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    Entries in thinking (12)


    A clever tool to help you problem solve

    While plenty of tasks, projects and initiatives are about minimising problems, fixing things and reducing issues, there's a time when it helps to make a problem bigger.

    A favourite 'think outside the box' book I enjoy flinging open at random places is John Kuprenas' (with Matthew Frederick) book 101 things I learned in Engineering School.

    It's a chunky hardcover edition and you really know you're holding it despite its A5-ish size.

    Inside are pages and pages of intriguing explanations of concepts applicable to life ... beyond engineering.

    I'm no engineer, yet I have a curiosity for how things work, why things are the way they are and what we can do about that.

    There's something about how engineers, designers and architects think -- and problem solve -- that can be helpful to us, no matter the setting, situation or challenge we face. 

    One of John's 101 things is to 'enlarge the problem space'. He says

    "Almost every problem is larger than it initially appears. 
    Explore and enlarge it at the outset - not to make more work, but because the scope of the problem almost certainly will creep - it will grow larger - on its own. 
    It's easier to reduce the problem space later in the process than to enlarge it after starting down a path toward an inadequate solution".

    It's one of the reasons I give groups and teams this creative and innovation thinking tool to make problems bigger.

    I slot this activity into workshops when teams are working on strategy, design thinking, customer journeys and other tricky problems.

    I called it: 'It's Bigger'.

    It's some cloud shapes or circles up on a whiteboard or I'll get them (yes, executives and senior leaders too) to sketch in a notebook, blank page or in an app on their tablet. Then let them talk.

    Here's how it works:

    1. First, write the Issue
    2. Then add in some points, thoughts, hunches about what the bigger problem is,
    3. ... then the b-i-g-g-e-r problem 
    4. .. and then the BIGGER problem.

    From there you can come up with some totally new solutions.

    You could apply this type of thinking to problems you see around you at work, in your community, in your life ... even complex and wicked problems that are seriously tough to solve like social issues and global challenges can be discussed and strategised using the 'It's Bigger' approach.

    John Kuprenas says:

    there is the problem, then the cause of the problem, then the cause of the cause of the problem and the cause of the cause of the cause... 

    ...you get it! 

    It's a process that let's you look at creativity, innovation and problem solving by making it bigger before you get your hands dirty by doing something about it. 

    I'll use this thinking and creativity tool with a large retailer this week as we workshop some of their new ideas and initiatives to challenging problems. Then it will get a run in a not-for-profit workshop as a team looks at how to fund their social enterprise ideas.

    See, you don't need to build bridges or roads or machines to be an engineer!


    Can. Not. Deal. How to Handle the Cognitive Clutter

    Cognitive clutter: it’s not about messy desks and over flowing 'to do' lists. 

    It’s the cognitive load your mind is under when you’re trying to take in, digest, synthesise and make sense of what you’re hearing, seeing and working with. Too much! Can. Not. Deal. 
    No wonder we dash off to a technology mental paradise, where we can imagine we’re sipping cocktails poolside or hiking across mountain ranges if the information is all too much. 


    This is a big reason why it's challenging to engage with people or to fully get their attention - and keep it - in workplace conversations, workshops, meetings and interactions. It's cognitive clutter's fault!

    So here's a cognitive broom! It's a template for clarity. 

    It's a cognitive broom! A template for cognitive clarity. 

    We've often got too much to think about, remember or process. It's as if you don't have the bandwidth to take anything else on; like someone is using your mind to download a box set on Netflix!

    Then when we’re presented with even more information, it just doesn’t get through. Or wait, yes, some info does get through; some familiar pieces make it through thanks to our well-wired confirmation biases. 
    When you feel hammered with content and Can. Not. Deal. … here are three things to do to sort, make sense and synthesise so you can tidy up the cognitive clutter. 
    I'll often use the visual model above, with teams who have a lot on their plate or struggle to find their way through a topic, piece of work or discussion, to make sense: 
    1. Get context quick!
    Context gives your eyes, mind and brainpower something to filter to. Rather than trying to take in everything, context will help your mind call out and grab various pieces of highly relevant information. The information will latch on and magically file itself.

    >> I like to write a phrase, topic or point in the template space, the blue speech bubble at the top. What's this thing all about? 
    2. Get something down - anything! 
    Of all the stuff you’re thinking and talking about, get some of it down on paper. Something. Anything. We are way too verbal in the workplace, expecting people to remember what's spoken. No wonder people scribble madly on spiral notebooks trying to capture the essence.

