Archive for the ‘Practical Creativity’ Category

Rural revitalisation via innovation

Thursday, September 17th, 2020
The government must continually invest in enhancing rural infrastructure. PIC BY OMAR AHMADThe government must continually invest in enhancing rural infrastructure. PIC BY OMAR AHMAD

LETTERS: In Malaysia, rural residents make up 21.6 per cent of the population. Although the number is not that high, this population disproportionately faces poverty, malnutrition and low quality of life.

Promoting strategies and investments that support the revitalisation of rural areas is not only beneficial in creating a competitive and sustainable local economy, but also vital to the social viability of the nation.

Rural revitalisation in this age should go beyond agriculture. Create non-farm markets while making technology and innovation the cornerstones of rural economic growth.

Many programmes under the Rural Development Ministry have been initiated to improve the wellbeing of rural communities, such as the support programme for rural entrepreneurship, Program Sokongan Pengukuhan Keusahawanan Luar Bandar, which is a platform that supports entrepreneurs with financial aid and service-related training and products.

While the initiatives seem to be bearing fruit, rural areas are still struggling with the lack of opportunities for rural folk, forcing many to migrate to cities in hope of a better future.

This leads to another issue — urbanisation that could cause other problems, like insufficient space for building new houses, traffic congestion and urban crime. Data shows that in 2017, nearly 75 per cent of the country’s population lived in cities, with more than seven million people living in Kuala Lumpur.

As the growth is projected to continue, the revitalisation of rural areas is much needed to prevent rural people from migrating so that they can explore the potential of rural areas and maximise the rural economy. So what can be done to revitalise rural areas?

First, the government must continually invest in enhancing rural infrastructure by improving the efficiency and availability of clean water, stable Internet, electricity supply, as well as access to small grocery stores that sell healthy and nutritious food at affordable prices.

Improving rural mobility is essential so that rural folk can easily obtain their daily needs, access services like education, health and finance, reach markets, gain income and participate in social, political and community activities.

While investment in transport has been concentrated on upgrading infrastructure, it is essential to note that the government should also focus on enhancing the quality of public transport services. Apart from that, generating other sources of income in rural areas, such as through mining, service industries and e-commerce, is vital in ramping up the rural economy.

With regard to e-commerce, since this sector is blooming amid the Covid-19 pandemic, this is the right time to undertake an extensive effort to assist rural folk in venturing into this industry.

For example, the Perkhidmatan eDagang Setempat (PeDAS) initiative, launched by the Communications and Multimedia Ministry together with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, helps local entrepreneurs market their products online.

Practical strategies to rejuvenate this programme should be planned well to further expand its functionality in helping rural populations, particularly women, youth and indigenous people, to hone their skills in e-commerce.

The government may need to inject money into this programme, so necessary action could be taken, like expanding the number of one-stop centres, known as Pusat Internet Desa or Village Internet Centre, so that more people can get equal chance in grabbing this opportunity.

by Afifah Suhaimi.

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Brainwriting – Getting More from Your Idea Sessions

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Many of us have taken part in brainstorming sessions. These are commonly used to generate ideas, and to come up with a creative solution to a problem. What can often happen during a brainstorming session, however, is that key players on the team speak up and express their ideas. Everyone else then enters the discussion about those few ideas, and they reach a consensus on the solution – without considering many other ideas that could have been generated.

This can be one of the drawbacks of the brainstorming process. Some members of the group may not speak up because they’re shy, or are afraid that their suggestions may be rejected. Others may say nothing at all because they fear their ideas are simply too outrageous or bold. People with stronger personality types may loudly push and defend their ideas, without listening to others’ suggestions. And ‘conservative’ people may tend to propose only safe alternatives.

Yes, brainstorming can be effective in getting people to think laterally about a problem. However, if you’re faced with obstacles like those we have just mentioned, how do you overcome them?

Enter the brainwriting technique – an idea-generating process that enables EVERYONE in the group to participate in a nonthreatening way. This approach can often generate more potential solutions than traditional brainstorming.

Why? One reason is because traditional brainstorming sessions allow only one person to speak at a time. By the time each individual has spoken (and the group has finished the discussion), most participants have edited, discarded, or simply forgotten their own ideas. This is called ‘blocking,’ and it can reduce creativity and productivity in these sessions. Brainwriting can help to eliminate this problem.

