Why Brainstorming without a Facilitator Usually Fails

“The ideas that come out of most brainstorming sessions are usually superficial, trivial, and not very original. They are rarely useful. The process however, seems to make uncreative people feel that they are making innovative contributions.”  – A. Harvey Block

We have all been there. You are invited to a “brainstorming” meeting with a few other directors to work out a problem. Is it your problem? No. It is a larger company problem. Do they want your input? Probably not, but it would look worse to not include you. Envision the room, a couple of vice presidents, a few directors and post-its. After all, someone looked it up. To brainstorm, you need post-its. What to do with all these post-its? They don’t know because they aren’t trained in creative problem solving and the process that goes along with it. 

Here is the typical scenario. The meeting starts with “How can we…generate more income, recruit more students, reduce our expenses, etc.?” A department vice president who wants fresh ideas poses the question. Unfortunately, half the people in the room work for him or her. If they had fresh ideas, why haven’t they brought them up before? I ask myself, why are they even in the room? 

We all grab our post-its and start writing. I’m usually good for a sound half dozen ideas that I have seen other companies try and another three or four that I would try myself. But, as I look around the room, I know my ideas will be scratched off one-by-one. People claim to want novel ideas but are more apt to find flaws in them with excuses like lack of resources or “we have tried that before and it didn’t work.” Of course, that was 20 years ago so, that great idea is thrown out the window.

Fast-forward through the obligatory two hours allotted for the meeting. The ideas picked are superficial and pedestrian. Result: we have gotten nowhere and I have lost two hours of my time that I can never get back. I leave with my assigned duties. On a good day…no duties. 

For those of you who know the process, what’s missing? Everything! No clarifying of the situation, no generating novel ideas, no diverging, certainly no developing. No one has looked at the issues, no one has formed an action plan, and no one leaves feeling productive. Please…stop the brainstorming. This is all wrong. You are plucking one tool out of a whole process and going from a start point in the middle and pushing people to implement. If you really want your problems solved, hire a skilled facilitator. If you can’t afford one, find someone looking for experience in facilitation. There are people who are trained to do this for a living. Yes, truly there are. Save valuable time and resources by seeking help. You may even be solving the wrong problem. Think of it this way, you can unclog your sink, does it make you a licensed plumber? Exactly! 

Solve the Right Problem

by Roger Firestien with Cher Ravenell

Albert Einstein was once asked, “If some imminent disaster threatened the world and you had one hour in which you knew you could save it, how would you spend your time?”

Einstein replied, “I would spend the first fifty-five minutes identifying the problem and the last five minutes solving it. For the formulation of a problem is often far more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.”

Keep this in mind: The wording you use to describe a problem will determine how you will solve that problem. How do you explore the problem space to be sure you find the best definition of your problem? Language. In Creative Problem Solving it is all about how you phrase your problem.

Consider the following two statements:

“We don’t have enough money.”
“It’s too expensive.”

These two statements block your thinking. They send messages to your brain that there isn’t a way to solve the problem.

Now consider the following two questions:

“How might we raise the money?”
“How might we reduce the cost?”

By comparison, these two questions open your mind to look for possible solutions to the problem. They provoke ideas that could solve your problem.

It is all about how you phrase your problem. Yes, it is true; people associate creativity with brainstorming and generating massive amounts of ideas. However, in my 35 years of experience, clarifying your problem is as important or EVEN MORE important than generating all those great ideas. It does absolutely no good to generate ideas for solving the wrong problem.

My suggestion: spend time generating a variety of different ways to define your problem first. The process is the same for clarifying your problem as it is for producing ideas. Just as you generate all those creative ideas for solving a problem using a technique like brainstorming; you can also brainstorm plenty of different ways to define a problem.

Give it a try. Next time you need to solve a tough problem, back up a step. Don’t rush to solve that problem. Instead, generate at least 10 to 15 different ways of restating the problem. Turn your problem into a question. Begin your statements with the phrase, “How to …” or “How might….” Once you have generated a variety of ways to redefine your problem, take a look at the new questions. Only then should you select the best definition of the problem on which to generate ideas.

Trust my 38 years of experience in this business. It is worth the extra time to identify the correct problem. It will pay great dividends when you find that the ideas you generate are right on target.

Think about it—if it was good enough for Einstein, it will definitely work for you.

