Creative thinking can be reduced to a simple 3 step framework for generating and refining ideas:

  • Stop before you start
    be clear we understand the context & problem
  • Generate
    create lots and lots of ideas to resolve the issue
  • Converge
    harvest, enhance and select the best ideas

It is exactly at the first step where most people, projects, brainstorming sessions go wrong.

We have little time – time is money – and we need to produce results as quickly as possible. So we plunge head on into solving the problem as quickly as possible.

Which means that we don’t  really take the time to see whether what we perceive to be the problem, actually really IS the problem.

This is not only true in project meetings. It is also the case for any problem we tackle on a personal level.

“We cannot see our reflection in running water.
It is only in still water that we can see.”
– Taoist proverb

From time to time we need to stop before we start. We need to stand still. We need to listen. We need to look.  We need to ask (ourselves) some questions.

A proven and simple method is the 5 Whys.

This generally gets you to the root cause and avoids assumptions and logic traps. Often enough the root cause points to a process. If you get stuck too early in the questioning (for example when the answer is beyond your control, i.e. we have no budget, no time, no resources), ask ‘Why did the process not work?’. Because people do not fail, processes do.

Could this be why children are so creative? They ask why ALL the time 🙂

We have learned, often the hard way, that asking why makes you look stupid. And who wants to look stupid (in private or at the office)? So we don’t. We just tag along with what everyone else is doing or suggesting – even if we think it’s totally stupid!

I say, we need to ask ‘why’ ALL the time, like children.

Because not only do we become smarter that way because we learn a lot of stuff (like why the sky is blue, actually…) but also more creative because we get to the root of the problem.

It may take some more time in beginning, but it’s better to fail early when it’s cheaper or hurts less. But in the end, it saves so much time because you’re on the right track from the start and don’t have to change course after milestone or version 23.5.1. and start all over again.

So go ask WHY, WHY, WHY, WHY, WHY!

Dare to look stupid. A lot of people will find you brave because they had exactly the same question and were afraid to ask. And a lot of people will thank you because something was spotted early on.