Creative Thinking and Problem Solving – Notes for Managers, Coaches and Mentors of Participants


Illumine Training - Parts of the brain

To get the most out of the course, delegates will need to be supported as they start to think and work differently. This page will help managers, coaches and mentors to provide that support. Here you will find:

  • Information about the course
  • What to expect after someone has attended the course
  • Suggestions to help you perform a useful review with the course participant

The Course

The key output from the course is that attendees are familiar with and able to use a range of creativity and problem solving techniques. However in order to get to that point, as well as learning how to use the techniques themselves, we also cover a number of different and important aspects of thinking, creativity and the creative process.

Here are the key aspects covered:

How we think
We use a card game based on the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) to introduce the fact that we all have different dominant thinking modes depending on our individual combination of left and right brain and of cerebral (thinking) and limbic (feeling) brains. The point is made that no mode is better or worse than another, but that this inherent diversity present both a challenge (for example communicating and working with people who see the world differently than we do) and an opportunity. The easiest and quickest way to bring new perspectives to bear on one of our problems is to find people who think differently than ourselves.

Where ideas come from and the creative process
We explore where ideas come from and discover that for most people, many of their ‘light bulb’ moments come when they are not actively thinking about their problem or challenge. We then introduce the idea that the generation of new ideas can be something of a haphazard process that inevitably has a degree of randomness associated with it. One of the key roles of creativity techniques is to increase the likelihood of new ideas being produced.

An additional message that is sometimes lost is that if you have any sort of idea generation session, there should be a mechanism for people to contribute new thoughts and ideas after the session as well during it.

When to be creative
The point is usually made (and often discussed) that it is not appropriate to be creative all of the time. Sometimes it is necessary to simply get on with the task at hand in the agreed way. Choosing when to be creative and managing the process effectively is very important.

The importance of ‘could’ thinking
Because in many roles and in many organisations, logical and analytical thinking are highly developed and highly valued, many of us become very good at spotting the problems with ideas – thus killing them off before they have an opportunity to develop into something that could be valuable. As individuals we are often uneasy about being seen to consider ideas that are clearly flawed as it could bring into question our ability to think logically and thoroughly. We are, in short, worried about being seen as ‘flaky’.

One of the key messages on this course is that during the ‘divergent’ thinking phase (see below) it is vital to work with possibilities – with ‘could’ thinking. We talk about switching off the ‘filters’ – filters can be both explicit and implicit. Typical filters include: safety, legality, common sense, morality, ethics, difficulty, cost, etc.

The Creative Process Model
We introduce a simple model within which all of the techniques sit. The start point is setting a clear focus for the creative thinking. This is followed by divergent thinking to generate a wide and deep ‘ideas pool’. This divergent thinking is unfiltered. Once enough ideas have been generated, convergent thinking – harvesting and evaluating ideas – is conducted.

The point is made during the course that it is not unusual to break into the process at different points and to leave it at different points depending on particular situations and time constraints; it doesn’t all have to be done in a single session.

Setting a focus
We spend some time exploring the concept of narrowing, widening or simply changing the scope of a challenge by changing the specific words used to describe it. We make the point that a great deal of time and energy is wasted simply because insufficient thought (and challenge) is put into defining the problem or challenge.

Creativity Techniques
The course introduces a range of different techniques and time is spent using the techniques to either generate or evaluate ideas. As well as the process of how the techniques work, the course tutor will also make additional points about effective facilitation. It is common for delegates to have preferences for different techniques based on their own experiences during the course. We do try to encourage them to be open to the idea of trying all of the techniques again after the course.

Although the techniques introduced are sometimes varied, the following are usually introduced:

  • Situation/Solution Reversal – look at how to make things worse before reverting to the real challenge. A great help in ‘switching off’ the filters. The challenge is keeping the filers switched off when generating ideas for the real challenge.
  • Visual Trigger – using a visual trigger to promote new thinking about a familiar situation.
  • Analogies – using a randomly selected process as an analogy, generates new perspectives which can then be used as the basis for new ideas.
  • Mind Maps® for Creativity – although Mind Mapping itself is beyond the scope of this course, we often introduce how to use Mind Maps to work with concepts and ideas. Time is spent exploring the difference between concepts and ideas and how to exploit this distinction to good effect.
  • SCAMMPERR – this is an acronym representing different challenges to the status quo. It can be used to generate fresh thinking about products, services and processes.
  • Six Thinking Hats® – This De Bono technique is introduced as a great way to evaluate ideas by thinking about it from a number of perspectives. Many delegates find that the ‘multi-perspective thinking’ model is also valuable for facilitation more generally.