From ‘Trial and Error’ to ‘Trial and LEARN’

by Roger Firestien with Pamela Szalay and Cher Ravenell

A music director once told me that when he rehearsed, he preferred the musicians to make mistakes confidently. He wanted the mistakes to be big and loud so he would notice them quickly, provide coaching and help the ensemble improve. In the end, the concert audience would only hear the orchestra at their best.

Don’t avoid mistakes on the path to creating a great outcome. There are plenty of “right” mistakes that can be made! The biggest way to make “wrong” mistakes is by trying to avoid making mistakes at all. In fact, avoidance can cause stress, make you worry about failing and can hinder creativity. Like the music director, I recommend that you take on the attitude that mistakes can help you improve and make progress.

Consider the phrase, “trial and error.” “Error” in this context is not a negative word. It is a sign that adjustment is needed. Making many “good” mistakes has driven invention, product development, scientific discovery and the creative process for hundreds of years. Tests are run, results are noted, changes are made, tests are run again and eventually the outcome improves.

Still not ready to embrace mistakes? Look at it another way: a mistake is a result you didn’t anticipate. So think, what can I LEARN from that result? Challenge yourself to change your thinking from “Trail and Error” to “Trial and LEARN.” Think about it: if you were learning to ride a bike and fell down, would you call that a mistake and punish yourself? Or would you get up, learn from the fall, and get moving again? Ups and downs are all just part of the process!

Because it is so important to be open to making mistakes, bring this concept to the forefront during group creative problem solving sessions. Give each participant a mistake quotient. I give them permission to make 30 mistakes, and if they use all 30, I give them 30 more. According to Dave Meir, director of the Center for Accelerated Learning, the greatest block to adult learning is defensiveness. By giving participants a mistake quotient, they relax and enjoy learning instead of avoiding or defending their mistakes.

If you want to bring more creativity into your work and personal life, embrace the mistake quotient. Give yourself permission to make lots of “right” mistakes. Make ‘em big and make ‘em loud. Laugh about them and learn from them. That way, when it’s show time, you are ready to give the audience your best!

“We made too many wrong mistakes” –Yogi Berra


Innovation brings #BigData and Fashion together

by Mónica De Salazar

It was a matter of time until #bigdata went further into people’s lives as in giving something back to them (more than it does today, at least in a visible way).

This new innovative articulation joins data with fashion in a new concept called #CodedCouture, which is supposed to be a digital platform that keeps track on your activities and lifestyle to create a personalized and unique dress, specially designed for you.

In this idea, the innovation may not come from the idea of making this (kind-of) natural match, as pretty much all data science is useful for a number of industries and applications, but on how the implementation is driven. And as you may know, frequently innovation is the implementation of a good idea taken to life.

As most of the times, this kind of breakthroughs begins with one of Creative Problem Solvers favourite questions: How might we…? In this case the creators of Coded Couture may have though: How can we create personalized fashion for mobile data?

Welcome to the future of fashion through #CreativeProblemSolving and Innovation!

The Power of Incubation

by Roger Firestien

The classic view of creativity is that an idea comes to us after we have been working on a problem for a long time, have made  little or no progress and then we step away from the problem and INCUBATE.  After a period of incubation – a time when you are not consciously working on the problem. Eureka. The idea hits you! 

Incubation, by definition means, the process of incubating eggs, cells, bacteria or even a disease. In creative problem solving it means something else entirely. It means you are your most creative when you are not consciously working on your problem. Or maybe you are doing something else that your mind can pay attention to in an almost automatic or routine way. You could be on a run, working out, relaxing in a lounger, but you aren’t concentrating on any one particular task. You might even be in the shower. Then the solution to your problem hits you right in the face. Then you begin to wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner. Chances are, you were over-thinking the problem.

When your brain is at rest or you do not feel psychologically threatened you are at your most creative. Some think it is because when your brain has been uninterrupted, it gives it time to refresh itself. You can spend too much time exploring solutions, focusing on the problem, looking at it from different angles. Your brain becomes overloaded with possibilities, complications, and the twisting and turning actually hinder your creative process.

Over thinking serves as a roadblock to letting your brain work out the problem. This is the time for you to walk away. I mean, literally walk away. Talk a walk, don’t think, but look around you. Empty your mind and put all those problems behind you. Think of it as a mini vacation. Do something else…give it a rest. To some of you this may seem like a time waster and a little bit new age. What it is really going on is that you are recharging your most valuable asset, your brain. It needs time to unjumble itself. After your incubation period you will be surprised that the ideas start to flow almost non-endingly. 

