Today’s post comes from Wayne Fisher.
I recently completed a series of 2-day innovation workshops at the Xavier Leadership Center. Len Brzozowski, the Executive Director of XLC, helped design and facilitate the workshops. In each case, it was the first time the teams had been exposed to the Creative Problem Solving process. And, they were applying it to very complex/challenging problems.
The post-workshop feedback was very positive, and the participants were anxious to maintain the momentum on their great work. Given the challenge of scheduling 25 people for a formal CPS workshop, Len asked a very practical follow-up question. “What are the minimum requirements to achieve meaningful results with the CPS process, and what are trade-offs?” I propose that the minimum requirements are:
Creative Problem Solving is inherently a group activity. Rare is the individual who can apply the process alone and achieve breakthrough thinking. The primary role of the participants in any CPS session is to bring the necessary Content to each step of the process. Ideally, the participants will also have a diversity of experience and thinking styles.1 I find that 3 people is the minimum requirement to achieve synergy in the CPS process. [Beyond 7 people, a blend of subteam and full group work is preferred.]
There are many cognitive advantages to having a minimum group size of 3 People. Perhaps the greatest is that a triad allows one person to “observe” while the other two more actively engage in the process. This is similar to the 2-on-1 format often used for consumer interviews in a Design Thinking workshop. The “observer” can listen for unarticulated assumptions and help the group dig deeper, especially during Problem definition.
Creative Problem Solving has three distinct phases – Problem Formulation, Solution Finding, and Planning / Execution. We have developed a rich toolbox for each phase.2 Three tools in particular can be used for “any problem, any time, any where” and lend themselves to self-guided work.
Min Basadur’s “Why – What’s Stopping” analysis3 effectively combines Opportunity Finding, Fact Finding, and Problem Definition. For any given situation, the team is asked to describe the ideal outcome (Opportunity Finding). Known barriers are broken down using Why-Why-Why analysis (Fact Finding). The most important barriers are re-written in the form of a “How Might We” statement (Problem Definition).
Idea Finding using Analogy4 is a powerful approach for any problem type. I have found that teams starting with a highly granular Why-Why-Why analysis find it much easier to identify potential analogies for Idea Finding. Identifying meaningful analogies is difficult for some, so I prefer brainstorming analogies as a group. Research has shown that analogies have to be “distant” enough from the problem at hand to stimulate new ways of thinking. However, analogies that are “too distant” require too much mental energy to sort through and actually hinder Idea Finding. This is a delicate balance, so I ask individuals to select analogies that resonate with them personally.
Delivering breakthrough requires a commitment to taking Ideas through Evaluation, Action Planning, Acceptance Finding, and Execution. Writing an Implementation Intention5 is an effective bridge between Idea Finding and Execution. This technique encourages deeper thinking about how the Idea would be implemented in the existing ecosystem. Specifically, it probes:
Thinking through these questions in advance helps assure the necessary resources are in place and improves the probability of follow through.
The biggest challenge with facilitating full-day workshops – beyond the obvious scheduling difficulties – is maintaining team energy for the hard work of thinking. Three hours is an ideal time block for creative problem solving. One hour is long enough for meaningful discussion, individual work, and team work for each of the three tools described above. Worked together, these three tools provide the balance of divergent and convergent thinking needed to build momentum for implementation.
Large, complex business challenges can’t be addressed by three people in three hours. The advantage of a large group is the ability to break down the CPS process into manageable chunks for small group work, while allowing quick access to the full knowledge of the group. For example – a group of 20 participants, working in pairs, can conduct 10 consumer interviews in about an hour (Fact Finding). The insights from these 10 consumers can then be pooled and evaluated by the whole group. The top insights can then be further explored in subteams (Problem Definition).
This rhythm of subteam and full group work at each step of the CPS process accounts for the tremendous productivity seen in 2-day workshops. There are also important benefits for fully immersing teams in the innovation process (ideally, away from the home office). This is especially important when asking highly executional teams to “think differently,” or when an organization is trying to set a new direction.
Net, my three recommendations for balancing large-group and small-group innovation work:
1Min Basadur, The Power of Innovation, pp. 33-40, see also http://www.basadurprofile.com
2For an electronic copy of the three tools cited (templates with detailed user instructions), send an e-mail to info@Rockdale-Innovation.com
3Min Basadur, The Power of Innovation, pp. 84-89
4Art Markman, Smart Thinking, pp 134-154
© 2012 Wayne Fisher, The Innovation Guide