    >> In the template, capture a couple of chunks o’content. You’ll be able to handle some more real soon. 
    3. Close the loop on what is done or good or decided. 
    In an effort to do, we often don’t stop adding to the list so we keep raising new topics. Get something done and ticked off. Stop starting, start finishing. Once it's done it gets shifted to another part of our memory. There's an 'Aaaaahhhhh' feeling, like when you sit in a chair at the end of a long day. Feel it.... aaaaah! 

    >> Write a few dot points in the circle to show what's good and done. 
    4. Some more randoms...
    Capture a few more random thoughts. This keeps freeing up and tidying up the clutter. You don’t need to know where they go right now, simply get more stuff down. Maybe it connects to what else you’ve got there, or it may well be different. 
    You’ll feel and see the bandwidth freeing up; people in your group or team will see some connections, they'll be making sense and connecting the dots. More clarity will magically come.  
    They’ll see what you mean. They'll know what it is ...because they've seen it.

    And best of all, you’ll be helping others tidy up their cognitive clutter too. Now that is some nice and tidy work. Good job!



    Fixed or Agile - Which one are you?

    You were born with an agile mindset – a way of thinking that says ‘I can grow and learn and be challenged. I can improve.’ Think crawling, walking, talking, reading, riding a bike. So much to be challenged by. 

    But somewhere along the way, you might get derailed and think that you either ‘have it’ in this life or you don’t. (But that my friend is a ‘fixed mindset’.)

    Linda Rising presented at the Agile Singapore conference recently and (my visual notes of her keynote above) remind me how her messages about the Agile Mindset were inspiring, relevant and … a tap or slap on the shoulder. There are some vital characteristics that are required to make work work in today's competitive environment. 

    She asks: 'who told you what you can and can’t do'… and warns us to ‘watch out what you’re thinking’.

    An agile mindset is one that is looking for opportunities to grow, learn, experiment and improve. Failure simply gives us some information.

    Our mindset need not be fixed; this agility is ideal for the volatile world we live in today. 

    Our teams, customers, clients and organisations need us to be agile, flexible, adaptive, responsive. It’s through challenge that you grow.

    Look at where you might be fixed in your thinking. How might an agile mindset see it differently? What could you experiment with, test out or be challenged by?

    Go…. flex, bend, shift and grow. Keep challenging your own view of things. 


    Stop thinking, start living

    I try and read the book Stop Thinking Start Living at some stage of each year.

    It's a classic and a quick read and is a brilliant reminder to get outta your head and into yer life!

    I might read it on a plane, while I'm staying in a hotel while away for work or simply pick it up and read a few chunks when I need it, or even when I don't!

    When things get a bit much or you find yourself deep in your thoughts... too deep... this one can work so well. 

    The first time I read it, I wrote up this page of dot points on a piece of bright pink fluro paper.

    This page is a little faded now, but it is my list of reminders on a pinboard in my office to help me lead my own thinking better. It's my shortcut to the book, my key messages or my list of 'must try and dos'. 

    While the dot point list has sentimental value, I find it challenging to recall any more than one or two from the list - no matter how many times I've read it. 

    So this visual I created this afternoon will give my mind all the visual anchors it needs to recall the detail and retain the essence of my 'takeaways' of the book - so much better than the list. 

     It's my end of year wish to you that you too can stop thinking and start living - particularly at this time of year when families are together... or not, and friends are there for you... or not.

    You are always there for you. So get on and live rather than thinking about living. 



    A quick creative thinking tool

    There's no need to make idea creation a big deal.
    You don't need a quiet space or allocated time or a fresh notebook. You don't even need to think that you're partcularly creative!
    I enjoy using Bob Eberle's SCAMPER model to help with creativity and innovation - no matter the situation.
    Each letter of the word 'scamper' takes you through a different thinking process. 
    Substitute. Combine. Adapt. Modify. Put to another use. Eliminate. Reverse. 
    Take your problem, situation or current view and think of how you could substitute something...combine with something...adapt it...and so on.
    I've used the model while traveling over the past few weeks, while problem solving, while brainstorming - alone and with others. 
    This week I'm sharing the visual template I use in workshops to isolate some different thinking under each of the 'scamper' letters.
    I write directly on the page and make little notes to segment my thinking, yet keep it on the same page. Teams and groups can work together through the model too.
    Next time you have some ideas to create, some solutions to innovate or a new approach to curate, go and 'scamper'.