“Great Answer, Wrong Question”

The title of this post was also the title of another breakout session I attended at the American Creativity Association (ACA) annual conference last Monday.  It was run by Tim Hurson, founder of the company ThinkX.  I found Tim to be an extremely energetic and passionate speaker who clearly loves what he was teaching.  It really was infectious.

Tim’s session centered around the first step in the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process – the Objective Finding stage.  Being the first of the 6-step process, this is the step where you define what exactly you’d like to go out and change in your life.  It could be anything – work issue, money issues, health issues.  What you focus on here will provide the context for your thinking later on.

Tim has a really unique way of facilitating this first stage.  He actually combined the first 2 stages of CPS into his first stage.  The second CPS stage is Fact Finding, where you gather all the information you know about your problem to give your mind a full view of it.  There are a lot of benefits to doing this that I’ll talk about later in the post.

To facilitate his session, Tim used a model he calls High Five.  He described it like a hand – each finger represents a different question with the space between the thumb and the index finger representing your vision of the future.  The questions the fingers represented are:

  1. What’s the itch?
  2. What’s the impact?
  3. What’s the information?
  4. Who’s involved?

I’ll what you through step-by-step what was asked and what my thinking was.

  • What’s the itch?
    In this step we needed to sit down and think about what needed changing in our lives.  What kept us up at night?  What made us want to put our heads through a wall?  What made us so frustrated we have to scream.  After a little negotiation between needing more time and my computer running too slow, I decided that my puppy Stewie, a 1-year old half Jack Russel, half Dachshund,  needed to be housetrained.  We’re in the process of housetraining him, but it’s not going so well.
  • What’s the impact?
    How do you feel about this problem?  Why does it need to be solved?  Why is it important?  These are some questions we thought about after we chose which problem we were going to try to make better.  It makes sure you’re tackling a problem that needs to be solved and your not wasting your energy. For this step, I decided that Stewie needs to be housetrained because he’s messing up where I live, which is leading to mounting frustration and many unclean socks.
  • What’s the information?
    This is the step where you gather all the information about your problem and its situation.  It is the Fact Finding stage of the CPS process.  For this, we also used a tool Tim called KnoWonder.  You simply divide your paper into 2 columns.  In the column on the left you write what you know, and in the column on the right you right what you wonder.  Tim said that this tool is extremely powerful in project groups because usually someone in the room knows what other people are wondering.  It goes a long way to level the playing field, and I have to agree with him.  In my experience, teams that are brought together to work on a project usually don’t have the whole picture.  This is a great tool to get everyone on the same page.  I documented all the information I knew about Stewie going to the bathroom in the house, and my wonder was if there was a different way of approaching housetraining him.  I also wondered if I couldn’t make going outside more inviting to him.
  • Who’s involved?
    When creating a solution, you need to take into account everyone that solution will affect.  This step brings everyone to mind before you even create the solution.  That way you can consider everyone’s perspective when ideating for your solution.  The key questions are: who does this affect?  What happens if it doesn’t change?  What happens if this does change?  What would they say?  The main people involved in housetraining Stewie are myself, my girlfriend and Stewie.  Considering my girlfriend gave me a new, different perspective on the problem.  She might not like the amount of time it takes me away from her in order to train Stewie.
  • Vision Using all of our accumulated knowledge, we wrote visions statements for the future.  Our vision statements needed to start with “I wish…”, “It would be great if…”, or “How to…”.  I wrote a few vision statements, and the one I chose to move forward with was this: It would be great if I could find a way to make outside more inviting to Stewie that my girlfriend could help me with.  After that, we again performed a gut-check to make sure our problem was worth solving by writing down what it would be like to get to our vision.  I decided that this is a definitely a problem worth solving.

Before we ran out of time, Tim touched on the next stage in his CPS process: What is success? This is the new, custom step in the CPS process that I talked about above.  In the CPS process, there’s no clear stage that brings out how potential ideas should be judged.  We can’t take an implement every idea, so we need to know which ideas are the ones we should go after.  The best way to do this is to establish criteria to judge ideas against before you begin to ideate.  This way your ideas don’t influence how you judge them.  What I mean by that is – if you have a great idea and really want to go with it, you’ll find a way to make it the type of idea you’re looking for.  Establishing criteria before you ideate doesn’t allow this to happen and ensures that you judge your ideas with your end-goal in mind.  I really like Tim’s thinking on this step.

Tim uses a model called DRIVE – Do, Restrictions, Investments, Values, and Essential Outcomes.  All of these steps help get a sense of what the solutions that are going to get you to your Vision look like.  It does a great job of doing what I described in the last paragraph – bringing ways to judge potentials solutions to the front early and letting them find the solutions that will guide you to your end-goal.

Overall, it was a really great breakout session.  I really liked Tim’s model and way of thinking about the CPS process.  His enthusiasm and love for what he was teaching really made it worthwhile.