As we have discussed, when trying to identify creative solutions to problems we need to generate a different perspective, so we can think in new ways. It’s rather like getting the creative juices flowing. It’s what von Oech calls a “Whack on the Side of Head” and de Bono calls “provocation”. We will look at some of the things we can do to stimulate our mind to look at things differently.
As we noted earlier play and having fun are great stimulants of creativity. They get the creative juices flowing. They also stimulate the generation of intermediate impossibilities and cause others to spontaneously switch tracks to a different perspective.
Intermediate impossibilities are the wacky or silly suggestions. In themselves they could not possibly describe a solution, – hence the impossibility. Further examination of their essential ideas reveals potential paths to a solution which can be made practical. They are a step on the way – hence intermediate.
When there seems to be a road block in thinking, stimulating a playful, fun outlook that produces these wacky ideas is a very good thing. They allow you divert around the obstacle.
An organisation I knew was looking at how the reception area of their building worked. They were using a “Super Heroes” brainstorming technique. In this the participants adopted a super hero, e.g Batman, Superman, Spiderman and so on and threw out ideas in keeping with these characters.
The 60 year old receptionist had adopted Spiderman. Her Spiderman-like idea was that she would hang from the ceiling and when a visitor entered the reception she would swing across ceiling and drop down in front of them with a welcome. Plainly a silly, impossible idea.
However, when the idea was analysed it was seen that its essence was movement. The receptionist would go over to the visitor to greet them, not staying behind the counter waiting for the visitor to come over. This leads on to a different understanding of how the reception area would be designed and work. There would be an ordinary desk to one side, the receptionist would greet the visitor by name and take them to the seating area and provide a cup of coffee. The result being a much more welcoming first impression of the company.
The Spiderman notion was quite impossible but it was an intermediate step to a very interesting solution to improving the visitors’ experience of the company. Hence intermediate impossibility.
Some people tend to be logical analytical thinkers preferring the use of words, numbers and symbols. They need detail and are rational in that they draw conclusions from facts. They are very sequential in that their thinking flows from one thing to another.
At the other extreme some people might be described as visual thinkers, seeing things in relationship to each other and discerning whole patterns. They synthesise things combining them into a whole because they sense relationships between them. They are intuitive and make leaps of insight from partial or incomplete patterns and images.
Everyone sits somewhere in a spectrum between these extremes. Our minds are capable of both kinds of thought but tend to have a preference. This limits our thinking ability and the perspectives we can gain. It’s as if we are not using the full power of our minds.
Paint the Problem
One approach to stimulate our least preferred kind of thinking is to have the problem solving team members make a picture that represents the problem under consideration and then describe it to the rest of the team. It’s best to use thick markers or even better still, use finger paints. There is something about that tactile process that is more fun and more stimulating.
This may seem really wacky, even inappropriate in an organisational setting where people are doing paid work. However, painting stimulates visual thinking, explaining the painting stimulates logical and verbal thinking. So this approach has several benefits:
- It’s fun and it stimulates creativity both of which stimulate the generation of new ideas.
- The whole process creates a different perspective and inspires different thinking.
- It stimulates both types of thinking and so engages more of the mind in the creative process.
- It enables the more visual and intuitive thinkers to stimulate their more logical, rational faculties helping gain a different perspective to the problem.
- It enables the more textual, logical, rational thinkers to stimulate their more visual and intuitive faculties and also gain a different perspective on the problem.
It’s an excellent tool to use at the beginning of a creative thinking exercise or to reinvigorate the team when they start to get stale.
Object forcing is a way of provoking a change in perspective. Effectively one forces a randomly selected object to be included in potential solutions. This compels one to think differently. If the inclusion of the object creates a logical inconsistency the result may be an intermediate impossibility.
It’s important that the object be chosen at random. This allows it to have maximum impact as a provocation to different thinking. If it’s not chosen randomly it is likely that it is chosen to fit in with the way that you think. So, choose an object at random from the room you are in or that you can see through the window. The visual impact of seeing a real object is also a stimulation to different perspectives. Alternatively, use a random list of objects, see Appendix 1 Random List of Objects.
