The New Volunteerism Project

The Archival Collection of
Ivan Henry Scheier

Section III

Creative Problem-Solving

June 1999

The page #'s refer to the pages of the "New Volunteerism  Project: The Ivan Scheier Archival Collection."
Five bound volumes placed in the Reference collection of the
Dayton Memorial Library at Regis University
Table of Contents Page #
Introductory Notes
Part I – Oriented to the Think Tank/Reflection Pool Process
Introduction to Part  1
Training Handouts as Summaries 4-8

How to Tell If You're a Think Tank@

What Is a Think Tank? (training handouts as summaries)

 The Think Tank Technique Administrative Manual @

Part II – Individual Creative Problem-Solving Methods/Approaches
 Introduction to Part II – “A Reconsideration ...” @ 28-29
   The Support Circle – A Problem-Solving Network © 30-33
   Questioning the Question and the Evolution of a Question @ 34-41
   Anchors (and Sails) @ 42-54
   Grooves and Getting Out of Them - Three Essays 55- 71

The Power of Assumptions

Getting Out of the Groove

Leadership of Volunteers – Roads We Might Still Take

   What If....?@ 72-78
   Upside Down and Inside Out 79-80
   Option Expansion @ 81-85
   Tower of Babel @ 86-87

@ -- permission for use-with-acknowledgment
© -- Appropriate permission must be secured from the publisher for re-publication

 Introductory Notes to Section on Creative Problem-Solving
Ivan Scheier

June 1999

This is one of the later interests in my career, dating from the early to mid-1980's, although the activity in this subject area was quite intense from that time on. Over the following decade, eight or nine creative problem-solving methods were developed, tested and sometimes refined in approximately 70 think tanks in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

This Creative Problem-Solving packets forms a natural cluster with the packets on Philosophy and on Futuring (“Images of the Future”; also, “Making Dreams Come True” might have some relations). As for futuring, generally the attempt to foresee or anticipate events and trends that haven’t happened yet is almost necessarily a form of creative problem-solving. The main reason is that, over any significant timeframe, forecasting the future is far more than a simple extrapolation from the past or present. Indeed, several futuring methods, including “Visioning: The Freedom to Dream,” could easily fit in either section.

The tie-in to Philosophy is largely through a major thesis in that section – the potential blockage of creative thought by tired old assumption that have outlived their usefulness. The same kind of blockage often prevents creativity in dealing with problems – particularly persnickety ones that have been around nearly forever. That is why the present section features such methods as “Anchors Aweigh,” “Upside Down and Inside Out” and “What If.”

Speaking of getting into boxes, my whole creative problem-solving effort got into a nice cozy one in its early years, via the assumptions that you can give a function a locale and the pretty much assume that is (only) where it happens: e.g. education happens (only) in schools, religion in churches, discipline in the juvenile court, etc. In this case, our initial assumption was that creative problem-solving was to be placed in a special setting, initially called “Think Tanks” and later the much better title of “Reflection Pools.” It was several years before we had the “insight” that people could think creatively without spending two and a half days at a retreat enter! In fact, some of the individual methods can be applied in less than an hour, just about anywhere except probably in the middle of a boiler factory; hence this is the Creative Problem-Solving rather than the Think Tank packet. We do present the material first in the Think Tank framework (Part I) but that is largely to show historical development of the methods. In the later presentation of the methods individually (Part II) there is some repetition, although there is also often some improvement/refinement in the later editions of methods.

Finally, though all three subject areas happen to have been explored and applied primarily with volunteers in mind, they clearly apply to all kinds of workers, people and situations. In future, the examples need to reflect that diversity better. Introductory Notes III - 1  In the development and application of these creative problem-solving methods, I had many valuable and important colleagues, among them Judith Lonergan, Leslie Caliva, Billie Ann Myers, Karen Heller Key, and Maureen Watkins. And who knows, maybe it suggests that in the latter stages of my career I finally became somewhat less of a “lone arranger.” This may also be the place to say that one serendipitous benefit of the think tank series was introducing good people to one another in a creatively connective environment, sometimes resulting in productive and pleasant longer-term colleagueships and friendships; that was so, for example, in the case of the last three women mentioned above.


(Later called “Reflection Pools,” a better name, I believe)

The first five pages of this section are designed to define think tanks/reflection pools as I used the terms – or at least give the feel of what they are.

