Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Wednesday 9 September 2012
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your twice-monthly (or thereabouts) newsletter on creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
As always, if you have news about creativity, imagination, ideas, or innovation please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103. Your comments and feedback are also always welcome.
Information on unsubscribing, archives, reprinting articles, etc can be found at the end of this newsletter.
Most articles in this issue of Report 103 can also be found in the archives together with dozens more articles, papers and thoughts.
In this issue of Report 103
- A Simple Anticonventional Thinking (ACT) Exercise
- Video: A Quick Introduction to ACT
- At Last, Make It Happen!
- Anticonventional Thinking Workshops for You
- A Mental Investment
Also some self promotional stuff about anticonventional thinking....
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A Simple Anticonventional Thinking (ACT) Exercise
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
You are probably familiar with the classic creative thinking exercises of listing as many uses as you possibly can of a brick, a box or a similar commonplace object. It is good for practicing creative thinking and is often used in tests to measure creativity, with quantity and diversity of uses indicating the level of creativity. This exercise, of course, is modeled on brainstorming: having a problem and trying to devise as many solutions as you possibly can.
The Anticonventional Exercise
Here is an alternative approach to the exercise which pushes you to use anticonventional thinking (ACT). Imagine an empty shoe box and lid. Rather than try and come up with lots of uses for the box, make a list of open-ended questions (in other words, questions which require more than a yes-no answer) about the box. Non-open-ended questions are acceptable only if they are the precursor to an open-ended question, for example, "Is the shoe box happy?" followed by "Why or why not?" Aim for about 25 questions.
Do not be boring with your questions. You want to understand this shoe box, you want to know its deepest emotions. You want to know what drives it, what kind of history it has and its intimate secrets. As you do this, think about the possible answers. These will inspire new questions. For instance, if you are in America and the shoe box was made in Vietnam, you might ask how it feels about being in America and how it copes with the language difference.
Finally, I want you to come up with five really outrageous and crazy things you could do with the box you now know so well. No boring ideas. Please do not even think about them. If something boring, like "put shoes in it" comes to mind, reject the idea immediately.
Unless an idea is crazy, it is not worth consideration. Only crazy ideas are welcome. Moreover, you must limit yourself to five ideas. So, if an idea is not really outrageous, think about how you can make it more outrageous. Otherwise reject it and move on. We have not time for ordinary, conventional ideas here!
As you do this, think about what you have learned about the box while asking questions. Think about what the box might like to be doing. Move the box around in your mind. In your mind's eye, take it to different places you know and think about the box in those places.
By now, you should have five very creative ideas. Not more, not less. How creative are your ideas? What do you think of your ideas? What about the approach?
Why It Was Anticonventional Thinking
This exercise had a couple of fundamental differences to the usual exercise -- and this reflects the ACT approach. Firstly, you focused your mental energy not on ideas, but rather on asking questions and understanding the core issue -- the box -- in depth. If you are an artist, writer or exceptionally creative person, you probably realise that you already do something like this when looking for ideas. But most people do not think about the problem -- they focus their creative energy on the ideas. Ironically, that's why their ideas tend to be less creative! Creativity is not so much about the ideas as about how you perceive the issue at hand.
Secondly, rather than ask for as many ideas as possible, I allowed you only five ideas. Moreover, I made it very clear that I did not want conventional, boring ideas. Why is this?
Most people's minds, when tasked with solving problems, busily reject or censor ideas which are too outrageous. The traditional instruction of writing down as many ideas as possible does not change the way the mind works in this respect. It will still reject outrageous ideas. So, the assumption behind ACT is that we can trick the mind to do the opposite of what it usually does by giving it instructions to reject conventional ideas in favour of unconventional ideas. In other words, we trick the mind into thinking anticonventionally.
Application In Daily Life
If you want to try and apply ACT to simple problems, challenges and goals, follow the example above. When faced with a challenge, ask lots and lots of questions in order to understand it better. Visualise it. Visually move it around in your head. Then look for a single creative solution, rejecting any conventional ideas that come to mind as you do so. Once you have a creative solution, test it in your mind. Think about how you would apply it. If you continue to like it, build upon it. Make it more outrageous.
Once you have done that, ask yourself: what steps must you take to make the idea happen. If you cannot make it happen, reject it and start again.