The incubation period can happen at any point in the #creativeproblemsolving process. In a particularly long or complicated Creative Problem Solving session, let everyone break often to process the information. You and your team will come back recharged, often with new ideas or more novel ones. Sometimes it is best to give instructions on how to incubate; which is to not think of the problem but pay attention to something else.  That’s the reason for the walk. Some people have never tried to turn off their brain and the idea may seem strange. But encourage them to try it. They may be surprised by the results. I mean, real workable solutions that provide results… and you can shampoo your hair at the same time.

La búsqueda de respuestas “correctas” detiene la creatividad

por Mónica De Salazar

Prácticamente cualquier persona que haya crecido dentro del marco de la sociedad actual ha sido educada con la idea de buscar respuestas correctas.

Desde los primeros años se ha venido enseñando que muchas de las preguntas formuladas tienen una manera adecuada de responder; y existen casos específicos en los que solo existe una respuesta como son las capitales de los estados, cuánto es 2+2, el número de meses que tiene un año, y otras formulaciones similares.

Sin embargo, la búsqueda de una sola respuesta correcta se puede convertir en un serio problema para la creatividad cuando se da por hecho que para toda situación siempre existe una sola manera de resolverse. El problema se hace aún más serio cuando se pierde de vista que las soluciones pueden estar en función de diversos elementos contextuales como pueden ser: económicos, de presupuestos, de materiales disponibles, cercanía, tiempos, y aceptación de los involucrados, entre muchos otros. En casos donde los retos son multifactoriales, la creatividad toma un papel de gran relevancia dado que el proceso mental es muy diferente a cuando se trata de la selección de una respuesta correcta para una pregunta cerrada.

Al encontrarnos con retos abiertos, no existe realmente una sola respuesta que sea la ideal, sino que pueden haber más de un camino para solucionar y desde esta perspectiva, evaluar correctamente qué es lo que se espera conseguir y conocer los factores relacionados así como los recursos disponibles, se convierten en piezas clave de la Resolución Creativa de Problemas (#CreativeProblemSolving) y por supuesto, de la implementación de soluciones, una vez que se ha llegado a ellas.

Dentro del modelo de Resolución Creativa de Problemas, la importancia de la exploración a través de diversas posibilidades antes de seleccionar alguna para su posible desarrollo es fundamental, siendo nuevamente una trampa pensar que puede haber una sola respuesta correcta. Para atender esta posibilidad el sistema de pensamiento divergente y convergente por pasos, es decir, en un momento específico solo hacer divergencia, y en otro momento específico solo hacer convergencia; es lo que hace posible estar limitando el flujo de nuevas ideas durante el proceso creativo.

Adicionalmente, al hacer el cambio entre pensamiento divergente y convergente, se ayuda a evitar ir por la primera idea (otro gran limitante del pensamiento creativo) dado que en la fase de divergencia se pueden generar muchos datos, ideas o posibilidades, de las que una vez llegada la convergencia se pueden seleccionar las que respondan mejor al reto o varias de ellas para juntas construir nuevas opciones.

El pensamiento creativo va más allá de lo que parece, se trata de cambiar algunas costumbres incluso en nuestros procesos mentales para efectivamente pensar diferente.

Is there a better timing for product innovation?

by Monica De Salzar

A lot of companies and organizations have interest in innovation since the markets are changing quickly and new competitors are appearing constantly. There is also a growing interest on disruption to go towards innovation and a larger marketshare.

Now, is there a better answer? As in different topics, there is no right answer because a good thing to do would be to evaluate and treat each case on an individual basis, where different elements might make big differences between brands, companies, similar products, and even products in the same company!

When it comes to timing (this scheme shows the different moments of a market development and how a trend appears, takes off, gets to its highest peak and begins to decline), a company / organization should always be aware of these stages and how to address each one from where they are. In this perspective the need for innovation, as in disruption versus continuous improvement can be different from case to case.

This means that you can be innovative at all times, because to innovate is to implement the creative process in a successful and useful way for the product, its market, and of course the company / organization.

In order to find out what the best product strategy is depending on how mature a market is, benchmarks and market data are always helpful tools along with #CreativeProblemSolving as part of continuous optimization and search for new user insights.

If you or your company are looking forward to innovate, there is never a better time but there can be better ways to do it, and Creativity is one the most valuable tools to do it.

Why do opposites attract… and help each other grow?

by Mónica De Salazar

There is a lot of sayings and ideas on how opposites attract, things like “your perfect match”, “you compliment each other”, and so on. It doesn’t only happen in terms of romantic relationships, it also happens between friends, coworkers and pretty much with all sorts of persons.