The goal of object forcing is not to directly generate a solution, although that might happen, it is to provoke us to take a different perspective than we would normally take and so stimulate our creativity. Thus object forcing may be a good exercise if creative juices have dried up and progress has become blocked.
How does it work?
Let’s look at a trivial example as an illustration.
The Problem: Too many paper clips are being used in the office. How can we reduce the number?
The Random Object: A crab
- The object can be used directly in the solution. For example. Glue the paper clip container to the crab’s back so when it scurries away and hides, the paper clips cannot be found. This is a silly solution, perhaps an intermediate impossibility. So analyse the essence of what is going, does it help find a solution. Put the paper clips where it’s hard to get at them.
- Characteristics of the objects may inspire a solution – it may be metaphor. The hard shell of the crab speaks of security. It’s hard to open. Place the paper clips in a secure, locked cupboard so people have to ask for them.
Don’t stop at the first crazy solution but look for as many as you can find and have fun.
If you just needed to restart the creative juices flowing then maybe you have done enough by playing with object forcing.
If you were looking for intermediate impossibilities then review the crazy solutions that emerged. Does the essence of any of these point to a real solution?
Here are some examples, not fully thought through, applying this to the “How can I release people to serve?” question:
- The crab’s prey escapes from it pincers.
If I as the pastor were the crab, perhaps I could “chase” people out into the community to serve on Sundays as an alternative form of worshiping God?
- The crab grabs things in its pincers and takes them back to its home.
Perhaps our people could go out and bring people off the street to have a meal, a cup of coffee etc. at the church.
- Reversing that, the crab could pick things up and take them to people.
Perhaps we could offer a shopping service to help people who cannot go out shopping easily.
- Crabs scurry sideways into the hiding places
Perhaps it could take us to where people go to hide so that we could show them God’s love?
Injecting a random word into your thinking is another good provocation that forces your thinking onto a different track. It was devised by Edward de Bono. It simply involves finding a word at random. You can use a dictionary for instance or you could randomly choose a book from your book case, then randomly choose a page, a line and a word.
If the first word doesn’t work then choose another random word. For instance one might find it difficult to work with the word “a” or “it” or a scientific, medical or technical word with which you are unfamiliar. However, it does need to be random so that it doesn’t reflect your thinking as then you will be unlikely to switch tracks.
Then it is a matter of word association. What does that random word make you think of in the context of your problem statement?
How does it work?
Here is worked example: The question is “How can I release people to serve?”
To prove the point I chose a book at random from a book case and then randomly selected a word from inside.
The Book was “Methods and Data Analysis for Cross-Cultural Research”. I randomly chose: Page 126, Line 15 and word 7. If I recall I used a random number function in Excel to do this (but you can find other ways). The word I found was “district”
I then started idea association. The word “district” alone didn’t help me but it led to other thoughts as you can see on the mind map.
“District” led to the ideas of:
- Chosen or specific areas
- A region
- People (from a different district) new to the area
- Areas of responsibility
Then working with each of these in turn, in the context of my question the following trains of thought developed:
- Chosen Area:
- We could serve a specific street.
- We could identify our existing abilities to see how we can serve.
- We can consider new capabilities that we need in which case training and coaching would be needed.
- Region – which led to the idea of culture (the culture of the people of that region)
- Cultures have language. Could we start an English language school for immigrants or help them with conversational English?
- Regions have cuisine. From our people:
- Could we start a café?
- Could we hold a banquet in a certain cuisine and invite folk along?
- Could we run a cooking competition?
- People from different regions and cultures may feel isolated in our community, can we befriend them?
And so on.
Take a Moment
- Working with the problem statement you originally started with in the previous “Take a Moment” exercise, or one of the restatements that emerged from those exercises:
- Apply object forcing technique to the problem statement using a random object
- Apply the random word technique to the problem statement
- Compare the outcomes, what are your observations?