Tag Archives: clarification

What’s the Problem?

Problem clarification plays a large role in Creative Problem Solving (CPS). This is the space where we explore the terrain of our goals, wishes, and challenges, before we move forward into generating ideas.

The CPS model shown below depicts three major phases, with six process steps distributed across them. You can see how fully half of the process steps take place during the first phase.

Creative Problem Solving

If it feels like heavy lifting at times, it’s because there’s a natural tendency to want to rush ahead and begin generating ideas. The research is very convincing, however, on the important role that problem identification or problem construction plays in the quality of the final outcome. The more time we spend upfront figuring out what the real (or the most important, or the most interesting) problem is, the better the ideas and solutions that follow. As philosopher John Dewey famously said: a problem well-stated is half-solved.

So the next time you’re in a session where lots of energy is being spent trying to come up with answers, check to see if adequate attention has been paid to the first and most important question: what is the problem?

 Creative Problem Solving graphic adapted from Roger L. Firestien, Ph.D. – Innovation Resources, Inc.   www.rogerfirestien.com

Clarifying and Developing: A Balancing Act

I’m exploring how creativity works within a creative organization — what are the strengths and where are the potential blind spots? In an earlier post, I described how the eight members of the core team recently learned their FourSight Breakthrough Thinking Profile preferences for different stages of the Creative Problem Solving process. The team profile showed high preferences for Ideation and Implementation (the orange and purple bars), and low preferences for Clarification and Development (blue and green bars):

FourSight Team Profile

There was a general sense of recognition of the abundant energy that drives the team’s work from generating creative ideas into implementing them. That’s what the company is hired for; its brand differentiators are reflected in the team profile. This is a good thing.

And yet, what about these other spaces of clarifying and developing? (Clarifying refers to gathering plenty of data on the big picture before beginning to generate ideas; developing is the stage where the best ideas are elaborated and strengthened.) The team could see their low preferences playing out here, as well. More than once, the lack of thorough clarification has shown up when the project concept was further along in development. New understandings with clients surface, sometimes late enough in the game to require stressful last-minute adjustments. Perhaps, one team member suggested, it was because the clients hadn’t been clear themselves. How much more important was it, then, to make sure that really thorough clarification happened from the company’s end?

A suggestion was made to develop a white paper to educate clients on how to think about the engagement in ways that would really help them bring forth all the relevant information at the beginning. Additionally, by customizing some Creative Problem Solving clarifying tools, the company can develop a template to use with clients when scoping out projects.

The low preference for developing also piqued discussion. For a team that has a high preference for generating ideas, there’s a tendency to continue to pump new ideas into the developmental phase, which can muddy the waters and sometimes take the concept off-track. A method for tracking idea development was suggested as a way of distinguishing between iterations that enrich the final product, versus great ideas that are best saved for another opportunity.

And how about working together as a team?  One team member remarked that knowing where the individual preferences lie reminded her of a relay race, where team members hand off energy to each other through the process. It’s a lovely observation. For a creative team, some of them working together for a decade, the insights into individual and team preference from the FourSight measure have given them new understandings of how to support each other through the balancing act of the creative process.

Next steps: training on some Creative Problem Solving tools to support the developmental phase. In the meantime, if you’d like more information on FourSight, and how it can help you or your team, let me know.

Riding High on Ideas

A Creative Thinking Profile of a Creative Team

I’m exploring how creativity works within a creative organization — what are the strengths and where are the potential blind spots? As an important first step, the eight members of the core team recently learned their preferences for different stages of the Creative Problem Solving process. We’ll look at how this creative team stacks up as a group…

We used the FourSight Breakthrough Thinking Profile to generate the data. FourSight is a great tool for understanding where your energies lie for different phases of the Creative Problem Solving process: clarifying the situation, generating ideas, developing ideas, and implementing them. For example: are you energized by coming up with ideas, or do you find your greatest preference to be in implementing them? Does gaining a through understanding of a situation give you the most energy, or are you attracted to developing ideas and fleshing them out? Maybe you have two preferences, or three, or all four. FourSight brings this information to light.

