Monday, November 8

Favourite ways to provoke people

Creativity in an artistic environment is one thing; creative thinking in the context of business activity is quite another. 

Central to the act of creative thinking in business is the act of provocation.  I'm convinced by the argument that the educational institutions of the western world have eroded our creativity, replacing it with patterns for analytic problem solving which in time become our only instincts.

I'm sure you'll readily recollect an education in which you were taught that "Peking" was the capital of China.  But do you ever recall being offered any alternative perspectives?
1.  If you're chinese, the capital is "Beijing"
2.  If you're a grammar buff, the capital is "C"
3.  If you're in finance, the capital will be "yuan", or "renminbi", or "kuai", or "jiao" (various names for China's currency)

Once you've arrived at these alternatives, it's pretty easy to back-track to the original question.  And the trick of provocation helps you reach those paths-less-trodden. 

We started to discuss this subject in a previous post, but now I'd like to offer-up a few basic methods to help you provoke the mind away from it's normal path.  You'll be able to get a long way with just a simple expression of four common methods, derived from one of the many books on the bibliography page:

First of all work out precisely what you want to think about, and write it down as your "focus".  It could be a problem, an opportunity, or just a subject area which you feel warrants further exploration.

Then apply one or more of the following provocations, in any order ...

Re-focus and re-state
Examine the top three causes and top three effects of your focus, and consider re-focusing on one of those if it might yield broader results.  Experiment with putting your focus into different words, use synonyms and similar phrases to re-express the focus so as to open-up other lines of thinking.

Use analogies
Consider if your focus has any "parallel worlds" (the best example I've spotted is roll-on deodorant, apparently invented by considering the roller-ball pen!)  Also try putting yourself in the shoes of a personal hero, and try to imagine how he or she would proceed.

Try to find an attribute of your situation which is fixed (e.g. ice forms water when it melts) ... then consider what would happen otherwise, and how that could in fact be prevented.  Consider the use of a "magic agent" which can overcome your most immediate obstacles ... then work out if such an agent could be introduced.  Consider the positive applications of apparently negative features of your situation, perhaps from the perspectives of others.

Pick a random word or phrase, inject it mercilessly into your focus, and see what emerges.  (I carry 300 random words around with me for just these purposes, and they've never failed me yet.  I only wish I had more.)

Various authors have written extensively on how these techniques can be elaborated into more sophisticated workshop exercises, to be used for collective creative brainstorming.  But very little attention is given to the power of using them alone in a quiet room on a rainy Thursday afternoon.  It actually works very well, if and only if you believe it will work well.  So when you're next feeling upbeat about creative thinking, please give it a try.  I'd love to hear how you get on.

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