The mistake most people make, when they want to have creative ideas in response to some situation, is immediately to generate ideas. At best, their ideas are conventional and obvious. At worst, the ideas do not address the real issues behind the situation and so are useless. Creative people understand that you need to understand a situation in depth before you can begin to play with ideas. This is why most creative thinking methodologies -- such as creative problem solving (CPS), TRIZ and anticonventional thinking (ACT) -- start with some kind of analytical step which basically is a matter of asking questions about the situation. In creative problem solving, this is called, "fact finding" and "problem finding" in order to "Assess and review all the data that pertains to the situation at hand". TRIZ, which prides itself on being based on logic and data, is even more fact-based in its analysis.
ACT takes questioning to a more creative level. It recognises the importance of asking fact-finding, analytical questions. But that is not enough. ACT also asks feeling questions and anticonventional questions. Let us look at each kind of question. But first, a reminder of terminology. In ACT, a transcendental situation is any situation in which we have decided to take unconventional, creative action.
Analytical questions should start with the five whys. This is a simple matter of asking "Why is this situation transcendental?" Once we have an answer, drill down by asking why and why again. This process will be familiar to any engineer or parent of young children. Other analytical questions include:
- What has caused this situation to occur?
- Who is affected by the situation?
- What are the constraints we face in implementing a solution?
- Do our competitors face similar situations? If so, how are they responding?
Analytical questions help clarify the situation and ensure you are addressing the correct issues.
Feeling questions enable you to understand the emotions of all involved; something that is often not addressed in business creativity and innovation with its focus on analysis. But understanding these feelings is critical in terms of understanding a situation as well as seeing the situation from new perspectives. Feeling questions include:
- How do we feel about this situation?
- How would we like to feel?
- How do our customers feel?
- How would we like them to feel about our creative action?
- How do the relevant decision makers feel about the situation, eventual actions we might take and the potential risks?
It is usually a good idea to ask, "why" after each of these questions in order to elaborate upon the answer. Feeling questions might, for example, indicate that while a plan to automate processes is a winner from a cost-savings and efficiency perspective, implementation of the plan will almost certainly cause a lot of unhappiness among staff affected by the change as well as customers used to human interaction with your company.
Indeed, any big business change is likely to cause feelings of uncertainty, which will make it harder to win people over to your creative vision. Addressing feelings while analysing a transcendental situation ensures you also address them when building a vision of the action you will take in the situation.
Transcendental questions are great fun and enable you to see a transcendental situation in new ways. They also enable your mind to build connections between the transcendental situation and other information, thoughts and situations. These connections make developing ideas into truly creative visions much easier!
Transcendental questions include:
- What colour is the situation?
- What would happen if we introduced a group of cats and dogs into the situation?
- What would McDonalds (the fast food chain) do in a situation like this?
- How does the situation feel about itself? Why?
Warning, asking and answer transcendental questions may lead to laughter and less than serious answers. Do not panic. This is a good thing! It means that people are relaxing, letting their guards down and, as a result, putting themselves in an optimal frame of mind for creativity!
As a side note, if you ever meet an interesting person at in a social situation and want to get to know her (or him) better, ask transcendental questions. An interesting conversation is almost certain to ensue!
Mix and Match
It is best to mix the various types of questions as you progress. Sometimes a silly answer to a transcendental question will result in insight that enables better answering of an analytic or feeling question. If you are a facilitator, you can make cards with various questions on them, shuffle them and ask each group to go through their set of cards, one at at time, and answer the questions on them.
Needless-to-say, as you ask and answer these questions, take notes! Do not just write down the answers, but also note insights and inspirations that strike you as you answer the questions.
One of the great things about ACT and its various elements is that it is very easy to try -- and this three stage questioning is no exception. Give it a try right now! Think of a transcendental situation that is relevant to you. Now answer these questions:
- Why is this situation transcendental?
- What would happen if you did nothing?
- Who is involved in this situation?
- How do they feel about it?
- How would you like them to feel about it?
- What colour is the situation?
- What would happen if you made it blue?
- What constraints do you face in implementing your ideas?
- What time limits do you face?
- Who must approve this situation?
- How do they feel about the situation?
- How are they likely to feel about the big, creative vision you expect to propose? Why?
- How would your grandfather deal with this situation?
- What does the situation smell like?
- What would happen if a gorilla entered the situation?
- If you had to build this situation with Lego bricks, what would it look like?
- Shrink the situation so that it fits into the palm of your hand. What does it look like now?
In anticonventional thinking, before you start playing with ideas, you need to understand your transcendental situation deeply. One of the ways to do this is by asking three types of questions about the situation:
- Analytical questions
- Feeling questions
- Anticonventional questions
By mixing and matching these questions and answers, you better prepare your mind for building big, unconventional creative visions.
One last note, questioning is just one part of gaining deep insight into a transcendental situation. Meditation, reflection and keeping the situation in the back of your mind for a few days are other actions you can and should take.
Free Anticonventional Questions Tool
I've made a very simple anticonventional thinking question generator. During a creative meeting, hook up a computer to a projector and then go to ACT Questions. Together with the team, read the questions and answer each among yourselves. The initial questions are conventional, then they get fun!
Anticonventional Questions and Thinking
Would your organisation benefit if your people were more creative? Would you like a higher level of innovation in your products, projects and operations? Anticonventional thinking can help. Get in touch to discuss your situation in confidence.
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