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Now that you have spent time getting to know all about the problem, you will naturally want to solve it, or at least reduce the impact it is having. This chapter is going to look at ‘thinking’ which, although obvious, is too often neglected. The benefit of thinking is it allows ideas to form in your mind, which in turn could lead to actions you had not thought about using to tackle the problem. We will then be looking at getting ideas from other areas and the advantages of working with others to generate further ideas or to hone ones already created. (PARTNERS)

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I wish I had thought of that!

There are going to be problems that are really difficult to solve. In fact, we looked earlier at using the Impact Scale when deciding at what point we are going to set our aim. Eliminating the problem was not the only solution.

As you work through the different Problem Solving stages you will get to a point where you know what the problem is and you are moving towards developing actions to resolve it. This is when it’s a good time to just have a think. I appreciate there is pressure on you to act, but do try and find time to actually consider what you have.

When you need to think, this is best done alone. It maybe that you take yourself away from the problem or the people, or you immerse yourself in the problem, maybe by visiting it again, but this time on your own.

It is the opportunity to think that will enable you to see patterns, make connections, and allow other ideas to surface. So please resist the pressure to do something as much as you can, and have a think.

I personally get distracted by noise, and open plan offices cause me real difficulties. In fact, I worked for a manager who was very task orientated and was very good at his job. However, he was uncomfortable with me just sitting there thinking. He would look over and was only happy when I was typing something. In the end I had to go on visits to other departments but, in truth, I would just sit in different places to think.

Here is a problem for you to think about:

As part of your trip you need to catch the 6.15am ferry. You are alone and have arrived late in the evening. You know that it is going to be a long drive the next day and would welcome the sleep. However, your mobile phone has limited charge and you are not that confident that your phone will have enough charge to last you until the morning. The only shop open now is a small food store and it doesn’t sell alarm clocks.

What are your thoughts? Here are my ideas:

  • Don’t sleep
  • Sleep on the ferry
  • Sleep when you get off the ferry
  • Catch a later ferry
  • Is there another way of crossing the water?
  • Park across the gates so they have to wake you up in order to get people onto the ferry
  • Find a security guard nearby and pay them to wake you up. I think that would be a case of pay half now and half later.
  • Buy some bread and spread it on your roof. Then, when the birds in the morning see your food, they land on your metal car roof and the noise of pecking at the bread wakes you up.
  • Those were some ideas, had you thought of any others? The point is that there are normally a number of ways something can be done. Sometimes you can think about it and solve it yourself, sometimes you need some inspiration or sometimes the ideas come from working in a group. I wonder how many more ideas we could have produced if we had been able to spark off ideas from each other. Think about the wonderful songs that are written as a result of the collaboration between two song writers.

Cross fertilization of ideas

So far our research has been focused on the problem of “where, when, how long?” etc. Now it is time to examine the elements of your problem to see how they may have been dealt with elsewhere. For example, if you wanted to prevent road injuries on a public road, go and see the latest developments with Grand Prix racing. They invest heavily in securing the safety of their drivers and the roadside spectators.

Initially, you need to break down your problem into its component parts and, for each part, find out how the same, or similar problems, are tackled in other situations, to see if those solutions could be applied to your problem.

Other useful sources of information

Go onto the internet and just follow different links and see what you can find.

Go onto the internet and seek out specialist websites. Visit discussion forums and ask your question.
 Read the trade magazines.
 Seek out research documents on the subject.

Find out if there is a trade association or interest group. Go to Amazon and find the relevant ‘How to...’ book.


Once you have had an opportunity to think about the problem and seen how others have done things, the next stage is to generate ideas.

Types of Creativity – Radical and Incremental

Creativity can be either a combination of existing ideas in a new format, or thinking of something new. The approach I use is to separate creativity into Radical and Incremental Creativity. Radical Creativity is doing something new, while Incremental Creativity is making smaller changes.

Creating ideas with one other person

When generating ideas, you may find it more productive to generate ideas with one other person. I have someone with whom I have a really creative rapport. When we are working together, we almost climb over each other to get our thoughts and ideas out. One of the reasons it works so well, is that we can voice our thoughts aloud, without fear of criticism.

I have run creative sessions with young people using the same scenarios as used with adults. Their ideas are no different from the adults, but the noticeable difference is that they are busy pushing forward their own ideas rather than criticising the ideas of the others.

Creating ideas in a group

Generating ideas in groups can be electrifying, with people charged with a type of static energy as they share ideas, only to have others take hold of their ideas and develop them further, described as ‘piggy backing’.

How to create an environment for the group to succeed

Just as there are benefits of thinking alone, so working with others to create ideas and make connections is of equal value. For example, it allows someone else to take an idea and refine it immediately. The term ‘piggy backing’ is when someone develops the ideas of others. It is so exhilarating, especially when the ideas are forming faster than they can be expressed. Sometimes in the rush to give out their ideas, they are misunderstood by others and even this very misunderstanding takes the line of thought into a different direction and even more ideas are created.

What information should be given out?

Prior to the session you could send out the problem, the aim and any research, as this enables people to consider the problem before the main event.

Where to hold the meeting?

Use a room big enough to allow for heated discussions and space to spread out. Also enough space for flip chart stands and wipe boards.

You could allow the meeting to be at the site of the problem. This has advantages such as putting the ideas into context and being inspired by the surroundings. However, the venue may be noisy and not conducive to creative thought. It could also have problems with accessibility or even be dangerous to those attending.

When to hold it?

Arrange a time that is suitable for people, even if you have to run a number of sessions to cover the times. Avoid having it at the end of a working day because some people may need to get home and therefore will not be keen to think of anything that could delay them.

How long to run the session?

I would suggest about 2 hours. But be strict on the time and make it clear when the session is going to end. If you overrun and make it awkward for people to leave, you run the risk that they will not come again.

So, how do we generate ideas?  - Make the problem a question!

To generate ideas, phrase the problem as a question.

For example it could start with “How can we...? Further still, you could make it positive such as “How can we get more....?


Innovation is the practical application of the idea. It is the part of the problem solving session where you have to be ruthless with the ideas. This can be difficult if it sounds good and everyone is very enthusiastic. But, and it is a really big but, unless an idea can be successfully applied, then it will fail. In the TV Programme ‘Dragons Den’, at some point the inventor will be asked some ‘make or break’ questions, such as, “what is this product trying to solve?” and “what does your project do to meet that need?” and “how easy is it to use?”

Therefore, after you have developed your ideas, you need to ask people what they think, and really focus on what could prevent having the idea successfully applied. Then ask them how they would resolve that point. You could then make your own suggestion and again ask them what would stop it working and what could go wrong if it was put in place.

Maybe you need to find those people who are always negative. I think you know the ones I mean. They are the type of people “where every silver lining has a cloud”. Find them, and ask them what they think. The more you test your ideas at this time the better.


This chapter looked at how we need to think about a problem and how it could be resolved. We examined how elements of the problem may have been dealt with by others in other situations and how this information could give inspiration to our thought processes. We looked at the creative thinking process and explored different ways to generate ideas. The next chapter helps us to put those ideas into action

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Updated February 2015