A key thing to keep in mind is that FourSight measures personal preference, and not ability. Talented, motivated people can develop their abilities across all four preferences. But: what you’re good at doing and what you love to do often feel differently; this is where the question of preference comes in.

Why is this important? Apart from the value of knowing how we thrive within the creative process, this information helps us avoid pitfalls. When we’re stressed, tired, or under time pressure, our low preferences can become potential hazards, blocking us from bringing our best and most thorough creative thinking to the task at hand.

Understanding preference is also very important in team work. What happens if a team is loaded with developers who love to perfect things, but has few people who gain energy from implementing? Or what about a team that loves to hold onto the first step of clarification, generating reams of data, but gets stuck moving forward? And, in a situation many teams can identify with, what happens when people with different preferences step on each other’s toes? Looking at a group FourSight profile gives a clear snapshot of the creative thinking strengths and tendencies for weakness within a team.

So how did this group of eight creative people show up? This company’s stock in trade is in coming up with creative ideas and implementing them in memorable ways. It’s no surprise, then to see the results:

Creative Team FourSight Profile

The team shows a strong preference for ideation (the orange bar), followed by implementation (the purple bar). But clarification (blue) and development (green) are low preferences for them collectively.

How might this play out during project work for clients? Might there be ways in which ideas are generated without a thorough understanding of the client’s needs or context? Might there be times when the development stage becomes muddied? Do the dual preferences of ideation and implementation energize this team to dependably identify strong ideas and successfully carry them out?

Most importantly, knowing there are no wrong scores, how to make the best use of the information, and help this team build on their successes?

In an upcoming post, I’ll share insights the team generated, and plans for applying them.

In the meantime, if you’d like more information FourSight, and how it can help you or your team, let me know.

Diary of a Process: Budget Slashed in Half

Diary of a Process: an episodic peek into a creative company’s internal process.

  • The company: an experience design firm that creates learning environments and opportunities for team-building, exhibit design, education, training, branding, etc.
  • The project: designing a visitor experience for a small west coast museum.

Episode 1, Aug 25: A meeting was called because the client had informed the project manager the budget had been cut in half.

The initial challenge in responding to the news of the drastically shrunken budget appeared to be how to identify all the elements in the design concept, presumably with an eye for what to cut. To begin, owner Bryan Thermo reviewed the various elements that would make up the visitor experience of this museum. As he did so, Thermo began to elaborate upon the concept…

Let’s take a look at elaboration. In the context of creativity, elaboration is the development of an idea, building it out, adding depth and complexity. It’s good to come up with lots of ideas when doing creative thinking. It’s also good to be able to elaborate upon them––in appropriate moments.

…at which point the project manager redirected the discussion to give her impressions of the reasons why the budget had been cut: they hadn’t completely sold the board of directors on their vision for the museum.

The project manager was pushing for clarification. She wanted to have a clear understanding of the issue, before coming up with ideas on how to overcome the challenge. Often, ideas are generated that don’t really fit the problem at hand. Clarification helps you identify the most important problem to solve. The project manager’s redirection of the conversation helped pull back on the elaboration in order to focus on important new information.

Now the conversation turned directly to the core value propositions of the company: how it does what it does––inspire learning, deepen experiences. Client values were identified: cultural enrichment and regional identity. From there it was a short step to a pitch that could be presented to the board: “maintaining the original budget will allow us to transform your landmark into an experience.”

Process in a nutshell: the challenge of a reduced budget led to elaboration on the original concept. A clarification of the situation allowed the team to explore the context of the challenge, and this lead to a decision to pitch the virtues of the original proposal as deserving of the full budget.

Up next: how will the board respond to the pitch, and how will the design concept move forward to meet mid-September deliverables?