Creative Thinking for Business
Creative Thinking E-book
The Sly As A Fox Toolkit
Now we get to the really fun stuff. In this section of the book, you will learn a dozen of the most successful creative thinking tools available. These tools come from a combination of many things – university courses, formal training, other creative minds, lots of reading, trial and error, and a huge helping of my own experience.
I’ve tried numerous creative thinking techniques over the years and found the dozen presented here in the “Sly as a Fox Toolkit” to be the most useful.
The consistent theme in all of the tools is to adhere to proven brainstorming rules and techniques. You have undoubtedly brainstormed in the past, and I am sure some of it may not be new to you, but much of it will be. Let’s cover the basic rules of brainstorming now.
The most important objective of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as you can. You are looking for quantity not quality. It’s critical that team members understand this very important difference. People tend to not want to throw out an idea unless they think it’s a really good one. People are afraid to look stupid.
You can set the stage by having a crazy idea contest. Tell everyone up front whoever comes up with the craziest idea, wins $20. Then take a vote at the end and pay them.
When people contribute ideas – no matter how crazy – it acts as a springboard for others in the room. Whatever pops in your mind just go ahead and say it (of course you need to show some restraint in mixed company. You don’t want your brainstorming session to turn into a Human Resource Dept. issue.)
Consistent with the above rule, you want to encourage – not just tolerate – wild and exaggerated ideas no matter how outrageous, ridiculous, crazy, or farfetched. This is not always natural for a lot of people. They tend to think it’s a waste of time to throw out ideas that are not realistic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The benefit of crazy ideas is that they make the whole room start to think of ideas that are really out of the box. People feed on each other and more and more ideas are generated.
Remind them that the group will have time to critique later.
What generally happens is an outrageous idea suddenly pops up, people feed on it, throw out more outrageous ideas, and some more maybe not so crazy. In the end, you always end up with a whole set of new ideas. Some of them more practical than others, but many of them doable with a few minor modifications or adjustments.
Piggybacking of ideas is strongly encouraged. If you have an idea that is similar to one already contributed, don’t be afraid to say it. It may have just enough difference to kick off another idea in someone else’s mind.
As people throw out ideas, it’s also important to note that people should not be asked or expected to discuss the idea. Only short discussions are allowed for clarification. What happens is people feel they have to explain in detail what they are thinking and this derails the entire flow of ideas. Your team will end up getting side tracked.
Assign a scribe to capture ideas on a flip chart or board. It’s critical that all ideas are visible to everyone in the room. Do not simply write ideas down on a piece of paper in front of you. The visual display of ideas is what builds “idea piggybacking.” As you become experienced with this, you will see a big difference in the amount and speed of ideas based on their visibility to everyone.
The scribe must write down every idea. Again it doesn’t matter how crazy it is. Often the scribe will hear an idea they don’t like or do not understand and end up being a filter. They may not write it down and could look around for the next idea so they can pass on this “crazy one” that just came up. Don’t allow this to happen. Write down every idea. Remember, it’s usually the crazy ones that lead to the real innovative ideas that get implemented.
This one is worth repeating again. Withhold judgment of all ideas during the brainstorming session. Wait to be the critic later on or you will really stomp on the creative juices.
Another important ground rule is to leave titles at the door. I have seen more brainstorming sessions killed this way. What happens is a good flow of ideas start to come out and inevitably the senior person in the room opens their mouth and shoots one down. This causes your team members to immediately clam up. If you are in the room and have any type of management role, you need to be very aware of this potential pitfall. It is your responsibility to be cognizant of the dynamics here and keep your criticism to your self. Everyone in the room has equal credibility and idea generating power. There are no kings.
It is also the responsibility of the scribe to make sure all rules are enforced. Post the rules where all team members can see them or make a one page copy for everyone and place it in front of them. It is then the scribe’s job to facilitate the session and stop people when they violate a rule. Trust me – you will inevitably have someone start to criticize ideas and you must put a stop to it. Sometime during the session, the senior person in the room will ignore the rules and say something like, “I don’t think so, we already tried that last year.” This will stop the team building momentum. It’s the scribe’s job to immediately regain control. Quickly remind the senior person of the rules and move on.
Now that we have the basic brainstorming rules out of the way, lets move on to the tools. Just be sure that the team understands and abides by them or your brainstorming sessions will be at a great disadvantage.