AFRL personnel connect with creative thinking process to enhance problem solving

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Air Force Research Laboratory personnel recently participated in a course on design innovation to learn and practice creativity techniques for enhanced problem solving. Because road blocks often develop in thinking processes, it is helpful to try new methods to spark imaginative solutions.

The design innovation course is taught by Dr. Dan Jensen, retired Air Force Academy Professor. He begins the course by stating that IQ is typically an inherited trait. According to Jensen, intelligent parents generally equates to smart children.

“Creativity is learned,” said Jensen. “Similar to practicing the piano, there are methods to learn to be creative. Practicing those techniques enhances creativity and thinking outside the box.”

Jensen shared research findings that state by increasing the quantity of ideas, the quality and novelty of ideas naturally increase. Innovation is enhanced by using techniques to increase the number of generated solutions.

The class consisted of 30 individuals divided into teams that chose an actual problem facing the Air Force to solve during the workshop.

One team chose re-arming an airplane mid-air; a concept similar to the method used to refuel an aircraft while flying. Brainstorming on how to safely move an aircraft on an icy tarmac, rescuing ejected pilots in the water, and creating a runway in a contested environment were other topics of discussion.

Jensen taught the groups to use a variety of techniques to solve the problems. One method involves looking at nature for inspiration for a solution. Prototypes of team projects were constructed with clay, balloons, pipe cleaners and various craft materials. Teams were judged on creativity, solutions, and answers to questions for each task.

AFRL judges for the event included Mark Dipadua, Deputy Director of the Engineering and Technical Management Directorate, Dr. Mark Derriso, Chief Engineer of the Human Performance Wing and Dr. Frank Gulczinski, Acting Chief Scientist of the Aerospace Systems Directorate.

“Whatever assists in increasing our creativity and loosens the restraints we put on ourselves is a plus,” said Dr. Larry Brott, Assistant Chief Engineer of the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate.

AFRL further directs creative thinking through a facilitator group called IDEATE. Dr. Greg Reich, principal engineer of the Aerospace Systems Directorate, has formed the group with facilitators from across AFRL. Their purpose is to teach and assist personnel in using these innovation techniques.

The IDEATE facilitators are there to help instruct students on how to apply the techniques successfully. Jensen likens applying innovation techniques to riding a bicycle. The first few times one tries to ride a bike, they will probably skin a knee.

“AFRL is already very innovative and accomplishes a lot of amazing feats,” said Dr. Mark Fernelius, of the Aerospace Systems Directorate. “The design innovation techniques are not meant to replace, but to enhance our creativity. They aid us in becoming more intentional about our innovation.”

The IDEATE group intends to experiment with techniques developed at the workshop in their future meetings and spread the word on creative thinking.

By using more innovative techniques, members of AFRL will use these design tools for strategic impact and organizational transformation by focusing on what the users and organizations really need and want. By balancing the desirability of the solution, as defined by the user, with the technology feasibility and business viability, high quality solutions can quickly be created to solve critical Air Force problems.

Plans for future workshops include involving AFRL in its entirety and possibly the entire Wright-Patterson Air Force Base populous.

image of various personnel talking at table

AFRL personnel from the Materials and Manufacturing, Aerospace Systems, and Personnel Directorates recently participated in a course on creativity for problem solving to enhance thought processes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Spencer Deer)