Second in a two-part series
Last month, we looked at the necessity of coming up with as many ideas as possible when "brainsparking" for innovation in your organization. Here are six techniques you can practice to draw out the creativity in your people.
1. Let your fingers do the solving. I often have clients turn to their Yellow Pages for great idea sparkers. Open the giant yellow book to a random page, then close your eyes and point to any listing or advertisement.
Open your eyes, study the ad or listing and explore the way this relates to your own challenge. Ask your employees what they have in common with the advertiser, or whether they are totally different. Create a list of similarities and differences and pin them up to see if they lead to solutions. You may be surprised.
While working with a small engineering firm, our concern was how to promote better customer service in what was often considered a pretty standardized profession. The senior partner opened the Yellow Pages and blindly pointed to an advertisement from a plumber. We began by asking how his company's service challenge was like plumbing, and the conversation turned to how a plumber without the proper tools would be useless to his customers.
It dawned him that his clients seldom saw his firm's tools of the trade, so his firm rarely achieved a good service perception. The client decided to implement the use of laptop computers in an effort to get clients involved directly on site, with a goal of leaving at least preliminary proposals and reports on each visit.
2. Connect your pictures to the challenge. Use symbolic metaphors to gain a new perspective on your challenge. Members of the group are asked to bring a picture or object that has personal meaning or that interests them.
The items don't have to relate to what you are working on, but they must be significant to the ones who bring them. Employees are asked to find the connection between their items and the challenge at hand.
At first, this may make no sense because the object and the challenge may seem to have nothing in common. But once employees are encouraged to find similarities, they naturally will go beneath the surface of both to find where they may connect.
You'll find that virtually everything is interrelated if it is considered deeply enough. Looking at the challenge from a new perspective may be the first step to finding a solution.
3. Jump, skip and hop. This technique puts everything in reverse and begins with the end foremost in our minds. Focus on the desired result or solution, then work backwards to determine the best path to get to this end.
Recently I worked with a group of top-level salespeople at a major soft drink company. Even though everyone had years of extensive sales training, they had a common challenge when it came to achieving specific goals for their units or departments.
Notice that I said achieving, not setting goals. They knew what results they needed; they just weren't sure how to get there. My job was to brainspark with them on a process for achieving their goals.
That's when it hit me. Sometimes, if you have the result in mind, you simply need to work backwards in small increments to see what is required. A two-year plan to increase sales by 13 percent may seem like a large task, but if you divide the time into three periods of eight months, the increase is less than 5 percent per period.
Ideas for programs and incentives to get to this smaller goal are a lot easier to generate than they are looking at the larger picture.
4. The Ben Franklin approach. This appeals to groups made up mainly of analytical professionals, such as engineers. Their creativity takes more of a step-by-step approach.
Use a series of lists on as many different topics as you can. It may look something like this:
- What is the challenge?
- Name five possible solutions.
- List the pros of each possible answer.
- List the cons of each possible answer.
- What resources do we require?
- What additional help will we need?
Put each list on a separate flipchart page and post them round the room -- but not in their original order. Take a break, and when the group reconvenes, give everyone time to study what you've done.
Ask each member to come up with one solution based on the group's discussion. This reshuffling may confuse most of us, but this allows those who like analysis to use their unique skills to be creative.
5. Build your dream team. Most people lose their inhibitions when they dream, so why not schedule nap time as a brainsparking exercise? You don't need pillows and "blankies," but you will need to get everyone to find a space for a 20-minute time out.
Their task will be to imagine what it would look like if their challenge were solved. Where would they be? Who would be around them? What would it feel like? How would they behave?
After the rest period, reconvene your employees and ask them to share what they dreamed. Perhaps the answers are a lot closer than anyone imagines, or perhaps the key person who can make the change isn't easily thought of in one's consciousness but may appear in the dream.
As with all the techniques, the goal is to get team members to go further than they normally do and explore new ideas and concepts. With the incentive of how success feels and looks, expect at least a few people to offer very creative solutions.
6. Turn values into words. This is a fun way to generate partial ideas and turn them into amazing solutions. Initially, the results can seem outlandish and unconnected, but they usually spark usable answers if you keep an open mind. Identify the values of your challenge and list them at the top of a sheet of paper.
For example, if you are trying to invent a new cereal, your values might include ingredients, characteristics, packaging and consistency. Next, brainspark all the values and list possibilities under each one. In our cereal challenge, your page may look like this.
INGREDIENTS CHARACTERISTICS PACKAGING CONSISTENCY
raisins crunchy box flakes
nuts soft plastic container hard squares
wheat chewy tube oats
corn jaw-breaker bottle bunny-shaped
peppers stringy tin can spoon sized
Now, match and rematch -- straight across, on the diagonal, zig-zag and randomly. Generate all ideas based on the combinations you have selected. Our result might be a new hot pepper cereal that is very chewy and comes in a bottle, which enables you to see those bunny-shaped morsels. The possibilities are endless, and this technique encourages you to try a variety of solutions. How about coming up with 33?
This is only the beginning of the creative process. There's no such thing as a good idea unless you do something about it. Taking the ideas and solutions you develop and taking the risk of implementing them is a whole other story.
Creativity and coloring outside the lines are contagious. If you make creativity and an open mind a priority in your business life, those around you will likely try out new behaviors as well.
Practice what you preach and always look for that one extra solution that goes outside the lines a little bit. Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter by visiting www.jefftobe.com or contact him at (412) 373-6592.