This can be explained with the concept of Polarity Management (there’s a book by Barry Johnson), which explains how it works and how to deal in a positive way with this.

It kinda looks like this image. Lets say the two sides (left /right( are two persons or two kinds of persons. They both have a peak (positive results) and a low point (negative results), but at the same time both are cross related and what’s more… they are interdependent.

What does this mean? The downsides of one side are the launching spot for the other one to go further, and viceversa.

The main problem is that in the middle line (let’s imagine an horizontal line dividing the top and bottom parts) that’s the point where we should shift to what the other person (or kind of person) is good at… but usually we don’t.

Attention here: What we worry most about people who are opposite to us is the bottom part of them, meaning the negative results zone. And they worry about the same from us.

But it’s normal, we worry about what we do not know if we can handle. We worry about the dark sides and maybe not being able to respond to them or work things out. Then what can we do? Well, the answer is simple… to give in to it, maybe not as much. We all need to be mindful and self-conscious that when we start to cyclize in a same thought, action, attitude maybe it’s time for the other one to take over the situation and handle it in a different way.

To be able to manage polarities is not just a way to have more harmony among diverse persons and groups, but it also becomes a way to integrate them and make the most of their personality traits and points of view. Eventually, when this integration is successful (it takes time, don’t rush into it) the relationship becomes stronger, more collaborative, people enrich each other and what’s more… diversity leads to innovation more than any other configuration. It becomes some kind of high performance relay race team.

This map shows in a quite clear way how breathing works as a system where polarities are managed the whole time as a cycling process.

When managing polarity it is important to identify the treats, points and everything that is in the up sides of both (or more parts), this way these characteristics can be enhanced, stimulated, built, and more desirable for all parts. This way when there is consciousness of this, all will be more prone to help others (and themselves) by pushing only for the up sides, and relay when the performance or good results start to nosedive. Everyone becomes more collaborative.

Today, challenges (I don’t like to say “problems”) become more and more complex what makes them be less prone to have a single right answer. We have grown in a society where 90% of problems have just one right answer and this is the reason why we are conditioned to always try to respond the first and with the right answer. Therefore, we lose a 3D point of view and make more mistakes in this new complexity of challenges. With Polarity Management we have the opportunity to see challenges from different perspectives, diverge in possible solutions development, prototype solutions, find more sofisticated and tailor-made options… and of course, disrupt + innovate.

What do you think? Shall we try to find diversity and figure out how to manage polarities.

Metas SMART: Del propósito al logro


por Mónica De Salazar

Cuando todas las personas hablan de hacer propósitos, vale la pena definir qué es exactamente un propósito. Se trata de la intención o propósito que lleva a conseguir algo que idealmente es beneficioso, es decir, el empuje para conseguir un objetivo que puede ser una meta total o parte de una meta global.

Entonces, ¿por qué año con año las personas hacen propósitos o por qué cada lunes se inicia una dieta que dura hasta el martes, o por qué se inicia un ahorro y poco después se gasta el dinero reunido? Pues la respuesta es simple de decirse, aunque no de concretarse: Falta de claridad y que metas específicas.

Qué diferente sería decir cosas como:

“Este año, quiero lograr terminar de leer tres libros”; en lugar de “leer más…”.

¿”Leer más”? Más que cuándo, más que quién, más qué… Y entonces como no sabemos exactamente a qué nos estamos refiriendo, no está clara la meta, ni el objetivo, y el propósito acaba disolviéndose al poco tiempo.

O… “Ya, me voy a poner a dieta…”, en lugar de “voy a comer de 3 panes a solo 1 al día durante un mes”. Eso ya quiere decir una reducción de más de 30% de una fuente de carbohidratos, porque “ponerse a dieta” pueden ser mil cosas, incluyendo dietas para engordar.

O… “Voy a gastar menos y ahorrar más”, en lugar de “cada semana voy a eliminar comprar café de la tiendita y mejor eso lo ahorraré para ver cuánto dinero junto en 10 días”. Con lo cuál en una sola acción está logrando las dos cosas que desea pero está claro de dónde va a salir el recurso.

Claro, el punto es poder definir con mayor claridad y precisión qué es lo que vamos a hacer; y posiblemente incluso hacer aparentemente más pequeña la meta en cuestión, pero recordemos que cuando una cosa nos sale bien, queremos volverla a hacer o hacerla pero con un poco más de reto. En cambio si queremos conquistar la primera gran meta desde el primer momento es posible que resulte abrumadora y finalmente la abandonemos por parecer fuera del alcance.