How you can start using it with your team:

Brainwriting is similar to brainstorming – they’re both methods for generating ideas and solutions for a problem.

Brainwriting, however, gives everyone equal opportunity to participate, and it enables all group members to think without any ‘blocking.’

Here are the steps of a brainwriting session:

  1. Seat group members at a table, with a sheet of paper in front of each person. At the top of the page, ask them to write down the problem that everyone is trying to solve. (Note: They should NOT write their names.) Appoint someone to be moderator, and time each round.
  2. Give the group three minutes to write down three ideas for how to solve the problem. They should not edit the ideas, or try to perfect them. Allow them to write in ‘free form.’ Do not permit any discussion.
  3. After three minutes, move on to round two. Gather in the papers, shuffle them, and then pass them out. You may need to sort out cases where someone gets back a paper they have already written on. Ask everyone to generate three more ideas on the new paper they have just received. They can build on the first three ideas that are already written, or think of three new solutions.
  4. The moderator decides how many rounds there are.
  5. When all rounds are finished, collect the papers, and write all ideas on a whiteboard for everyone to see. Then begin discussing which ideas would work best for solving the current problem.

There are several advantages of using brainwriting in a group:

  • Because there’s no discussion during the initial idea-generating rounds, you can produce many ideas in a very short amount of time.
  • All group members – even the quiet and shy people – have an equal chance of offering their ideas for consideration.
  • Everything is anonymous – you don’t know who wrote which ideas – so there’s more freedom to be truly creative. Participants are often empowered to suggest solutions that they otherwise might have thought were too unusual, or would not be well received.
  • Exchanging papers still allows group members to evaluate and build on other people’s ideas, but in a much more concentrated, creative way.

Brainwriting can be used to help solve almost any problem. The process is used often in marketing, design, and creative fields, but it’s also gaining popularity in other areas.

Any time that you would traditionally use brainstorming to solve a problem, you could use brainwriting instead.

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Generating New Ideas

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Think Differently and Spark Creativity:

“We need to think differently!”
“This needs some fresh ideas!”
“We have got to be more creative around here!”

Are messages like these popping up more and more in your workplace?

Faced with complex, open-ended, ever-changing challenges, organizations realize that constant, ongoing innovation is critical to stay ahead of the competition.

This is why we need to be on the lookout for new ideas that can drive innovation, and it’s why the ability to think differently, generate new ideas, and spark creativity within a team becomes an important skill. You need to work actively on building and cultivating this skill, and it can be done!

Often, though, we make the mistake of assuming that good ideas just happen. Or worse still, we get caught in the mind trap that creativity is an aptitude; some people have it, others don’t. Then there is the other self-defeating belief – “I am not intelligent enough to come up with good ideas.”

These assumptions are rarely true. Everyone can come up with fresh, radical ideas – you just need to learn to open your mind and think differently. This article shows you how to do so.

How to generate new ideas:

Standard idea-generation techniques concentrate on combining or adapting existing ideas. This can certainly generate results. But here, the model is to  help you leap onto a totally different plane. These approaches push your mind to forge new connections, think differently and consider new perspectives.

A word of caution – while these techniques are extremely effective, they will only succeed if they are backed by rich knowledge of the area you’re working on. This means that if you are not prepared with adequate information about the issue, you are unlikely to come up with a great idea even by using the techniques listed here.

Incidentally, these techniques can be applied to spark creativity in group settings and brainstorming sessions as well.

Breaking Thought Patterns:

All of us can tend to get stuck in certain thinking patterns. Breaking these thought patterns can help you get your mind unstuck and generate new ideas. There are several techniques you can use to break established thought patterns:

  • Challenge assumptions: For every situation, you have a set of key assumptions. Challenging these assumptions gives you a whole new spin on possibilities.You want to buy a house but can’t since you assume you don’t have the money to make a down payment on the loan. Challenge the assumption. Sure, you don’t have cash in the bank but couldn’t you sell some of your other assets to raise the money? Could you dip into your retirement fund? Could you work overtime and build up the kitty in six months? Suddenly the picture starts looking brighter.
  • Reword the problem: Stating the problem differently often leads to different ideas. To reword the problem look at the issue from different angles. “Why do we need to solve the problem?”, “What’s the roadblock here?”, “What will happen if we don’t solve the problem?” These questions will give you new insights. You might come up with new ideas to solve your new problem.In the mid 1950s, shipping companies were losing money on freighters. They decided they needed to focus on building faster and more efficient ships. However, the problem persisted. Then one consultant defined the problem differently. He said the problem the industry should consider was “how can we reduce cost?” The new problem statement generated new ideas. All aspects of shipping, including storage of cargo and loading time, were considered. The outcome of this shift in focus resulted in the container ship and the roll-on/roll-off freighter.
  • Think in reverse: If you feel you cannot think of anything new, try turning things upside-down. Instead of focusing on how you could solve a problem/improve operations/enhance a product, consider how could you create the problem/worsen operations/downgrade the product. The reverse ideas will come flowing in. Consider these ideas – once you’ve reversed them again – as possible solutions for the original challenge.
  • Express yourself through different media: We have multiple intelligences but somehow, when faced with workplace challenges we just tend to use our verbal reasoning ability. How about expressing the challenge through different media? Clay, music, word association games, paint, there are several ways you can express the challenge. Don’t bother about solving the challenge at this point. Just express it. Different expression might spark off different thought patterns. And these new thought patterns may yield new ideas.

Connect the unconnected:

Some of the best ideas seem to occur just by chance. You see something or you hear someone, often totally unconnected to the situation you are trying to resolve, and the penny drops in place. Newton and the apple, Archimedes in the bath tub; examples abound.

Why does this happen? The random element provides a new stimulus and gets our brain cells ticking. You can capitalize on this knowledge by consciously trying to connect the unconnected.

Actively seek stimuli from unexpected places and then see if you can use these stimuli to build a connection with your situation. Some techniques you could use are:

  • Use random input: Choose a word from the dictionary and look for novel connections between the word and your problem.
  • Mind map possible ideas: Put a key word or phrase in the middle of the page. Write whatever else comes in your mind on the same page. See if you can make any connections.
  • Pick up a picture. Consider how you can relate it to your situation.
  • Take an item. Ask yourself questions such as “How could this item help in addressing the challenge?”, or “What attributes of this item could help us solve our challenge?”

Shift perspective:

Over the years we all build a certain type of perspective and this perspective yields a certain type of idea. If you want different ideas, you will have to shift your perspective. To do so:

  • Get someone else’s perspective: Ask different people what they would do if faced with your challenge. You could approach friends engaged in different kind of work, your spouse, a nine-year old child, customers, suppliers, senior citizens, someone from a different culture; in essence anyone who might see things differently.
  • Play the “If I were” game: Ask yourself “If I were …” how would I address this challenge? You could be anyone: a millionaire, Tiger Woods, anyone.The idea is the person you decide to be has certain identifiable traits. And you have to use these traits to address the challenge. For instance, if you decide to play the millionaire, you might want to bring traits such as flamboyance, big thinking and risk-taking when formulating an idea. If you are Tiger Woods you would focus on things such as perfection, persistence and execution detail.

Employ enablers:

Enablers are activities and actions that assist with, rather than directly provoke, idea generation. They create a positive atmosphere. Some of the enablers that can help you get your creative juices flowing are:

  • Belief in yourself: Believe that you are creative, believe that ideas will come to you; positive reinforcement helps you perform better.
  • Creative loafing time: Nap, go for a walk, listen to music, play with your child, take a break from formal idea-generating. Your mind needs the rest, and will often come up with connections precisely when it isn’t trying to make them.
  • Change of environment: Sometimes changing the setting changes your thought process. Go to a nearby coffee shop instead of the conference room in your office, or hold your discussion while walking together round a local park.
  • Shutting out distractions: Keep your thinking space both literally and mentally clutter-free. Shut off the Blackberry, close the door, divert your phone calls and then think.
  • Fun and humor: These are essential ingredients, especially in team settings.

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Provocation – Carrying Out Thought Experiments

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Provocation is an important lateral thinking technique. Just like Random Input, it works by moving your thinking out of the established patterns that you use to solve problems.

As explained earlier, we think by recognizing patterns and reacting to them. These reactions come from our past experiences and logical extensions to those experiences. Often we do not think outside these patterns. While we may know the answer as part of a different type of problem, the structure of our brains makes it difficult for us to link this in.

Provocation, originally developed by Edward de Bono, is one of the tools we use to make links between these patterns.

