Human problem solving : exploring a systematic process for evoking and using extra-domain knowledge in the creative re-conceptualization of a problem

  • Paul Dowling

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Creativity in human thought is highly valued but elusive, being most often associated with a small group of expert individuals. Yet all individuals possess the ability to respond to problem situations in creative ways. This thesis demonstrates that novices, facing complex, ill structured problem situations, can create novel responses by systematically mobilising their extra-domain knowledge that is normally dormant or only revealed in chance flashes of insight. Literature that examines the development and use of mechanisms underpinning the evocation and use of extra-domain knowledge, though extensive, is dispersed and little studied in aggregate. This study designed a process for evoking and using knowledge by distilling and integrating key mechanisms present in four overlapping research fields: problem solving, creativity studies, analogical reasoning and embodied cognition. The knowledge process was then reified in a human-centred knowledge instrument. A qualitative design science fieldwork project that explored the iterative development and trialling of the knowledge instrument was conducted from 2010-2011. Feedback from participants steered the incremental development of the instrument. The thesis recounts the increments using excerpts of participants’ experience that illustrate and trace the movement in their thinking as they followed the knowledge process. Analysis of the study’s findings indicates that the majority of participants generated novel actions to address an ill structured problem in one domain by systematically evoking and using their own knowledge from a distant domain. In particular, the study’s findings indicate that when faced with complex, ill structured problem situations novices can move beyond the ambiguous, spontaneous approaches reported in the literature. The thesis demonstrates that the knowledge process provides a promising tool for systematically using an individual’s knowledge and concludes that the knowledge process warrants further trialling and exploration in other contexts that require the unlocking of context-bound knowledge.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMasoud Mohammadian (Supervisor) & Sally Burford (Supervisor)

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