Immediately following these pages is an 18-page, 1992 limited-circulation publication by Leslie Caliva and me, entitled: “The Think Tank Technique.” The purpose of the publication was to provide definition, rationale, and guidelines for setting up and conducting a think tank.

At this point in development, we were clearly thinking in terms of a group process for creative problem-solving, in a special setting and over a significant timespan. It was several years more before we realized that creative thinking should not be quarantined inside a process with special times, locales and guidelines – that instead, it could take place solo, informally, any time it was needed. It could and should. This emphasis begins to come in with later parts in this packet.


The present section is largely a reprise of the above limited-circulation publications, with important pluses, namely more connective comments, some reflections on practical usage, and some other clarifications, in relation to the methods.

The Support Circle – A Problem-Solving Network
1999 Introductory Notes by Ivan Scheier

Among the Creative Problem-Solving Methods in this packet, the Support Circle is one of only two or three not explicitly working with underlying assumptions (although they might definitely be a factor in the process). It is also one of the three or four most frequently and successfully used of all the creative problem-solving strategies. People quite often come out of the process with a headache, but also some very relevant responses to their concerns.

The Support Circle is also in the packet on Networking because that’s what this circle is…

The present section, the first five pages are the latest published and copyrighted version of The Support Circle. The following two unpublished handouts, each two pages long. These handouts have differences of working and emphasis which, while generally small, may be worth considering in a thorough review of this method.

Question, Question, Who’s Got the Question?
Also Called Questioning the Question
1999 Introductory Notes by Ivan Scheier

These materials were developed in the mid-to later 1980’s.

This is one of the three most widely used methods in the Creative Problem-Solving set (along with Support Circle and Anchors). It is perhaps better to call it a "concept" illustrated by an exercise, rather than a "method"; people seem to take away from the experience, a kind of positive paranoia about questions and the assumptions hidden within them, a suspicious alertness that stands them in good stead in working with persistently vexatious questions.

The exercises clearly show how many/most questions can block creative problem-solving by "hiding" within themselves assumptions/assertions "taken as fact" which might not be so at all. On reflection I see two other ways in which the wrong questions can block or retard problem solving. First, the scope of the question may be inappropriate; that is, you are asking, "How can we improve the quality of childhood education?" when in fact all you can really deal with, or want to, is improving literacy training in the first and second grades of the Peoria, Illinois School system. Secondly, an issue not dealt with by the present method, you are addressing the question to the wrong people, or at least failing to include some important right people, e.g. asking meat preferences of vegetarians, or asking Eskimos how to grow palm trees.

Introductory Notes
Original Training Notes
Somewhat Later Modification of Training Notes
"The Evolution of a Question" a later follow-up of the original method, suggesting things one might do after finding hidden assumptions in a question. It looks something like the "What If" exercise.

Anchors (and Sails)
1999 Introductory comments, Ivan Scheier

Along with Question the Question and the Support Circle, Anchors is the most popular and widely considered effective of the creative problem-solving methods. Or is really a "method?" It may better be considered a useful perspective on unearthing preconceptions which block creativity in problem solving. As such, it appears to be a concept people can carry home with them and use to loosen up rigidities in thought in just about any situation, formal or informal, in which chronic, recalcitrant problems block progress.

Another important feature of the anchors approach is that is can be applied as easily by an individual as in a group.

Anchors has been available only in limited circulation publications and in workshop training’s.

Introductory comments
The latest training handout
Examples of blocking assumptions (anchors)
      A creative counterpoint to Anchors developed by my colleague Judith Lonergan.

Grooves and Getting Out of Them – Three Essays
1999 Introductory Comments by Ivan Scheier

There are three unpublished essays in this packet:

The Power of Assumptions
Getting Out of the Groove
Leadership of Volunteers – Roads We Might Still Take

I put the three together because they all deal explicitly with raising awareness of hidden assumptions and the damaging effects they can have on problem solving. The essays also tend to involve a mix of strategies not explicitly covered elsewhere for dealing with these hidden preconceptions, once discovered.

The first essay tends to concentrate on raising awareness of hidden assumptions and how they can impact problem solving. The second and third essays place more emphasis on ways we might deal with such preconceptions.

The first and third essay concentrate on volunteerism far more than I would want to today. The second essay, "Getting Out of The Groove," seems to me by far the most generic and specific and so I see it as the core of this section.