How to  use this model:

We begin by making deliberately stupid statements (Provocations), in which something we take for granted about the situation is not true. Statements need to be stupid to shock our minds out of existing ways of thinking. Once we have made a provocative statement, we then suspend judgment and use that statement to generate ideas. Provocations give us original starting points for creative thinking.

As an example, we could make a statement that ‘Houses should not have roofs’. Normally this would not be a good idea! However this leads one to think of houses with opening roofs, or houses with glass roofs. These would allow you to lie in bed and look up at the stars.

Once you have made the Provocation, you can use it in a number of different ways, by examining:

  • The consequences of the statement
  • What the benefits would be
  • What special circumstances would make it a sensible solution
  • The principles needed to support it and make it work
  • How it would work moment-to-moment
  • What would happen if a sequence of events was changed
  • Etc.

You can use this list as a checklist.

Edward de Bono has developed and popularize use of Provocation by using the word ‘Po’. ‘Po’ stands for ‘Provocative operation’. As well as laying out how to use Provocation effectively, he suggests that when we make a Provocative statement in public the we label it as such with ‘Po’ (e.g. ‘Po: the earth is flat’). This does rely on all members of your audience knowing about Provocation!

Edward de Bono’s books, including Serious Creativity, explore this sort of technique in detail.

As with other lateral thinking techniques, Provocation does not always produce good or relevant ideas. Often, though, it does. Ideas generated using Provocation are likely to be fresh and original.


The owner of a video-hire shop is looking at new ideas for business to compete with the Internet. She starts with the provocation ‘Customers should not pay to borrow videos’.

Then she examines the provocation:

  • Consequences: The shop would get no rental revenue and therefore would need alternative sources of cash. It would be cheaper to borrow the video from the shop than to download the film or order it from a catalogue.
  • Benefits: Many more people would come to borrow videos. More people would pass through the shop. The shop would spoil the market for other video shops in the area.
  • Circumstances: The shop would need other revenue. Perhaps the owner could sell advertising in the shop, or sell popcorn, sweets, bottles of wine or pizzas to people borrowing films. This would make her shop a one-stop ‘Night at home’ shop. Perhaps it would only lend videos to people who had absorbed a 30-second commercial, or completed a market research questionnaire.

After using the Provocation, the owner of the video shop decides to run an experiment for several months. She will allow customers to borrow the top ten videos free (but naturally will fine them for late returns). She puts the videos at the back of the shop. In front of them she places displays of bottles of wine, soft drinks, popcorn and sweets so that customers have to walk past them to get to the videos. Next to the film return counter she sells merchandise from the top ten films being hired.

If the approach is a success she will open a pizza stand inside the shop.

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Random Input – Making Creative Leaps

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Making Creative Leaps:

Random Input is a lateral thinking tool. It is very useful when you need fresh ideas or new perspectives during problem solving.

As explained in the introduction to this chapter, we tend to think by recognizing patterns. We react to these patterns based on past experience and extensions to that experience. Sometimes, though, we get stuck inside them. Within a particular pattern there may be no good solution to a particular sort of problem.

Random input is a technique for linking another thinking pattern into the one we are using. Along with this new pattern comes all the experience you have connected to it.

To use Random Input:

Select a random noun from either a dictionary or a pre-prepared word list. It often helps if the noun is something that can be seen or touched (e.g. ‘helicopter’, ‘dog’) rather than a concept (e.g. ‘fairness’). Use this noun as the starting point for brainstorming your problem.

You may find that you get good insights if you select a word from a separate field in which you have some expertise.

If you choose a good word, you will add a range of new ideas and concepts to your brainstorming. While some will be useless, hopefully you will gain some good new insights into your problem. If you persist, then at least one of these is likely to be a startling creative leap.


Imagine that you are thinking about the problem of reducing car pollution. So far in thinking through the problem you have considered all the conventional solutions of catalytic conversion and clean fuels.

Selecting a random noun from the titles of the books in a bookcase you might see the word ‘Plants’. Brainstorming from this you could generate a number of new ideas:

  • Plant trees on the side of roads to convert CO2 back into oxygen
  • Similarly, pass exhaust gases through a soup of algae to convert CO2 back into oxygen. Perhaps this is how an ‘air scrubber’ in a space craft works?
  • Put sulfur-metabolizing bacteria into an exhaust gas processor to clean up exhaust gases. Would nitrogen compounds fertilize these bacteria?
  • Another meaning of ‘Plant’ is factory. Perhaps exhaust gases could be collected in a container, and sent to a special plant to be cleaned? Perhaps you could offload these gases at the same time as you fill up with fuel?

