not settling for the first idea (the safe/known zone) but experiment without fear of being wrong. This is in direct contrast to learning outcomes that necessitate demonstrating a command of ‘relevant knowledge’.

Q5 Would you prefer that problems presented to you conformed to specific questions, rather than open-ended, for you to self-author?

  1. I would prefer open-ended questions because it allows my own questioning and answers to create a creative solution to the problem, rather than one that feels slightly forced.
  2. Not sure how that would be more beneficial. However sometimes incredibly open minded questions can take longer than planned to answer. This can be at times frustrating but rewarding when you do it on your own.
  3. With open-ended questions, you can gain so much from your own interrogation and exploration, it also thereafter benefits your future work
  4. I personally believe that even though there are benefits for both, having problems conformed to specific questions requires less creativity and thinking outside of the box, whereas having open-ended problems needs more thinking and challenges individuals further.

20% answered ‘Yes’, 4% answered ‘Don’t Know’ and 70% answered ‘No’.

Of the Level 6 cohort in 2016/17, 60% of students were awarded a 1st class (honours) degree and 50% attained a 1st for their dissertation, results which were unprecedented in the university. As with the other units, the dissertation demands that undergraduates create their own problem by creating a research question 0 i.e. creating a problem for themselves. Thereafter, they apply theory and practice to negotiate the problems they have authored. The quality of dissertations demonstrated that the students were enthused and open minded with respect to their learning and this was manifested in the topics they explored and the creative questions they asked, resulting in high levels of achievement.

Q6 Are there difficulties in being a creative problem causer as opposed to being a problem solver?

  1. It might be hard and difficult to adopt to a whole new way of thinking. Therefore, time would be needed for one to grasp the new approach to think creatively.
  2. Not sure how that would be more beneficial. However, sometimes incredibly open minded questions can take longer than planned to answer. This can be at times frustrating but rewarding when you do it on your own.
  3. Open ended, you can gain so much from your own interrogation and exploration, it also thereafter benefits your future work

30% answered ‘No’, 20% answered ‘Don’t Know’ and 46% answered ‘Yes’.

Again, there appears to be recognition that practicing creative problem causing is more difficult as the undergraduates are leading their learning and creating their own story. Our role as tutors is to support and facilitate their endeavour, and as mentioned previously we can do this using the story arc as a tool to provide a method and methodology to create something new.

Conclusion: why the journey is more important than the destination

It is conceivable that the high achievement of BAA graduates appears to support the direction the course has taken: supporting undergraduates to become creative problem causers by using the story arc approach. The support from our colleagues in industry, graduates’ progression into creative roles in leading advertising agencies, and winning world-wide recognised awards for creativity all appear to be connected to their willingness to embrace the story arc and become creative problem causers.

Hopefully the experience and success of these graduates can help provoke debate within higher education, and in particular within the creative arts. Perhaps, learning outcomes should become focused on the ‘creative arc’ and the undergraduate journey, as opposed to the destination as an end product which is the focus of many learning outcomes. Our undergraduates have responded positively when afforded the opportunity to drive their own learning and consequently their future. Furthermore, they own all the work – the creative problems they have conceived and the subsequent work they have created is unique to them. This is in stark contrast to those assignments [problems] determined by the tutor [master]. Perhaps now is the time to consider replacing one word ‘solver’ for another: ‘causer’, in order that our undergraduates are better placed creatively as researchers and leaders for the 21st century.

david-anderson-roundDavid Anderson leads the BA (Hons) Advertising degree at the University for the Creative Arts. David is a successful creative and strategic thinker, combining a highly renowned academic reputation with extensive industry experience. David graduated from the Glasgow School of Art, in Design specialising in Advertising. He successfully completed his PGCE at the University of Huddersfield before attaining his MA in Writing for Publication & Performance at the University of Leeds.


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2 Replies to “Problem solver to problem causer – a narrative”

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