Tag Archives: Creative Thinking

Creative Thinking – get ahead by thinking differently

This is a follow-up post to: Think about it – 8 ways to enhance your thinking

In some ways, creative thinking is the most critical of all of the thinking styles – if you don’t come up with something different from your competition, you’ll always be following in their footsteps. Creative thinking is about getting beyond the obvious,  seeing possibilities and generating options for success. As we have said elsewhere – however good the idea, it will only bear fruit if it is implemented so you do need to be able to switch into different thinking modes. [See Turning good ideas into effective action]

Creative thinking is a bit like that too, it is about selecting the right thinking mode at the right stage in the process as we will see later.

The term “creative” has been much misused and applied very narrowly: we are all creative, creative thinking can be applied to any industry and we all know [or once knew how to do it]. If you have ever seen children turning a few simple items into [imaginary] space ships, houses or fortresses  you will know what I mean. Somehow, it is educated out of us by the school and business systems [see Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk if you need any further evidence]

Creativity has a structure and you can apply processes and techniques to make it easier for you to generate new ideas. it needs effort and it needs to be taken seriously, it may be your only real competitive advantage. Most people jump to the obvious conclusion without really examining the issue they are trying to address [see the catalogue of stupid ideas and inane suggestions developed by candidates on the Apprentice for instance!]

Creative Problem Solving Cycle

I like to think of the problem solving process as a cycle which leads to better and better ideas and a better and better understanding of the issues the more times you go round the loop. It is usually better to have several “quick and dirty” cycles at the beginning rather than doing a lot of analysis. This also builds momentum and gets people involved.

Creative Problem Solving Cycle

Creative Problem Solving Cycle

Exploration

To stand any chance of solving any problem [if it is indeed solvable] you need to understand it thoroughly. That’s why you start with an exploration stage.

It would be a complete waste of time to come up with a fantastic solution to the wrong problem.

This means understanding the nature of the problem, its context and the standpoints of everyone who is involved. [Incidentally, some people feel that it is better to think of challenges rather than problems. If that works for them fine – I prefer to think that it is just a mindset issue and you might as well call it a “George”. The approach works just as well whatever you call your problem / issue / challenge …]

Generation

The next stage is to come up with some ideas – there are lots of techniques for this with brainstorming probably being the best known. The important issue here is to build on each other’s suggestions – “Yes and …” rather than “Yes but …”. You need to come up with as many and varied ideas as possible – quantity breeds quality. It is crucial that there is no judgement of the ideas at this stage as a seemingly unworkable approach could spark a better, more workable idea from one of the other participants.

Evaluation

Having generated lots of ideas, you will need to organise, cluster  and evaluate them to determine which are worthy of further development. Again, there are many techniques and approaches you can use. It can also be useful at this stage to return to the generation phase as the clustered, collated and reviewed ideas may well spark new thoughts.

Implementation

In early cycles, you are unlikely to actually put anything into action but it is a good idea to consider how you would put the ideas into practice. This will involve steps such as:

  • Stakeholder analysis – who supports, who is against, what are their views, what are they looking for.
  • Building a robust proposal – have you got the scope right, does it need extending or reducing, how will you market your ideas
  • Implementation planning – how will you move forward to take effective action, what are the steps …

Each of these steps has the potential of generating improved insights about the issues being addressed and may encourage further cycles through the process.

Current best solution

It is important to recognise that for most real life problems, there will never be an ideal solution, so what you leave the process with is the current best solution but at some point you need to take action.

There are two important implications of this:

  1. you may not be entirely satisfied with the outcome and
  2. someone may come up with an even better suggestion at a later date.

As we will discuss later in the Project Thinking stream, the desired outcome is the best solution by the required date – so don’t beat yourself up about it.

Divergent and Convergent Thinking Styles

An underlying theme here is that both divergent and convergent thinking styles are appropriate at different points in the cycle. Few people are equally adept at each style  and this should encourage you to get different people with different approaches, experiences and outlooks involved. Don’t worry if this leads to conflict and clashes, you need differences of opinion. The bigger risk is that everyone will think the same.

Convergent and Divergent Thinking

Appropriate thinking styles for each phase

Way forward

The creative thinking muscle needs exercise and the most important first step is to recognise when you are taking decisions without trying to find alternatives.

If you have only one option – you might as well be a robot: if you have two options, you have a dilemma: if you have more options, you have flexibility.

You need to find ways to get a more diverse group of people involved and it can be helpful to develop a toolkit of simple techniques to get you started – you can find more sophisticated approaches later if you need them.

Creative Problem Solving Toolkit

Creative Problem Solving Toolkit

If you would like a copy of my recommended basic toolkit and links to useful sources of information, please drop me an email at jim@fulcrum-management.co.uk

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Think about it – 8 ways to enhance your thinking

When you are faced with a critical decision in your business, you probably recognise that you will need to give it some thought but how often do you think about how you need to think about the issues involved?

That’s right! Do you think about how you need to think?

In his seminal work, Six Thinking Hats, Dr Edward de Bono highlighted the need for different modes of thinking at different points in the process and in particular the need for everyone involved to be thinking in the same way at the same time.

I’d like to build on that idea by suggesting eight key thinking styles that you should apply to any critical decision you need to make – I call this Pivotal Thinking. The key themes are outlined below and each will be explored in detail in subsequent postings.

The thinking styles are:

  1. Critical
  2. Strategic
  3. Creative
  4. Systemic
  5. Project
  6. Lateral
  7. Process
  8. Reflective

Critical Thinking

This style is particularly useful for examining information and testing assumptions. It is exemplified by the approach of Henry Fonda’s character [Juror #8] in “12 Angry Men”, probing, challenging and taking nothing for granted.

Strategic Thinking

This approach is crucial for looking at the big picture and long term. It means standing back from the detail and looking at aims, objectives, trends and capabilities. It also means looking at opportunities, threats and options from the perspective of all stakeholders.

Creative Thinking

To get ahead of your competition, avoid getting into a rut and find better answers to the challenges you face, you need to think creatively. Contrary to popular opinion, this can be helped by a structured approach which balances and sequences divergent and convergent thinking, selecting appropriate tools and techniques at each stage.

Systemic Thinking

You probably learned to think systematically at school / university but sometimes there is a need to think about the system as a whole, the interactions between the various parts and the causes and consequences of particular options. This style goes hand in glove with both strategic and creative thinking.

Project Thinking

Managing projects needs a different style of thinking to most management situations. Project thinking requires you to pay attention to the sequence of events, the flow of information and the interactions between events. It is highly relevant to the implementation of strategy and requires focus on objectives, roles and resources.

Lateral Thinking

Your closest competitors are likely to come up with similar strategies and solutions to those you arrive at through logical analysis, so it can be useful to use lateral thinking to arrive at better, non-intuitive solutions. This thinking style, invented by Dr Edward de Bono, encourages you to arrive at better solutions by attacking the issue from completely different perspectives and often through an intermediate unworkable solution.

Process Thinking

In many cases, it can be very useful to use these thinking styles in combination or in appropriate sequences. This is where process thinking comes in – a bit like the Blue Hat in Six Thinking Hats, it will help you select the right thinking style for the situation and decided on the order in which to apply them [and recycle if necessary]

Reflective Thinking

To help you learn and benefit from previous experience, it can be useful to adopt a reflective thinking style. This will allow you to look at what you have done in the past and the results you have got. If you combine it with a critical approach, you may get to the real causes of past failures and successes and develop much improved approaches.

So the next time you think you need to think about something – think first about how you need to think.

Think about it!