These ideas are very raw. Some may be wrong or impractical. One of them might be original and the basis of some useful development.

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Concept Fan – Widening the Search for Solutions

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Concept Fans help you find new approaches to problem solving, when you have rejected all obvious solutions. Originated by Edward de Bono in his book  Serious Creativity, they develop the principle of  ‘taking one step back’ to get a broader perspective.

To use the model:

To start a Concept Fan, draw a circle in the middle of a large piece of paper. Write the problem you are trying to solve into it. To the right of it radiate lines representing possible solutions to the problem. This is shown in Figure 1:

It may be that the ideas you have are impractical or do not really solve the problem. If this is the case, take a ’step back’ for a broader view of the problem.

Do this by drawing a circle to the left of the first circle, and write the broader definition into this new circle. Link it with an arrow to show that it comes from the first circle:

Use this as a starting point to radiate out other ideas:

If this does not give you enough new ideas, you can take yet another step back (and another, and another…):

Concept Fan Diagram

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The Reframing Matrix

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Looking at problems from a different perspective:

A Reframing Matrix is a simple technique that helps you to look at business problems from a number of different viewpoints. It expands the range of creative solutions that you can generate.

The approach relies on the fact that different people with different experience approach problems in different ways. What this technique helps you to do is to put yourself into the minds of different people and imagine the solutions they would come up with.

To use the model:

Put the question to be asked in the middle of a grid. We use boxes around the grid for the different perspectives. This is just an easy way of laying the problem out, so if it does not suit you, change it.

We will look at two different approaches to the reframing matrix – you could, however, use this approach in many different ways.

The 4 Ps approach:

This relies on looking at a problem from different perspectives within a business. The 4 Ps approach looks at problems from the following viewpoints:

  • Product perspective: Is there something wrong with the product?
  • Planning perspective: Are our business plans or marketing plans at fault?
  • Potential perspective: If we were to seriously increase our targets, how would we achieve these increases?
  • People perspective: Why do people choose one product over another?

An example of this approach is shown below:

The professional approach:

Another approach to using a reframing matrix is to look at the problem from the viewpoints of different specialists. The way, for example, that a doctor looks at a problem would be different from the approach a civil engineer would use. This would be different from a sales manager’s perspective.

The idea of the Reframing Matrix was devised by Michael Morgan in his book Creating Workforce Innovation.

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Attribute Listing, Morphological Analysis and Matrix Analysis

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Creating new products and services:

Attribute Listing, Morphological Analysis and Matrix Analysis are good techniques for finding new combinations of products or services. They are sufficiently similar to be discussed together. We use Attribute Listing and Morphological Analysis to generate new products and services.

To use the techniques, firstly list the attributes of the product, service or strategy you are examining. Attributes are parts, properties, qualities or design elements of the thing being looked at. For example, attributes of a pencil would be shaft material, lead material, hardness of lead, width of lead, quality, color, weight, price, and so on. A television plot would have attributes such as characters, actions, locations, and weather. For a marketing strategy you might use attributes such as of markets open to you, uses of the product, and skills you have available.

Draw up a table using these attributes as column headings. Write down as many variations of the attribute as possible within these columns. This might be an exercise that benefits from Brainstorming. The table should now show all possible variations of each attribute.

Now select one entry from each column. Either do this randomly or select interesting combinations. By mixing one item from each column, you will create a new mixture of components. This is a new product, service or strategy.

Finally, evaluate and improve that mixture to see if you can imagine a profitable market for it.


Imagine that you want to create a new lamp. The starting point for this might be to carry out a morphological analysis. Properties of a lamp might be power supply, bulb type, light intensity, size, style, finish, material, shade, and so on.

You can set these out as column headings on a table, and then brainstorm variations. This table is sometimes known as a “Morphological Box” or “Zwicky Box” after the scientist Fritz Zwicky, who developed the technique in the 1960s.

