One by one, the students were brought into a room with two large tables. One table was filled with 27 different objects. The other table was empty. Each student was asked to take an object or objects from the first table and arrange them in some way on the second table.
Some students examined few of the items on the table, quickly moved a few to the second table and made an arrangement of the objects. Other students examined all the items on the table, apparently looking for patterns, took a lot more time in selecting objects and then made arrangements on the second table.
The professors divided the two types of students into problem solvers (those who moved quickly and decisively to finish the project) and problem finders (those who took their time trying to understand the point of the exercise).
18 years later, the professors checked in on the careers of the 36 art students. Of those who had stayed in the art field, the problem finders were much more successful than the problem solvers.
"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 the field."
This type of research was pursued for years after. And, again and again, studies found that creative people tend to adapt a problem-finding mind set:
"(S)cholars found that people most disposed to creative breakthroughs in art, science, or any 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."
Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills. Randel's books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best-selling e-books in China. One of Randel’s books is The Skinny on Creativity.