Road Less Traveled

Small Groups
September 1997, Scheier

Keep groups small. If more than 7-8 consider splitting into two smaller groups, maybe coming together at the end to share and review conclusions. You have ____ minutes. About two-thirds of the way through I’ll come around to see if you want more time, or less time.

Please select a discussion facilitator and a recorder/reporter. Though the latter role can be divided among two people. The reporter presents group conclusions to the entire think tank group. Please keep the report to 5 minutes, with up to 5 minutes more for questions. Your reporter should have a back-up outline on newsprint. Your report may include with full respect, two or more distinct and different conclusions arrived at by members of your group. It any also question the question itself in favor of a better questions or questions.

Please choose one group; "floating" can be disruptive. If you’re here with others you talk to regularly, each of you can cover different groups. You’ll also have a summary report from every other group and be able to hear and participate in discussion of it by the entire think tank group. Finally, if time permits and the group prefer, we can have a second round of small groups.

Some suggested group Themes – Your own ideas welcome

*** ANYTHING YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT (though hopefully in a think tank spirit and generally related to volunteerism or volunteer administration.)

*** OPEN ROADS GROUP – Your own vision(s) of what an ideal volunteerism or volunteer administration might look like in a foreseeable future. Your report might emphasize a mosaic of distinct visions or a perceived commonality among all of them.

*** OTHER ROADS GROUP – We’ve discussed only a few examples of road less traveled in volunteerism. Can you think of another road or roads less traveled, not yet discussed today? If so, what do you foresee as the results of following such a road or roads?

*** IS THERE LIFE OUTSIDE AGENCIES (Career-Wise, that is)?

We’ve discussed the role of "Consultant-Producer to Entirely Volunteer Groups," indicated emerging precedent for that career option, and suggested the clientele might include understaffed as well as non-staffed groups and also smaller agencies currently lacking a coordinator of volunteers.

 What If
Unpublished material with 1999 Introductory Comments by Ivan Scheier

The purpose of this method is to "…identify the key underlying assumption, then ‘rotate’ to an alternative assumption, and consider what different consequences might then occur."

The method is, at least in ambiance, very similar to "The Evolution of a Question" in the section on "Questioning the Question." There is also a significant resemblance, at least in intent, to "Upside Down and Inside Out."

Upside Down and Inside Out
1999 Thoughts: -- Like just about every other creative thinking exercise in this packet, "Upside Down and Inside Out" is designed to "get at" fixed assumptions preconceptions and try to "flip" them, e.g. see what it would be like if, different assumptions were made. It is most like the WHAT IF" exercise in this respect, with the special feature of a certain shock value in at least some of the reversals. Thus, ibis is "the crack on the side of the head" others have believed helpful in unlocking creative energies...

Option Expansion
1999 Introductory Comments by Ivan Scheier

Ten years old, and frustrated. I can’t think of a method in which I had more hope for ultimate potential for practical field usage – yet, , as in so many cases in my work, never seriously followed up for further development.

Here are some of the problems as I saw them then and see them now.

1999 Afterthoughts
I’m still concerned about the lack of specific guidance on how to increase your range of potentially relevant alternatives as possible responses to a difficult problem.

Tower of Babel
1999 Introductory Comments by Ivan Scheier

Obviously needed for a group, it may also be important for an individual to communicate clearly and un-ambivalently to oneself.

1999 Afterthoughts
In the relatively few times I’ve used this exercise or seen it used, I’m struck with how frequently people, without awareness, used the same word with different meanings, sometimes crucially different. This communication disability is at or near the heart of many group failures to think creatively together. A second strong impression is how long and difficult the process is for identifying and, where possible reconciling these differences. I recall one Tower of Babel exercise in which a small bright group spent half a day trying to identify and reconcile the significantly different meanings they had of the word "volunteer." All were careerists in the volunteer leadership field, some of them with many years of experience.

---- the first three methods presented are by far the most frequently used and demonstrated as useful: 'The Support Circle', 'Anchors', and 'Questioning the Question.'
---- Almost all the methods are variations on the theme of discovering hidden assumptions and doing something productive about them.  The only exceptions are 'The Support Circle' (networking), 'Tower of Babel' and maybe to some extent, 'Option Expansion.'
---- Once again, the examples are predominantly drawn from volunteerism because I haven't had time as yet to flesh them out with examples from other subject areas.  I can only hope it is clear how easily this could be done.

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Ivan Scheier
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