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Creative Thinking:Brainstorming, Brainwriting, and Metaphors and Analogies

There are many ways to stimulate creative thinking including brainstorming, brain writing, and analogies or metaphors. Before you even try one of these techniques, it is important for you to restate the problem. For instance, your organization has received complaints due to shipment delays. Is the problem how to identify ways to minimize customer complaints or is it to expedite deliveries, or is it to ensure customers have accurate information about date of product delivery or how do we keep customers informed about delayed orders. Still another way to understand a dilemma before coming up with solutions is to question your assumptions. They may be erroneous, and reviewing your assumptions may help you better understand the situation and avoid faulty action plans. Once you have a clear idea about the problem or challenge before you, the next step is to decide how to proceed. Brainstorming tends to be a group exercise, with individuals calling out ideas that are written by a facilitator on a flipchart. No idea is considered until the session is completed; that is, when the group has from 20 to 25 ideas with which to work. With a satisfactory list, the group then works on the list, combining common ideas and separating the truly chaff from the wheat. If the group seems unable to come up with more ideas, ask it the following questions:

■ What would happen if we….?

■ How could we eliminate the ….?

■ Why do we have this process in place?

Besides brainstorming, you may have heard about brain writing, which is free association that is done on a piece of paper. You begin with a single word or phrase in the center of the sheet. Over a five- or ten-minute interval, you encourage the group to write down as many single words or phrases that come to it. Where ideas are related, lines are drawn and groups of ideas are circled to form islands of thought. These islands then are studied by the group to see if they help to generate workable solutions to the problem set before the group. Analogies or metaphors, sometimes just words randomly selected, may also spark thoughts about a situation. For instance, scrap levels have risen due to lack of training of new employees. You need to speed training. Choose an object, like a book, and then come up with some metaphors or analogies to the object. Using these metaphors or analogical thoughts, you see if you can solve your training dilemma. For instance, a book is like a library in that it has lots of information accessible. In some ways, experienced workers make up your personal library of knowledge. So why not consider a buddy system to help your newer workers learn the job?

Make Your Idea Happen

Your team has worked hard to come up with a great idea, then one or more members of the senior management team shoots the idea down. Have you heard any of the following responses?

■ “Why should we fix something if it ain’t broke?”

■ “It will cost too much. Hell, don’t you read the papers? We’re in a recession.”

■ “It is too risky.”

■ “We tried that before.”

■ “We don’t have experience with this.”

■ “Let’s wait to see what our competitors do.”

■ “We don’t have the resources just now.”

■ “There’s too much going on right now.”

■ “I just don’t think it will work.”

■ “I agree but they won’t.”

See if you can anticipate the reject ion. I f you can do so, be prepared to dismantle the objection piece by piece. Listen carefully — If you aren’t clear about the objection, probe. Stay calm — Attack the question, not the questioner. Turn the tables on the objector ’s argument — Acknowledge the shortcomings identified and then ask the objector how he or she would overcome the problems of concern. It may be possible to overcome the objection by making adjustments to the initial idea. Close ranks to overcome the problems identified — The support you need won’t come. Leave the door open for further discussion. Ask, “I’d like to think through your concerns to see what I can come up with. May I come back?”

Writer: Continental Who’s Who® Member Author: Ken McCarthy