I started thinking about the question of problems during a recent One-Day Public Speaking Workshop.

We had just finished working on the organisation of information to achieve the required outcome (which is posh talk for ‘putting your ideas in order’); and during the break between sessions one of the participants came up and asked if there was a way he could use the same principles to organise his ‘Think Tank’s Brainstorming meetings’.

It was a moot point – can one organise a brain storming session? Isn’t the very idea of

brainstorming to bring out a variety of ideas, search out new and innovative ideas?

I suppose in a way that is exactly what it is designed to do; but … thinking about the last one I attended, and remembering the chaos of ideas and the unstructured thinking I wondered if the lad had a point.

Since then I have given the problem some thought and I have come up with some radical ideas which just might work!

I am not sure why your brainstorming sessions are called – but usually I find they are designed to address a problem. “Houston; we have a problem!” and all the great minds at NASA gathered for the greatest brainstorming session possibly to date.

Alas, and I cannot think that we are unique in this, often the problem gets lost in the multitude of ideas, suggestions etc which quickly come to the surface. Some of these are so out there, so tempting that we often forget the original problem to investigate these more deeply. So if we are to encourage lateral thinking and creative ideas, just how can we design a structured session which does not stifle them?

I think it is in the nature of how we address the problem. It is my belief that we spend too little time in defining the problem and addressing that issue before we rush to get to the fun bit – and it is this that leads us astray during the brainstorming sessions.

So first let’s look at the problem of the problem.

We first become aware that we have a problem when we start to feel the unwelcome discomfort that usually accompanies it. We know what is happening as a consequence of the ‘problem’, but we may not be fully aware of the real reason.

If we define the problem as the discomfort we can create workable solutions that may reduce or remove it – but which does not address the cause. It’s like a doctor treating the symptoms without any further tests to discover the underlying disease which is the cause.

If we are to solve our problem we need to find that underlying cause. Only when we have discovered the root of the problem will we be able to formulate real solutions. No amount of creative thinking or innovative ideas will solve the issue if we are addressing the wrong problem.

So a brain storming session should begin with a real discussion of a Question of Facts. And this is based on sharing the information and providing the facts. Once the facts are fully understood then the real root cause often shines out with clarity. Without this step we are often setting out on the wrong path.

Once we have dealt with the Question of Fact we need to consider the Question of Consequence and values. Here we consider how important is this problem? We think about the effects that the facts have on the situation. What is the outcome; what has been the unwished for consequences of what we now know? And how is that impacting on our emotional attitude? Can we continue, for instance, without too much difficulty? Does it really matter? Is it impacting on our credibility and if so how do we feel about that? This defines the present attitude of the group to the willingness to seek a solution.

Then we need to consider the Question of Policy – or the steps we are willing to take to overcome the problem. Here the creative thinkers come to the fore. Here our innovative ideas take to the skies and here we now have the real possibilities that these great ideas are truly focused on the true problems at hand.

It is when we have resolved the Question of consequence and values that we have a much better understanding of how important to us the problem actually is, and the real willingness of all to resolve it.

This is necessary, because problems sometimes need drastic solutions and only a real commitment to the resolution can drive the determination to solve them.

So, I think that we can organise a brainstorming session to achieve a necessary outcome, just as we do in our public presentations. But we do need to be fully aware of what the real reason for the group participation is. And that needs an understanding of the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms.

So the problem is really a question of the problem!! Which makes sense in a strange sort of way.

Michele @ Trischel

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