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Updated: 6 Sep 2021

Creative Problem-Solving in Negotiations

Creative Problem Solving In Negotiations


A study that shows how effective creative problem-solving can benefit any negotiation.

Creative Problem-Solving

All too often, negotiators can become bound as they commit to taking a competitive approach to their negotiation. As a result, they don’t allow themselves to be flexible or to consider a creative approach. Taking a versatile approach with outside-the-box thinking can generate more value from the negotiations.

On the other hand, a common error committed by those who believe they are taking the win-win approach to their talks is to overcompensate their need to find agreement by making unwise compromises. A compromise invariably means that both resources and money will likely be left on the table, unclaimed by either party.

Here’s how two west coast energy producers created a joint partnership through creative problem-solving whereby each side met its objectives. Southern California Edison Co. and Bonneville Power Administration were the negotiating sides. 

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In 1991, the two sides conceived of a way to help the Columbia River salmon in the Pacific Northwest. At the same time, their idea would improve the polluted air of southern California. They managed this feat without spending any money in the process!

Here’s a précis of this unique and imaginative problem-solving that illustrates the powerful benefits of the creative process at work, as taught on the best negotiating training courses. During the summer months, Bonneville Power would increase the flow of water into the Columbia River. This would automatically increase the amount of hydroelectric power generated by California Edison.

The increased flow of water allowed the young salmon to swim through the channels more easily. It also increased their survival rate. This is because a weaker current made them more vulnerable to becoming lost or being devoured by predators.

Later, in the fall and winter months, California Edison returned the power that it had borrowed during the preceding summer months back to Bonneville Power Administration. As a result, Bonneville had very little need to run its coal-fired and oil plants during the summer months.

The Power of a True Win-Win

This was truly a win-win negotiated agreement. The exchange of power, roughly equivalent to about 100,000 households, improved the migration of the salmon. It thereby increasing their survival rates and expanding the fish population.

Additionally, there was a significant reduction in air pollution. This was because Bonneville didn’t have to resort to smog-producing plants during the stifling and oft smoggy summer months. What was the impact? It’s been estimated the saving was about equivalent to taking about 5,000 cars off the highways. The best part of all was that absolutely no money exchanged hands in the entire process. Pretty smart example of creative problem-solving, eh?

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    Diederik Vincent on

    Creativity is so important in negotiations. This example is beautiful.

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