Creative Thinking—It’s Not just for De-Escalation

Creative Thinking—It’s Not just for De-Escalation


By Dr. Joy VerPlanck and Todd Fletcher

We’re in a new era in law enforcement. Widespread calls for police reform are forcing policy makers, agency leaders, and instructors to adapt with new ways of doing the same job—in an environment that is definitely not the same as it once was. For instance, consider how much things have changed in the past couple of decades—we never used to look in a shoe for a bomb, or routinely see a good portion of society legally buying controlled substances with a mask over their face.

Evolving conditions call for an evolved approach, and that requires creative thinking.

Last year’s research on cognitive load and creative thinking in MILO simulation led to a better understanding of how we can affect deeper cognitive skills with less strain on the brain and better results. It’s easy to consider creative thinking when ‘soft’ skills are being deployed, like de-escalation or interviewing. But when an article and a presentation at ILEETA brought these two authors together, it prompted a challenge to find a way to incorporate the same methodology that worked for de-escalation into live-fire instruction.

It is possible, and it comes down to incorporating these three factors:

Cognitive load capacity: Understand that at any given point on any given day in any given individual, the load is variable—each brain is different, and each day is different. Overloading a trainee’s working memory is likely to result in negative knowledge transfer and if that happens,  the message you’re trying to send may not be received at all. In order to develop their long term memory, and build their capacity for rapid skills, you have to know where the trainee is at that moment (N) to know how to get to N+1.

Autonomy: Neuroscience research shows that we’re more committed to the outcome of our actions when we’re given a choice. This can apply in every aspect of organizational performance, but is rarely considered an option in standards-based training when we think of results in terms of rigid processes to get there. As instructors, giving permission to be creative allows the trainee to know they have a choice in their methods or process, even when a standard outcome is required.

Psychological safety: Research shows us that psychologically safe teams are more productive. Choose your words so that there is no implication of a negative outcome within the training space. Failure ultimately only exists 1) in a testing environment and 2) if you don’t learn from it, so choose words that promote growth and enthusiasm. Attention and self-efficacy both contribute to positive training results in a psychologically safe environment.

So, what does creative thinking look like in MILO live firearms training? Stay tuned for part 2.




Dr. Joy VerPlanck is a former U.S. Army Military Police Officer with a background in organizational training and instructional design. She received her doctorate from Central Michigan University in educational technology with research in the effects of simulator training on the cognitive development of police officers. Dr. VerPlanck leads MILO’s Cognitive Division.

Todd Fletcher is the owner and lead instructor for Combative Firearms Training, LLC providing training for law enforcement firearms instructors. He retired 25+ years as a full-time police officer. He has presented firearm instructor training at multiple national and international conferences and is the author of 75+ published articles. Todd can be reached at