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Newsletter 245
July 3, 2012

In This Issue...
Hurson's Productive Thinking Model
How Creative are You?
The Power of Reputation
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  How to Be Creative
AND Rigorous!

How can you bring both creativity and intellectual rigor to problem-solving?

Hurson's Productive Thinking Model helps you do this - find out how to use it in this week's featured article.

You can then learn how you can boost your creativity skills still further with our creativity self-test, and you can discover how to use Starbursting to explore potential solutions in more detail.

Enjoy being exceptionally creative!

  James & Rachel

  James Manktelow and Rachel Thompson
MindTools.com - Essential skills for an excellent career!
Featured Resources at Mind Tools
Hurson's Productive Thinking Model
Solving Problems Creatively

This model helps you bring creativity and rigorous critical thinking to every stage of the problem-solving process.
All Readers' Skill-Builder
Hurson's Productive Thinking Model
How Creative are You?

Use this self-test to boost your creativity skills in the workplace.
All Readers' Skill-Builder
How Creative Are You?
Understanding New Ideas by Brainstorming Questions

This brainstorming technique focuses on generating questions that challenge a new idea in a systematic, comprehensive way.
All Readers' Skill-Builder
... And From the Mind Tools Club
The Power of Reputation, with Chris Komisarjevsky Speaker

In this interview, Chris Komisarjevsky shares his insights into the power of reputation, and gives tips on how to manage your reputation in the digital world. Premium Members' Expert Interview
The Power of Reputation
Writing Skills

How well do you communicate in writing? Improve your writing skills with this video. All Readers' New Video
Writing Skills
Building Your Reputation as an Expert
Making the Most of Your Knowledge

There are many good reasons why you should develop a reputation as an expert. Find out how to do this.
All Members' Skill-Builder
Building Your Reputation as an Expert
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Sticky Notes
Editors' Choice Article
Hurson's Productive Thinking Model
Solving Problems Creatively

Creativity is incredibly important in problem-solving - if you're not creative, you'll struggle to understand the issues surrounding a problem, and you're unlikely to identify the best solutions.

Even worse, you may fail to solve the problem altogether!

So, how can you be more creative in your problem-solving, and thereby come up with the best ideas to move forward with?
Man Drawing Lightbulb
Be creative at every stage of the problem-solving process.
© iStockphoto/TommL
Hurson's Productive Thinking Model helps you do this. This framework encourages you to use creativity and critical thinking at each stage of the problem-solving process. This means that you get a better understanding of the problems you face, and you come up with better ideas and solutions.

About the Model

The Productive Thinking Model was developed by author and creativity theorist, Tim Hurson, and was published in his 2007 book, "Think Better."

The model presents a structured framework for solving problems creatively. You can use it on your own or in a group.

The model consists of six steps, as follows:
  1. Ask "What is going on?"
  2. Ask "What is success?"
  3. Ask "What is the question?"
  4. Generate answers.
  5. Forge the solution.
  6. Align resources.
The advantage of this model over other problem-solving approaches (like Simplex or Plan-Do-Check-Act) is that it encourages you to use creative and critical thinking skills throughout the problem-solving process.

Let's look at each step in detail, and explore how you can apply the model.

Step 1: Ask "What is Going On?"

First, you need to get a good understanding of the problem that you want to deal with. This is often the most involved part of the process.

To do this, explore these questions:

a. What is the Problem?

First, brainstorm all of the problems and issues that you have - a tool such as CATWOE will help here. As you do this, think about the following questions:
  • What is bugging you? And what annoys your customers?
  • What is out of balance?
  • What could work better? What could you improve?
  • What are your customers or users complaining about?
  • What challenges do you have?
  • What is making you take action?
List as many issues as possible, even if you already have a good idea of what your main problem is. These issues don't have to be well-defined or even justified: all that you're doing is generating a good list of possibilities, so don't worry about being right or wrong.

Then, use an Affinity Diagram to organize the issues that you've identified into common themes, and identify the most important problem or group of problems to deal with.

b. What is the Impact?

Next, brainstorm how the problem impacts you and your organization, and how it affects other stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, and competitors.

