Sunday, May 22, 2005

Build up, don't knock down

This is sometimes described as learning to say 'Yes, and .. .' rather than 'Yes, but ... '. Any new idea will include lots of problematic elements, and the newer the idea, the more problematic it is likely to be. It is therefore very easy to kill ideas by highlighting their weaknesses. However, this will often 'throw the baby out with the bath water'. Even the silliest, weirdest or most impracticable of ideas will contain one or two per cent of potentially viable material or can be used as what de Bono referred to as an 'intermediate impossible' - a stepping-stone to other, more directly usable ideas.

'Building' techniques are extremely powerful, often very portable and can have very positive secondary effects:

  • They allow you to take virtually any input - a random piece of news, a nonexpert's misunderstanding, a tedious discussion with the office bore or an accidental meeting - and get useful ideas from it.
  • They can help you to remain attentive and interested longer and more often.
  • The other people involved will also tend to feel encouraged by having their tentative ideas valued and being helped to build them into realistic and acceptable plans.
  • This is the kind of experience that people want to try again, from which they learn a lot and which leaves them valuing you and the organization.

Suggestions for techniques to 'build' on an existing idea (sometimes called 'hitchhiking') are listed below.

  • Give priority to the useful aspects ('Yes, that idea would let us .. .').
  • Express problematic aspects in a form that allows them to be tackled ('That idea raises an interesting problem. I wonder how we could .. .').
  • Combine the idea with other ideas.
  • Transform the idea in various ways (e.g. bigger, smaller, reversed, changed roles).
  • Treat the idea as an exemplar for other possibilities (what different categories it could belong to, and what other ideas are suggested by these categories).
  • Express the idea in more abstract or concrete terms ('What is this idea an example of?' 'What examples are there of this idea?').
  • Represent it in a different medium (draw it, role-play it, sculpt it, etc.).
  • Reframe the idea (i.e. see it from someone else's viewpoint, from a different hierarchical level, in different contexts or on different time-scales).
  • Abstract the idea to a few key terms and then look up equivalents in a thesaurus (this method is the basis of some computer packages).
  • Find analogies to the idea and use these as stimuli for other ideas.
  • Use the idea to start a train of thought (in which case many of the other building mechanisms may be at work in a more or less automatic way - the more practised you are, the more automatic they become).

If you would like to learn more about using creative techniques then you might be interested in the new 'YES you can' ebook series which has 48 techniques for you to try.

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