Criteria for Evaluating a Creative Solution
Version Date: July 20, 2012
Some idea of the value or merit of an idea (or a solution to a
can be discovered by the degree to which it fulfills some or all of the
following criteria, as appropriate. How significant a solution is will
be determined by the problem itself. Inventing a new antacid is
less significant than finding a cure for cancer, but both can be
using these criteria. As an aid to help evaluate the solution's
match to each criterion, some common expressions that indicate a
match are included.
Solves the Problem Effectively.
The solution achieves the stated
goals, meets a need well.
Because many solutions are only partial,
the degree to which the solution works is also an important part of
- "It works."
- "That does it."
- "Problem solved."
- "That's perfect."
And because there are often several solutions to the same problem,
the degree of superiority of the solution is important.
- "Well, at least that helps."
- "That worked pretty well."
- "Wow. That really did the job."
Has acceptable tradeoffs.
- "This is a better
- "What an improvement."
- "All things considered, this is the best choice."
Negative side effects (collateral damage
in a military operation, side effects of a medication, hostile customer
reaction, high electrical consumption) must also be factored in.
Failure to consider tradeoffs is a major weakness in much problem
solving. It's always a good idea to ask relevant questions.
- "Too bad this also has such a down side."
- "And the tradeoffs aren't too bad."
- "I think we can live with the side effects."
- "What are the tradeoffs?"
- "And then what?"
- "What is the down side?"
The solution works within the stated constraints
to the problem (or overcomes or circumvents them in some acceptable
Acceptable to Users.
- "It’s on time."
- "It meets the specifications."
- "It's under budget."
- "This is well below the target maximum weight."
The solution is agreeable to those who must
implement it, to society, to those affected by it. It is not
brilliant but sociologically stupid."
The solution has positive secondary
effects or benefits and no (or minor) negative secondary effects.
- "People will use this."
- "We enjoy using it."
is a perceptual, emotional, and psychological phenomenon, as well as an
intellectual and experiential one. It is crucial to think beyond the
beyond the technology, when deciding whether the solution is or will be
successful. You may have invented an anti-gravity device, but if no one
will use it, it is not a successful solution.
- "We like it."
- "It not only works well, but it looks nice, too."
- "And it also does these extra things, too."
Good Cost/Benefit Ratio.
The solution is economical, with high price/performance
Money (that of corporations and individuals) exists in finite
amounts, and all solutions must compete with each other for these
- "We can afford it."
- "It’s worth the money."
- "It’s worth the effort."
- "Here's a new, less expensive way to do it."
- "This will pay for itself
The solution is logical, useful, systematic, understandable,
"do-able," not overly difficult or complex for the intended benefits.
is as simple and direct as possible for the desired outcome.
Sometimes a seemingly impractical solution is actually
only a communication problem. Many new Internet companies, for example,
seem unable to explain in a few, clear words, just what they do.
- "We can do
- "We found an easier way."
- "I can see how this could work and what
it could do for me."
- "And this is much simpler and more straightforward than the
The solution will continue to work over time with a high
degree of reliability, consistency, and effectiveness.
Dependability is at the core of user satisfaction. The parts cost may
trivial, but replacement cost in labor, disruption, and psychic trauma
add up quickly. Or if the matches are great when they light, but they
always light. . . .
- "Works in the heat of summer and the cold of winter."
- "I like it because I can depend on it."
- "This has never let me down."
- "It works first time, every time."
A component of reliability is duration or even permanence. Will the
solution continue to work over time (unless it is designed to be
temporary), or will it stop working or fail at some point? Putting a
cheap battery in a smoke alarm will make it work for perhaps a year,
while a lithium ion battery could provide ten years of maintenance-free
- "Hah! It still works."
- "This is designed to last a long time."
- "This has lasted well beyond my expectations."
Novelty, newness, innovation--difficult to achieve in a
world already filled with solutions. But the surprise of the next great
idea is always nearby. Cliches about thinking outside the box might
seem appropriate here, but real innovation requires thinking outside
the warehouse where the boxes are stored.
The solution is innovative, breaking new ground.
An improvement can be included in originality if it is truly
innovative. And there are different forms of originality--process, use,
and even design. For example, a ball point pen with a particularly
great design may be seen as original from a design point of view.
- "What will they think of next?"
- "I've never seen that before."
- "Now, that is unique."
The solution is unusual, out of the ordinary lines of
thought. It might appear obvious in hindsight, but the really creative
solution is nearly always surprising at first encounter.
- "Why didn’t I think of that?"
- "I can't believe they can do it
- "Look at this: an easier, faster way to do the same thing. What a
The solution provides the foundation for further, similar
solutions, opens new vistas for further development. It represents a
new line of inquiry--with the promise of a future.
- "Hey, this has possibilities."
- "We could use something like this over there, too."
- "This suggests a whole new series of this type."
The solution is organized, seamless, synthetic, organic,
Solutions that involve a clear (and perhaps even simple) conceptual
are most likely to emerge as unified.
- "It all fits."
- "It’s perfect."
- "What a great system."
The solution is synergetic, high quality, good, well-designed,
The best solutions have usually
passed through several iterations of the refinement process before
implemented. (Of course, refinement continues after the solution
with the "real world" as well.)
- "That’s neat."
- "This is well made."
- "This has such a quality feel to it."
The solution is artistic, attractive, beautiful, enduring,
Many a great
technology has failed because it was put into an ugly plastic shell. A
little knowledge of semiotics would be helpful here. Semiotics is the
study of how things produce meaning. When you twist a knob in your car,
does it make you feel that you are in a high quality car? Or does the
click of the knob feel so cheap and flimsy that you get the impression
you are driving a piece of junk? Think about the fact that for many
perfumes, the bottle costs a lot more than the perfume inside. A heavy,
crystal shaped bottle, perhaps with a glass stopper, say "expensive,
high quality, elegance" to many people.
- "It’s beautiful."
- "What an elegant idea."
- "I just love using this."
Similarly, an idea can project beauty or elegance as well as an object.
And an idea can also project flimsy ad hoc carelessness.
As mentioned, some of these ideas may not be relevant to a particular
Novelty, for example, is more important in consumer goods than other
For further information, see the articles on Creative Thinking and
Solving on the VirtualSalt Home Page.
2000, 2012 by Robert Harris | How to cite this
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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer
and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the
and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com