Running Sessions and Harvesting Ideas
Although coaching and feedback is provided throughout this course, we also spend some time explaining how to set up successful sessions and what to do with whatever outputs are produced.

A Harvesting Matrix is introduced which can be adapted to different needs and different situations.

Action Planning
At the end of the course delegates are encouraged to think about how they are going to use what they have learnt. We make the point quite strongly that it is up to them to put the techniques and perspectives covered into good use. The last exercise they do before writing their action plans is to spend time following through the whole creative process model by working on a particular challenge – setting a focus and then using some of the techniques to do both divergent and convergent thinking.

What to expect after someone has attended the course

Everyone attends the course for slightly different reasons but they will all have opportunities to use what they learn. Delegates are usually very keen to put their new skills into practice. A little well-directed support and encouragement by manager, coach or mentor can make a big difference. We hope the following notes will help you give that support:

What to expectWhat you can do (or not do)
They will want to use the techniques to solve problems or generate new ideas.Help them to find opportunities to use the techniques to come up with new solutions and ideas. Ideally allow them to ‘cut their teeth’ on smaller challenges but encourage them to plan the sessions as if they were challenges of greater importance.
If you suggest areas that need new ideas you may find that they challenge the scope and/or the precise wording of what you have suggested.Welcome the challenge. Spending time challenging what is being asked for is going to be time well spent. The process may result in a subtle (or not so subtle) change to the ‘problem statement’ but even if it doesn’t, time well spent thinking about the definition of a problem is invaluable.
If you are attending or observing a session, you may find that ‘wackiness’ is encouraged and that clearly unworkable ideas are seemingly being entertained.Part of the process is to encourage a ‘no filters’ or ‘could’ approach initially so that ideas can spark other ideas. Embrace this and above all, don’t censor ideas during the divergent thinking phase. If ideas (especially the half-baked ones) are making you feel uncomfortable – good!
They may ask for opportunities to do more facilitation work even if it’s not strictly about creative thinking. They may also ask for feedback.Being able to facilitate effectively is a great skill to have. Encourage them and help them to find opportunities. When giving them feedback focus on the things they are doing well in order to build their confidence and try to provide specific feedback on the extent to which they are encouraging participation from everyone. One specific is to make sure that no ‘unconscious filtering’ is going on – not writing things down because they are uncomfortable with them.
They may want to arrange to run a creativity session outside of their own area.This situation will of course depend on whether the course was ‘open’ or in-house. It is very difficult to facilitate and contribute to a session simultaneously. One way around that is to arrange to run a session in someone else’s area (and vice versa). If this is practical, it does represent a great development opportunity.

Conducting a review after the course

Many managers like to follow up courses that their people have attended. The style and format of these reviews varies widely so here are some prompts for suggested discussion points:

  • Action Plan – at the end of the course all delegates are encouraged to commit to specific actions to use and reinforce the things they’ve learnt. That action plan is a good start point for a review.
  • Techniques – which ones have been used or are being planned to be used? It may be useful to challenge if some have been dismissed because they didn’t flow as well as others during the course. Building up a good range of techniques to use in different situations, is important. What has worked well and what has worked less well?
  • Setting a Focus – how much effort is going into defining the problems or challenges? How well is that process working?
  • Coaching Others – have there been any opportunities to coach others in the use of the techniques or in any of the other things discussed or taught on the course?
  • Herrmann Brain Dominance – have you been able to make use of the insights gained? Was this relevant to you?
  • General – it will be worth going back to the original reasons for attending the course and also review the other notes in this section that describe the course and use them as a prompt for your discussion.

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