Video: A Quick Introduction to Anticonventional Thinking (ACT)
You can see my quick two minute video introduction to anticonventional thinking on the jpb.com web site or on YouTube (note: the video is on YouTube which is blocked by many corporate firewalls -- sorry about that!)
At Last, Make It Happen!
By Fernando Cardoso de Sousa
President of the Portuguese Association for Creativity and Innovation - APGICO
Thanks to Jeffrey’s inspiration and support, we (I represent a team in this research) were able to contribute with a different approach to creative problem solving, whose main characteristic is supposed to be its emphasis in committing the team to comply with action plan requirements. First, I wrote, based on our research, about the “WASNT” approach to problem definition and action steps; then some theoretical considerations and practical implications that might justify the approach, in “Problem-free, idea-free, creative thinking“.
Now it’s time to explain how a facilitator might increase the chances for the team to execute an innovative project as planned.
First, remember that you have already defined the problem and the list of steps needed to solve it. But how do you know when you have all the necessary steps, in order to move forward? You don’t! You (and the team) just feel it. Even if you, the facilitator, are not a content specialist, your experience and intuition “tells” you when you have all that is needed. Nevertheless, if you (and the team) are wrong, there are still more opportunities to confirm it, so let’s move on.
Start by asking the team how the first task should be done. List the valuable suggestions and don’t forget to ask for ways to overcome possible barriers, if pertinent. This is the creative part, where you will hear original and important contributions, but not forcefully in the first task. Why not? Because the team is not committed enough. What can you do?
When you have a considerable list of the “how to’s?”, it is time to ask for volunteers. When you do, you will most likely hear silence again (remember when the team was silent after you asked for concrete tasks for solving the problem, instead of just ideas?). At this moment, the team realizes that this is not just for fun, and that someone will be responsible. Either by individual offer, team suggestion or client designation, you will have a sub-team executing the task. Note that task responsibility should not rely on just one individual. Ideally there must be two people, but there may be more, depending on the proportion of team members to number of tasks. When you have a sub-team, ask the sub-team leader (the first to volunteer or the person designated) when the task will be ready. With this requirement you probably started another discussion, between those who think it will be quick, these who are ready to work on a 24/7 hours basis, and those who do not plan to give much extra time. After some discussion a balanced period will normally win, especially after you call the subgroup's attention to the fact that the tasks must be done without neglecting routine work and the client has stressed the need for the project to be accomplished before a certain date.
To finish the action plan for the task, the team still needs to designate who or which unit will be responsible for determining if the quality standard for the task to be achieved (normally an external consultant will do the work), and if there is any sort of return on investment (ROI) involved (i.e. the evaluation of the task’s quality standard might have some costs, which can be compared with the costs of the whole task if done by that external consultant).
In the second task, the team has finally understood the process. Everything will go smoothly and fast, until all tasks have been planned in detail and all team members have been assigned to sub-teams in a balanced way.
However, the job is not over yet. You must still designate the communication sub-team who will update all members about the project’s progress. Also, if the client agrees, this sub-team will deal with internal marketing and external advertising. Ideally, the more people know about what “this people” is doing and why, the less resistance the team will face and the more pressure it will receive to comply with deadlines and quality standards. Do not forget that there is no pressure like peer pressure.
The next step is to establish milestones (e.g. in a three month project at least one milestone will be required). You also need to set dates for the whole team to meet together and for the final deadline, when the team must present a formal debriefing about project accomplishment.
Give special attention to the designation of the project coordinator (it is advisable to set this in advance with the client, although it must look like an entirely improvised designation by the team). The coordinator will be responsible for the interface between the team and the client and for leading everybody to comply with the requirements, especially the deadlines. If there is a need for a creative leader, this is it.
Do not go away! There is still work to do. In the last 30 minutes you should let the team relax and reflect on the learning that has taken place. The final debriefing must be planned (we will deal with it at next opportunity) and provide opportunities for every member to make insights about what has been learned in this session. This way, although not planned to be a training session, meaningful learning might take place.
After no more than 150 minutes (the first part took 60 minutes and the break another 30), the session is over and you can all go home. The real work has just started, and we will talk about it at the next opportunity. Remember that we dealt with a small group session. Sessions, with more than 15 people or with a majority of members external to the company, deserve a future text.