Make a list of all of your stakeholders, and identify the positive and negative impact that the problem has on each of them.

To help with this, ask questions such as:
  • Who does this problem affect, directly and indirectly?
  • Why is this problem important to them? What concerns do you have about it?
  • Who will benefit if you don't deal with the problem? And who will benefit when you solve it?
Rolestorming is also useful here, as it helps you look at problems from other people's perspectives.

c. What is the Information?

Now, gather information about the problem. What do you know about it? What don't you know? Has someone else tried to fix this or a similar problem before? If so, what happened, and what can you learn from this? Make sure that you have evidence that the problem really does exist.

This is where it helps to use tools such as Cause and Effect Analysis, Root Cause Analysis, and Interrelationship Diagrams to identify the actual causes of your problem - you'll need to deal with these root causes to solve the problem fully.

d. What is the Vision?

Finally in this step, identify your vision for the future once you've solved the problem - Hurson calls this the "Target Future."

Begin by writing down as many Target Futures as possible, and then narrow these down to a future that is achievable and that is important to you.

If you're finding this difficult, use starter phrases such as "I wish...," "If only we could...," or "It would be great if...." For example, you might say "I wish that the majority of our customers were happy with how we process returns," or "It would be great if we could cut waste by 20 percent."

Step 2: Ask "What is Success?"

In this step, you're going to develop your Target Future by defining what success is once you've implemented a solution to your problem.

A good way to do this is to use the "DRIVE" acronym. This stands for:
  • Do - What do you want the solution to do?
  • Restrictions - What must the solution not do?
  • Investment - What resources are available? What are you able to invest in a solution? How much time do you have?
  • Values - What values must this solution respect?
  • Essential outcomes - What defines success? How will you measure this?
Step 3: Ask "What is the Question?"

The aim in this step is to generate a list of questions that, if answered well, will solve your problem.

To do this, look at all of the information that you gathered in the first two steps. Then brainstorm the questions that you will need to answer to achieve your Target Future. Use phrases such as "How can I...?" and "How will we...?" to begin.

For instance, imagine that your Target Future is to have a bigger departmental budget. One question might be "How can I get a bigger budget?" Then you could brainstorm related questions, such as "How can we spend less on routine work, so that we can do more with our existing budget?" or "How would we operate if we had no budget?"

If you generate a long list of questions, narrow these down to the most relevant questions.

Step 4: Generate Answers

In this step, you generate solutions to your problem by coming up with answers to your questions.

Again, brainstorm as many possible solutions as possible, and don't criticize them - just concentrate on coming up with lots of ideas. If you're struggling to come up with solutions, techniques like Reverse Brainstorming, Random Input and Provocation will help jump-start your creativity.

Step 5: Forge the Solution

You're now going to develop your ideas into a fully formed solution.

First, evaluate the most promising ideas by comparing them with the success criteria that you identified in step 2. Pick the solution that best meets those criteria. (Grid Analysis is helpful here.)

Then develop your best idea further. What else could make this idea better? How could you refine the solution to fit your success criteria better?

If you're working on a complex problem or project, don't underestimate the effort needed to develop and refine your solution.

Step 6: Align Resources

In this last step, you identify the people and resources that you need to implement your solution.

For small projects, Action Plans are likely to be useful. However, if you're implementing a large-scale project, you'll need to use a more formal project management approach.

At this point, you may still decide not to move ahead with your solution. See our article on Go/No-Go Decision-Making for more on this.

Key Points

Tim Hurson developed the Productive Thinking Model and published it in his 2007 book, "Think Better." The model provides a structured approach for solving problems creatively. You can use it on your own and in a group.

There are six steps in the model:
  1. Ask "What is going on?"
  2. Ask "What is success?"
  3. Ask "What is the question?"
  4. Generate answers.
  5. Forge the solution.
  6. Align resources.
The advantage of the model is that it encourages you to use creative and critical thinking skills at each step of the problem-solving process. This means that you can take a well-rounded look at a problem, and you can come up with great solutions.
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A Final Note

Enjoy using Hurson's model! It takes a while to use in full, but you'll find that it's very effective.

Next week we're looking at how you can manage stress effectively.

See you then!

James Manktelow

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