Una forma sencilla de ayudar a definir mejor tus propósitos o metas es usando una herramienta llamada Pensamiento SMART (por el acrónimo formado en inglés), donde hay cinco rubros a valorar:

S (Specific) – ¿Qué tan específica es tu meta? Es decir, cantidad, color, características…

M (Measurable) – ¿Cómo puedes medir el progreso de tu meta? Números, fotografías, evidencias, souvenirs, boletos comprados…

A (Action Oriented) – ¿Qué verbos que indiquen acciones puedes pensar en torno a esta meta? Por ejemplo: Listar, reflexionar, correr, cocinar, dejar de…

R (Realistic) – ¿Qué tan realista es esta meta? Al momento de evaluar este punto es donde puedes darte cuenta de tus capacidades y recursos al momento actual para llegar hasta donde has esbozado. Aquí también puedes darte cuenta de cosas que requieres conseguir o desarrollar, o de algunos recursos que sean procesos previos necesarios.

T (Time Bound) – ¿Cuál es el plazo o temporalidad en la que esta meta esté enmarcada? Recuerda que así como un plan que no está escrito es solo una idea, un plan que no tiene fecha es difícil que suceda. Esto es porque deja de ser prioridad y no existe una auténtica referencia del momento en que debe haberse completado.

Esclarecer y lograr poner en palabras los propósitos es el primer paso para lograr conseguirlos, luego es importante hacer tu inventario de recursos personales o materiales para saber con qué cuentas y así poder iniciar tu proceso creativo.

Contenido originalmente publicado en LifeStrategics. 

Your GPS already does Creative Problem Solving… and you?

by Mónica De Salazar

Today, a lot of people uses GPS apps on their mobile phones to get to places. It’s easy to follow, it usually shows you routes and how traffic is in every option, tells you where to turn and even if you lose track of a certain turn, it re-routes and gives you a new option.

The logic within a navigation system has certain similarities with the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) and its stages, and it will help us to explain part of what’s inside the Creativity Certificate. Pretty much you can become a GPS System but for all sorts of challenges.

First things first; you need to introduce the address or place where you wish to go. It is very difficult (not to say impossible) to use a GPS system if you don’t know where you wish to go. Being creative on this, if you don’t know the exact place where you’re going, at least you might need to introduce a reference so it can take you there, and from that point you might need to find the way yourself. Being say this, you always need a direction first. In CPS, this is the Clarification stage. We are assuming that when you turn on your GPS you have already gone through the Evaluation of the Situation stage, and you know what is happening in your life or day so that you decided to jump into your car.

The thing about Clarification is that you have already envisioned the place where you wish to go, but you might be overlooking possible traffic issues as blocks, deviations and more, which can become challenges at the moment you’re in route.

Once the address is set the GPS system moves into its version of the Ideation stage, that in this case is looking at the map and finding possibilities of routes to follow. The system certainly does not brainstorm on options, but it does connect the available streets and highways to see how they match best. Then it gives you straightforward routes that might be slow, gives you routes through tolls that you will need to pay, options of longer routes but with less traffic.

Then comes the Implementation stage, were the route is marked in a color and you have a general plan on how to get from point A to point B, as well as a Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA). This is similar to what happens when we are planning for a prototype, since we have a general vision of how it might function if all the conditions are helpful but of course, you can never have a perfect plan because things and new challenges might appear on the way. After introducing the address or direction you wish to go, getting the best available route and seeing the panoramic view of it, you’re ready to roll. Happens with GPS and with challenges to be addressed through a CPS process; getting the route and where the turns are doesn’t mean you are already there. This is the reason why Implementation is so important, along with Stakeholder Analysis, flexibility to re-route and find new options if needed, but never forgetting what the vision is, what the desired destination is…

It is curious how a system can have a similar logical configuration to how CPS works. Of course there are big differences from this to how a complete CPS process works, what the results can be and the approach, but a navigation system is an interesting example of how were are close to this logic process everyday and the good results it gives us most of the time. Now, how would you like to be more of a GPS System when a challenge appears for your company, team, organization, family or for yourself… always being able to envision where you want to go, finding always viable options to go there nd being able to make plans with the exact twists and turns to get you there even if something comes up along the way? This is what CPS is all about, getting you where you wish to be and even further.