in Projects, Programming, Technology

Future Problem Solving

Every year from 3rd grade to 12th grade, I participated in a competition called Future Problem Solving (FPS). We worked on problems such as Global Warming as early as 1985. I hadn’t checked on the health of the competition (or the organization that runs it) in a long time, but it does still exist. This year’s topics are:

  • Fundraising and Charity Giving
  • Protection of National Treasures
  • Cultural Prejudice
  • Caring for our Elders
  • Privacy

An FPS competition involves a team of four working for two hours to identify 20 problems, one main problem, 20 solutions to that main problem, and one “best solution.” The topic is known well in advance. When the team sits down for the competition, a “fuzzy situation” is revealed – a description of an imagined future and a particular situation relevant to the topic.

In a quick search, I couldn’t verify that the program is active in Washington state. But I did find this annoying referrendum or legislation dedicated to the team we lost to several times.

WHEREAS, The Colfax High School team, comprised of Susan Adams, Matt Carpenter, Heather Hochstatter, Joe Poshusta, and teacher/coach Tenny Brannan, placed first in the state-wide Future Problem Solving Program’s academic competition in 1990; and WHEREAS, In the June 1990 international competition held in St. Louis, Missouri, the Colfax High School team placed first among the three hundred teams representing fifty states and various foreign countries including teams from as far away as New Zealand.

What we learned through 9 years of future problem solving has served well in business, and especially in creativity. What I had forgotten – or not paid attention to when I was younger, is that FPS originated with the writing and philosophy of E. Paul Torrance. I am tremendously grateful to this program (and my own parents, coaches, and teachers) for my own creative development:

The 87-year-old UGA professor emeritus of educational psychology invented the benchmark method for quantifying creativity and arguably created the platform for all research on the subject since. The “Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking” helped shatter the theory that IQ tests alone were sufficient to gauge real intelligence.

In addition to developing the most widely used tests of creativity, Torrance also created the Future Problem Solving Program, and developed the Incubation Model of Teaching.

‘Father of Creativity’ E. Paul Torrance Dead at 87



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  1. Questions from an FPS teammate:

    > What did you mean by this sentence: “There is more of a story here that I had forgotten – or not paid attention to when I was younger.”?

    > Story about colfax? Story about the creation of FPS?

    I meant a story about the dude’s philosophy – I’m interested in what skills we were meant to learn, and what we actually learned.

    The thing that sticks in my mind now is the importance of original solutions (they were worth 5x more points). That aspect instilled really important brainstorming skills.

    > I have been wondering for a long time if the program is still going. I asked a friend about Centrum and whether it still existed. They said yes, but that was different from FPS.

    Yeah, centrum looks alive and well – see But I don’t see any reference to FPS on their site.

    > What do you think that referendum thingy was? So oddly worded, what could it be?

    I guess it is a “resolution.” I think legislators do this to proclaim and celebrate things. Like national dork day.

  2. Yeah, those resolutions are common for recognizing warm fuzzy things. Some of the teams that do well at my contests have been the subject of such resolutions by their state legislatures, and they’ve eaten it up. The honorees go to the capitol and are told how great they are, then there’s a vote on whether they’re great or not and it’s unanimous – they’re great! There’s huge bipartisan support for Dork Day. 🙂

  3. Yeah, I am a current (senior) FSPer. I love the program and its history – in fact, my teammates and I have done quite a bit of research for the FPSP Wikipedia article.

    I requested history information from the FPSPI office, now located in Florida, and they provided me with a booklet about the program’s early history – you may want to ask them about it, as it is quite enlightening.

    It’s always interesting to find another FPSer … although with 250,000+ current participants, it would seem that I would meet more. I would like to see more media coverage regarding FPSPI … apparently the media doesn’t care enough.

  4. I’m a current Junior FPSer heading to Internationals in Lansing, Michigan! The program is indeed great, and is helping to increase my creativity and problem-solving skill.