STRETCHING AND LAYERING FOR BETTER THINKING
OBJECTIVE FOR TODAY
The objective for today is to understand the importance of stretching and layering your ideas, to make sure that you don’t necessarily go with the most obvious and predictable solution, as it’s not necessarily the best one for moving you or your business forward.
First, you will spend about 5-10 minutes reading this week’s Crucial Core (below) which focuses on two creativity precepts:
- ‘Explore the givens’; and
- ‘Cycle often, and close late.’
You will then go on to learn some top tips, all supported by scientific research and evidence, that you can action straightaway to improve your own creativity.
If you’d like to do any further reading, as always I have provided you with the Bumper Bonus Bits at the end of this section.
This week’s Idea Time activity is a creative exercise to apply your learning from this week to building on the SOAR analysis and mind mapping or sticky note brain dumping you did earlier this week. It should take between 10-15 minutes.
1. Getting your early ideas out of your head and onto paper clears the way for fresh ideas to follow.
2. It is important not to be satisfied with your first set of ideas. Instead, build on them, stretch them and improve on them.
3. Using a combination of different idea generation and development techniques to address same challenge or opportunity will enrich your creative thinking.
Quantity on its own is not enough to generate quality
Idea proliferation is all about increasing the number of available ideas, from which a small number high-quality ideas can be selected for further development. Quantity on its own is not enough to generate quality, however.
Essential ingredients for generating potential creative solutions are to:
- Make sure that you thoroughly understand the different dimensions of the challenge you want to work on, potentially by defining it as tightly as you can: and
- To move away from coming up with ideas that come to mind relatively easily, going beyond the most obvious solutions, and stretching to think of approaches that you haven’t considered previously.
Writing down all you know, followed by all the thoughts and ideas you have in your mind about the challenge, is a good way of clearing your head to make way for fresh and more innovative thinking.
Once you get into more idea generation and idea development, remember the importance of two key creativity precepts:
- ‘Explore the givens’; and
- ‘Cycle often, and close late.’
Thoroughly exploring the challenge that you have set yourself, and challenging your own assumptions about it, will undoubtedly lead to a better quality solution and outcome.
EXPLORE THE GIVENS
Exploring the givens means questioning what might seem to be obvious, and breaking down your challenge or opportunity to better understand it, asking questions about it such as ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’.
This is important because many challenges seem problematic due to the assumptions we have made about them. Our assumptions are not always correct or up-to-date due to our relevance bias, which our brains evolved to filter our information that we think will be less useful for us. Our relevance bias prevents us from becoming overwhelmed, but the downside is that sometimes we do not recognize important or helpful information. Thoroughly exploring the challenge that you have set yourself, and challenging your own assumptions about it, will undoubtedly lead to a better quality solution and outcome.
Get all your thoughts out and onto paper so that you can see them visually and prioritise where you’d like to begin.
CYCLE OFTEN, AND CLOSE LATE
‘Cycling often’ means that we can generate ideas, refine them, learn, and continue to repeat the cycle to build the most optimal solution with the time and resources available.
‘Closing late’ means making the final decision at the last possible moment. This has the benefit of us being able to include last-minute information and updates, networking, iterating, being open to unexpected events and so on.
The best route from A to B is not necessarily a straight line. Problem solving may involve iteration and blind alleys, often going backwards for a while in order to move forwards, but a number of factors can get in the way of us taking the time to explore out options fully. These are:
- An expectation, imposed on ourselves, or by others, that we should be decisive, and have the ability to make good decisions instantly. Rapid decision-making may be genuinely necessary in fast-moving, emergency situations, but the time pressures in most business situations do not really fall into these categories.
- Being so pleased or relieved that we have our ‘solution’ when we come across our first potential options sometimes gets in the way of us seeing that a little more time ad extra effort might have given us the opportunity to discover a better one. However, we can’t keep going and going, of course, or else nothing would be decided or get done, but often we can go directly from idea to solution too readily.
- The enthusiasm for starting an exciting, new project. Remember, though, that it’s generally more cost effective to generate big, new ideas at the beginning of any process to achieve something new than towards the end. The costs of rejecting an early idea are much less than the costs of abandoning one that is well into development. By ‘cycling often’, you can keep your implementation costs lower.
- We all have to balance the benefits from solving the problem against the costs of the problem-solving process. Idea generation and development are only worth doing if we have put enough time and effort into it to come up with a reasonable solution, but not so much that we get into diminishing returns.
Now it’s time to build on your work from the previous days. If you haven’t got your work handy, it would be a good idea to get it now so that you can use it in this Idea Time activity.
You’ll also need a pen and paper, and some more sticky notes if you have them and want to use them (but they aren’t essential).
1. Get out the mind map or sticky note braindump from yesterday.
2. Identify all the things that you’ve written down that are:
- a. Helping you (mark them with a tick).
- b. Hindering you (mark them with a red dot).
For each of your items in a. and b., ask yourself why these items are helping or hindering you, by completing the following statement for each one, and writing down your answers as you go:
This is helping / hindering me because….
3. Now ask yourself these questions and make notes on your answers.
- a. How could I leverage this? (for ‘help’ items).
- b. How could I improve or get round this? (for ‘hinder’ items).
Simply asking yourself, and answering these questions, and writing down your responses, creates new layers of ideas that will help to move your forward. These are very simple steps, and almost seem common sense. The reality, though, is that in practice, because we are busy, or short of time, we go straight from problem mode to solution mode, and then directly to action, without stopping to develop our understanding of the challenge at hand, or developing ideas for potential new, different and possibly better solutions.
Simply asking yourself, and answering these questions, and writing down your responses, creates new layers of ideas that will help to move your forward.
BUMPER BONUS BITS
Of course, the two creative precepts you’ve been thinking about in this session shouldn’t be confused with ‘analysis paralysis’.
Analysis paralysis is when we overthink a situation to such an extent that we don’t move forward. It can happen for a number of reasons, for example, feeling that we have either so much information that we feel overwhelmed, or not enough data to make a good choice on our next steps. Decision-making is stalled, and progress is frustratingly slow, or there is no progress at all. The inaction it causes can lead to missed opportunities.
Often uncertainty or lack of confidence in decision-making is at the root of analysis paralysis. Although individuals who demonstrate analysis paralysis tendencies will often deflect it by saying they want to get things exactly right, what they frequently mean is that they don’t want to get things wrong, and are afraid of failure or looking bad, which is quite different.
USING THIS INSIGHT TO HELP OTHERS
If you have a colleague who shows signs of analysis paralysis, you can use these steps to support your influencing approach, and help them by giving the information that they need to make their decision in a userfriendly way that works for them.
7 STEPS TO BEING MORE DECISIVE
- Separate those decisions that need your immediate attention from the ones that can wait.
- When a decision needs your attention, question how important it is and the
impact it will have.
- Make sure that you are clear about what you want to achieve when you are making your decision.
- Get all the relevant information into one place in front of you, and then write down the options as you see them.
- If you have what seems to be a big decision to make about a complex matter, break it down into a series of smaller decisions to make things more manageable.
- Remember that while we need to get as much relevant data as we can, that there is very rarely any such thing as ‘perfect’ data or a ‘perfect’ decision – making environment. It’s not about making a decision that is correct or right, but rather about making the best decision you can with the information available to you at the time.
- If you are still putting off making your decision, create a deadline that you can’t miss, for example promising a response to others by a certain date.