Attribute Listing Matrix

Some Interesting combinations might be:

  • Solar powered/battery, medium intensity, daylight bulb – possibly used in clothes shops to allow customers to see the true color of clothes.
  • Large hand cranked arc lights – used in developing countries, or far from a mains power supply
  • A ceramic oil lamp in Roman style – used in themed restaurants, resurrecting the olive oil lamps of 2000 years ago
  • A normal table lamp designed to be painted, wallpapered or covered in fabric so that it matches the style of a room perfectly

Some of these might be practical, novel ideas for the lighting manufacturer. Some might not. This is where the manufacturer’s experience and market knowledge are important.

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Reverse Brainstorming

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Reverse brainstorming helps you solve problems by combining brainstorming and reversal techniques. By combining these, you can extend your use of brainstorming to draw out even more creative ideas.

To use this technique, you start with one of two “reverse” questions:

Instead of asking, “How do I solve or prevent this problem?” ask, “How could I possibly cause the problem?”

Instead of asking “How do I achieve these results?” ask,”How could I possibly achieve the opposite effect?”

To use this model:

  1. Clearly identify the problem or challenge, and write it down.

  2. Reverse the problem or challenge by asking:
    “How could I possibly cause the problem?”, or
    “How could I possibly achieve the opposite effect?”
  3. Brainstorm the reverse problem to generate reverse solution ideas. Allow the brainstorm ideas to flow freely. Do not reject anything at this stage.
  4. Once you have brainstormed all the ideas to solve the reverse problem, now reverse these into solution ideas for the original problem or challenge.
  5. Evaluate these solution ideas. Can you see a potential solution? Can you see attributes of a potential solution?


Luciana is the manager of a health clinic and she has the task of improving patient satisfaction.

There have been various improvement initiatives in the past and the team members have become rather skeptical about another meeting on the subject. The team is overworked, team members are “trying their best” and there is no appetite to “waste” time talking about this.

So she decides to use some creative problem solving techniques she has learned. This, she hopes, will make the team meeting more interesting and engage people in a new way.

Perhaps it will reveal something more than the usual “good ideas” that no one has time to act on.

To prepare for the team meeting, Luciana thinks carefully about the problem and writes down the problem statement:

  • “How do we improve patient satisfaction?”

Then she reverses problem statement:

  • “How do we make more patients dissatisfied?”

Already she starts to see how the new angle could reveal some surprising results.

At the team meeting, everyone gets involved in an enjoyable and productive reverse brainstorming session. They draw on both their work experience with patients and also their personal experience of being patients and customers of other organizations. Luciana helps ideas flow freely, ensuring people to not pass judgment on even the most unlikely suggestions.

Here are just a few of the “reverse” ideas:

  • Double book appointments.
  • Remove the chairs from the waiting room.
  • Put patients who phone on hold (and forget about them).
  • Have patients wait outside in the car park.
  • Discuss patient’s problems in public.

When the brainstorming session runs dry, the team has a long list of the “reverse” solutions. Now it’s time to look at each one in reverse into a potential solution. Well, resulting discussions are quite revealing. For example:

“Well of course we don’t leave patients outside in the car park – we already don’t do that.”
“But what about in the morning, there are often patients waiting outside until opening time?”
“Mmm, true. Pretty annoying for people on first appointments.”
“So why don’t we open the waiting room 10 minutes earlier so it doesn’t happen?”
“Right, we’ll do that from tomorrow. There are 2 or 3 staff working already, so it’s no problem”.

And so it went on. The reverse brainstorming session revealed tens of improvement ideas that the team could implement swiftly and easily.

Luciana concluded: “It was enlightening and fun to looking at the problem in reverse. The amazing thing is, it’s helped us become more patient-friendly by stopping doing things rather than creating more work”.

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Brainstorming – Generating many radical, creative ideas

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Brainstorming is a popular tool that helps you generate creative solutions to a problem.

It is particularly useful when you want to break out of stale, established patterns of thinking, so that you can develop new ways of looking at things. It also helps you overcome many of the issues that can make group problem-solving a sterile and unsatisfactory process.

Used with your team, it helps you bring the diverse experience of all team members into play during problem solving. This increases the richness of ideas explored, meaning that you can find better solutions to the problems you face.

It can also help you get buy in from team members for the solution chosen – after all, they were involved in developing that solution. What’s more, because brainstorming is fun, it helps team members bond with one-another as they solve problems in a positive, distraction-free environment.

What is brainstorming?

