Talent Development 22 Future Readiness

January 10, 2021

Section 3.8 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Future Readiness. Section A reads, “Knowledge of techniques to promote, support, and/or generate innovation and creativity, for example design thinking, brainstorming, and ideation.”

Creativity is essential for forward movement in any organization. Unfortunately, the tools to have high creativity are often not used well, so the end result is muted rather than brilliant.

One of the more misunderstood techniques to bring about creativity is brainstorming.

Do brainstorming right

The technique of “brainstorming” was developed by Alex Osborn in the year 1967. His book “Applied Imagination” laid out a specific set of rules for brainstorming sessions.

Rule 1 – go for a high number of ideas – He suggested that quantity was more important than quality when creating fresh ideas.

Rule 2 – suspend all judgment while coming up with the ideas. This is the rule that most groups find difficult to follow.

The concept of coming up with “wild” or “crazy” ideas allowed a spontaneous flow of new concepts. Even though most of them were impractical or stupid, there were some nuggets among them.

Osborn suggested that people in the group “hitchhike” or create variations of the ideas of others. In doing so, mutations of different ideas would often lead to an actual practical solution that could work.

Some interesting other techniques have come along that put the concept of brainstorming on steroids. One such invention was “Morphological Analysis.”

The Technique of Morphological Analysis

This concept uses brainstorming but in a way that forces the combination of concepts that we would not normally even consider. The technique was developed by Fritz Zwicky in 1969 at Cal Tech.

He would create a matrix of three or four different variables and present them on two axes. For example he might have objects on the x axis. I will use an example here of car, house, hammock, and brick. Then on the y axis he would identify some other concept, let’s say emotions. So, he might have chosen love, sorrow, fear, levity.

Now he would ask people to brainstorm several different ways you might imagine the intersection of the concepts. He would ask questions like “How can we use a car to create levity?” (answer: you might dress it up like a penguin) or “In what ways can we use a brick to create fear?” (answer: using a string, suspend the brick 20 feet above someone’s head and light a match).

The exercise would continue until all of the intersections or “boxes” were full of crazy ideas. Think about how you would use a hammock to generate sorrow. It really stretches the mind beyond the way we normally think.

Here is another technique to get more ideas using brainstorming in a slightly different way.

One, Two, Four, All

My friend David Finger studied the technique made popular by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz in a structure they call “Liberating Structures.” Here is how David describes how he uses the technique in his work.

Step 1: Define the question that will be answered. This question must be very specific so that everyone answers the same question without interpretation. One question I recently used was, “What feature of Zoom Breakout Rooms is your favorite?”. As you can see, the question is not a monumentally difficult one, in fact it should be one that EVERYONE can come up with an answer for, but that there is no one “right” answer.

Step 2: Ask each person to write down (this is important whether in-person or virtually) their best answer to the question. One answer per person, and it must be written down. (I generally just tell them that part of this process is that they must write it down; I don’t explain why. People comply with simple rules like that fairly quickly, if it’s not a complex instruction.) Maximum time for this is 1 minute.

Step 3: Each person will be paired with another person, and together they will share and discuss their ideas with each other. Within 2 minutes, they need to agree to move forward with ONE of their two ideas. The time limit is necessarily short so they just act without a lot of waffling. They need to decide and move forward.

Step 4: Each pair of people is now put together with another pair of people, and they will each share their agreed-upon move-ahead idea. The way I usually phrase this is, “Between the 4 of you, you have 2 ideas. Work as a team of 4 to decide which ONE idea is the best.” Also, each team of 4 will decide on who will present this one idea to the rest of the group after the decision is made. Maximum time 2 minutes to decide on one idea and assign a spokesperson.

Step 5: Each 4-person team’s spokesperson now reports their ONE idea in an all-participants session. (This is the “All” part.)

Step 6: You now have one top idea from each group of 4 people. Depending on the question and the objective, you can use multi-voting, weighted voting, etc. to choose the one idea to go forward. Alternatively, you can adopt all of the top ideas as things to work on.

The one, two, four, all technique works equally well in a virtual setting as it does in person, so this method of brainstorming may become more popular in the future as a larger portion of the workforce will likely be working from home.

Using an organized approach like the one, two, four, all technique or Morphological analysis creates a richer and more lively brainstorming session that allows the best ideas to move forward. Just remember to keep it light and have fun with your creativity sessions.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.



Creative Shinking

January 13, 2013

Brainstorm 2There is no need to clean your glasses; the title is correct. Something magic happens when we lose the bonds of rules and become free to explore beyond our habitual boundaries. Sure, we need some conventions in our world to have order and proper communication, but I shink there should also be a time for play and experimentation where some of the rules are suspended, at least temporarily.

I am sure there are few English teachers reading this (actually I probably stopped most of them with my title – bye bye now!). When we create a twist on convention, we invent uncomfortable mutations that jar our shinking process. We become like amoebas floating in some new concoction somebody spilled into the Petri dish. God knows what will become of us. Ah, but there is the genius!

The creative process is best when we upset the applecart and venture into an unsustainable place to push on the boundaries. The expectation is that we will eventually step back to a world of reality and stop shinking in dimensions that cannot be tolerated in the “real world,” (whatever that is) but, and this is a heavy but, we can bring back with us some new vision of the possible. We may be able to morph some of the limiting boundaries. What we need is the freedom to suspend rules and shink about things from an imaginary, unconventional place.

One technique I find that really helps is called “Morphological Analysis.” The method was invented by Fritz Zwicky in 1967. The idea is to put different concepts on a grid structure with one type of concept on one axis and the other type on the other axis.

The easiest way to explain the method is with a simplified example. I will use a basic three by three format to explain the concept. Typically, you would use at least a four by four grid. On the figure below we have the concept of different materials on the vertical axis (water, wood, and sand). Then, on the horizontal axis, we have a set of actions, (move bricks, compress air, and remove paint).

Creative Shinking illustration

The technique asks us to brainstorm ways we can use water to move bricks, or compress air, or remove paint. Then we do a separate brainstorm of ways to use wood to move bricks or compress air or remove paint, etc. We continue the brainstorm process until we have several ideas in each of the boxes. The shinking process is guided by the intersection of concepts we normally do not combine, and unusual ideas are generated.

Zwicky and others have discovered that the best way to get a good idea is to shink up a multitude of ideas (many stupid ones) and then combine or “morph” the shinking into something that has some practical use.

It is important to not shink about looking stupid in the process. Just go along for the ride and have some fun creating new ideas that have never been shought of before. You will be amazed at how liberating it can be to allow your magic brain to perform at this level. When you finally come back to reality, the world will look a bit different, and perhaps some helpful idea will be the result. If not, at least you had some fun along the way.

For those who say “You cannot allow rules to be broken or you will create chaos,” I agree whole heartedly. The creative process relies on a type of chaos where we are not confined by conventional shinking. We can dwell in La-La Land while we envision the possibilities.

Wouldn’t it be fun to spend a few hours shinking up all the ways we could find to get the US Congress to make decisions? Ouch, that one really does strain the bounds of sanity. Now there is a bunch of world class shinkers!