As a sort of closure to this text we would still like to ask you not to fear the action plan. It may happen to you, as it happened with us, to ask yourself how can you be sure that all pertinent tasks have been designated, and its distribution has been made in an accurate and balanced way to every team member.
Fear not, as we can tell you, in scientific terms, that miracles happen, and these are just some of them.
Anticonventional Thinking (ACT) Workshops for You
Anticonventional thinking (ACT) is a new approach to individual and collaborative creative thinking that I have developed. It is based on...
- How highly creative people such as writers, composers and artists collaborate.
- The latest research on how the mind solves problems.
- Overcoming proven weaknesses with brainstorming.
I have already delivered customised ACT workshops for companies and government bodies in Europe and North America and have more booked for the remainder of the year.
Moreover, based on my experiences with workshops and how participants have responded, I have tweaked and improved ACT, making it easier to understand and use. So, if you would like to provide your company, your division or your team with an effective creative thinking tool that is about achieving goals rather than generating lots of ideas you will never use, get in touch with me! I can custom-design an ACT workshop that not only trains you and your people how to use the method, but also involves actively generating creative solutions to solve your problems and achieve your strategic goals!
My schedule for the year is filling up -- and as a single father, I cannot be on the road all the time. To ensure I can work with you, contact me as soon as possible!
A Mental Investment
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
As the election in the USA heats up, one of the big issues is about national insurance/ healthcare. In Europe, the provision of healthcare by the state is considered unquestionable, just as we expect the state to provide policing, schools, fire brigade and similar services to its people. However, even some European countries are weak when it comes to providing mental health care. And this is a crying shame. I would argue that quality psychological and psychiatric healthcare is not only a good investment, but it should be considered essential to countries that want to be more innovative. Indeed, I would say a top priority for any country claiming to want more creative, more innovative people, should be full state support of mental health care. Let me explain why.
Firstly, let's look at the economics. Many, if not most, people with issues such as bipolar disorder (manic-depression), clinical depression, borderline personality disorder, high-functioning autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and other conditions are not only able hold full time jobs, but they are able to do very well in business. It is widely believed, but not known, for instance that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have high functioning autism (also known as "Asperger's Syndrome" or just "Aspergers"). But many others with high functioning autism find it difficult to find and maintain full time work. When they do, it is all to often low-paying, labour intensive work. Someone who spends most of her professional life either working for minimum wage or unemployed is unlikely to make much of an economic contribution to society.
Yet, psychological counseling, psychological treatment and sometimes medication can make all the difference. Treatments, that give people strategies to cope with their conditions and function in ways deemed acceptable to society, enable them to work in jobs that generate higher value to their employers, their customers and the economy. That benefits the economy both through greater income and greater tax contributions. Blowing a few 10,000s Euro or Dollars to give someone therapy for a year so that she can contribute to the economy and the government's offers is an investment that will pay off in a couple of years and generate a profit for many years to come. The alternative is probably frequent unemployment benefits far exceeding the cost of treatment over the individual's lifetime.
Creativity and Mental Illness
There has long been an assumed link between mental illness and creativity, in particular with bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. Lately, research has been proving that link and determining the reasons. (The references at the end of this Wikipedia article are but a few of the many papers on the topic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creativity_and_mental_illness). In other words, the very people who have the ability to make the greatest creative contribution to society, culture and the economy are far more likely than average to need psychiatric or psychological support during their adult lives. Think about that!
Moreover, unless they come from wealthy families or have a particularly generous insurance policy, they will not be able to get the help that they need -- unless it is provided by the state. If mental healthcare is not provided, bear in mind that there is another social-group that has an exceptionally high level of mental illness: the homeless.
Now we cannot demonstrably claim that state sponsored mental health care can make the difference between a very creative person thriving or becoming one of the homeless. But based on the evidence, it seems extremely likely.
In short, governments that provide financial support or insurance for mental health care are very likely assisting their most creative people to use that creativity productively: writing novels, composing music, creating art, designing new products and launching innovative new businesses. And any political leader who claims that creativity and innovation are important to her country should be doing everything she can to ensure her country provides mental health care for those who need it. It's not about social support. It's about making a phenomenal economic and cultural investment!
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