Brainstorming combines a relaxed, informal approach to problem-solving with lateral thinking. It asks that people come up with ideas and thoughts that can at first seem to be a bit crazy. The idea here is that some of these ideas can be crafted into original, creative solutions to the problem you’re trying to solve, while others can spark still more ideas. This approach aims to get people unstuck, by “jolting” them out of their normal ways of thinking.

During brainstorming sessions there should therefore be no criticism of ideas: You are trying to open up possibilities and break down wrong assumptions about the limits of the problem. Judgments and analysis at this stage stunt idea generation.

Ideas should only be evaluated at the end of the brainstorming session – this is the time to explore solutions further using conventional approaches.

Individual Brainstorming:

While group brainstorming is often more effective at generating ideas than normal group problem-solving, study after study has shown that when individuals brainstorm on their own, they come up with more ideas, and often better quality ideas, than groups of people who brainstorm together.

Partly this occurs because, in groups, people aren’t always strict in following the rules of brainstorming, and bad group behaviors creep in. Mostly, though, this occurs because people are paying so much attention to other people’s ideas that they’re not generating ideas of their own – or they’re forgetting these ideas while they wait for their turn to speak. This is called “blocking”.

When you brainstorm on your own, you’ll tend to produce a wider range of ideas than with group brainstorming – you do not have to worry about other people’s egos or opinions, and can therefore be more freely creative. For example, you might find that an idea you’d be hesitant to bring up in a group session develops into something quite special when you explore it with individual brainstorming. Nor do you have to wait for others to stop speaking before you contribute your own ideas.

You may not, however, develop ideas as fully when you brainstorm on your own, as you do not have the wider experience of other members of a group to help you.

Group Brainstorming:

When it works, group brainstorming can be very effective for bringing the full experience and creativity of all members of the group to bear on an issue. When individual group members get stuck with an idea, another member’s creativity and experience can take the idea to the next stage. Group brainstorming can therefore develop ideas in more depth than individual brainstorming.

Another advantage of group brainstorming is that it helps everyone involved to feel that they’ve contributed to the end solution, and it reminds people that other people have creative ideas to offer. What’s more, brainstorming is fun, and it can be great for team-building!

Brainstorming in a group can be risky for individuals. Valuable but strange suggestions may appear stupid at first sight. Because of this, you need to chair sessions tightly so that ideas are not crushed, and so that the usual issues with group problem-solving don’t stifle creativity.

To use this tool:

You can often get the best results by combining individual and group brainstorming, and by managing the process carefully and according to the “rules” below. That way, you get people to focus on the issue without interruption (this comes from having everyone in a dedicated group meeting), you maximize the number of ideas you can generate, and you get that great feeling of team bonding that comes with a well-run brainstorming session!

To run a group brainstorming session effectively, do the following:

  • Find a comfortable meeting environment, and set it up ready for the session.
  • Appoint one person to record the ideas that come from the session. These should be noted in a format than everyone can see and refer to. Depending on the approach you want to use, you may want to record ideas on flip charts, whiteboards, or computers with data projectors.
  • If people aren’t already used to working together, consider using an appropriate warm-up exercise or ice-breaker.
  • Define the problem you want solved clearly, and lay out any criteria to be met. Make it clear that that the objective of the meeting is to generate as many ideas as possible.
  • Give people plenty of time on their own at the start of the session to generate as many ideas as possible.
  • Ask people to give their ideas, making sure that you give everyone a fair opportunity to contribute.
  • Encourage people to develop other people’s ideas, or to use other ideas to create new ones.
  • Encourage an enthusiastic, uncritical attitude among members of the group. Try to get everyone to contribute and develop ideas, including the quietest members of the group.
  • Ensure that no one criticizes or evaluates ideas during the session. Criticism introduces an element of risk for group members when putting forward an idea. This stifles creativity and cripples the free running nature of a good brainstorming session.
  • Let people have fun brainstorming. Encourage them to come up with as many ideas as possible, from solidly practical ones to wildly impractical ones. Welcome creativity!
  • Ensure that no train of thought is followed for too long. Make sure that you generate a sufficient number of different ideas, as well as exploring individual ideas in detail.
  • In a long session, take plenty of breaks so that people can continue to concentrate.

Where possible, participants in the brainstorming process should come from as wide a range of disciplines as possible. This brings a broad range of experience to the session and helps to make it more creative. However, don’t make the group too big – as with other types of teamwork, groups of 5 to 7 people are often most effective.

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