Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Thinking Skills to Allow Anyone to Solve Any Problem

By reading this, you are about to load some software directly into your brain.
As odd as that sounds, consider this:

What is software? Software is simply a collection of programs that run on a computer. A program itself is simply a list of instructions that the computer will follow. It is an efficient path of processing that leads to the intended result. It could be the steps to a mathematical formula, or a processing of data in other ways.
A brain is like a computer. But a sophisticated one. It can process information, and it can process very quickly and run very complex algorithms. But to make it run at it's best, we need the right software to run in it.
I am about to give you software that runs directly in your brain. It is a simple, easy list of instructions you can execute. A thinking technique that allows you to solve problems. It's a METHOD to approaching problem solving that applies to virtually any problem. And it can be used as an individual technique OR in a group setting.

Most people don't really know HOW to think. That's because we are not taught how in school or by our parents. In school, they teach us to remember things by rote repetition, but they don't give us any real techniques for 'thinking' per se. We therefore don't have any effective means of processing information other than what occurs naturally, which is usually relatively clumsy and ineffective.
The method I am going to describe here is called the 'Six Thinking Hats' method, by Edward DeBono. It is a thinking technique that allows you to consider all the angles of any problem of any severity or nature and come up with various solutions to it. In addition, are techniques for creative thinking and critical thinking that I have learned elsewhere or developed myself and included here or in an associated post.

Six Thinking Hats.
The basic concept here is that you imagine there are 6 hats of different colors to be worn in a specific sequence. Each color represents a specific mode of thinking, and as you are wearing a given hat, you only think in that particular mode for that duration. You discipline yourself to not entertain other thoughts from different modes, but rather stay in THAT mode until you are done, and then move on to the next mode. Although you don't really need to wear physical hats, I actually had six hats made up in the appropriate colors and with appropriate labels on them, and I keep them in my office. I used to use them for demonstration purposes when teaching this method to people. Here are the hat colors and what they represent:
White – Just the facts.
Red – The emotions involved
Green – Creative thinking
Black – Critical thinking
Yellow – Optimistic thinking
Blue – control and analysis

We go through these hats(modes) in the above stated order:

White Hat: The Facts. Write down all the facts you know about the problem to be solved.

Red hat: Emotions. How do you FEEL emotionally about this problem? What aspects of this problem make you angry? What makes you afraid? What makes you happy, excited, giddy? What satisfies you?

Green Hat: Creative ideas. Most people think that creativity is a natural ability that you are born with. They feel that it is mysterious, and it comes and goes of it's own volition. You hear of writer's block. We hear of people who are hired because of their creativity, or fired because of a lack of it. Artists and writers crave it.
We all want to be more creative, but we often think that we have to live with whatever level we were born with. Well, certainly we are all born with a certain amount of natural creativity, but there are techniques and methods to enhance our natural creativity tremendously. I can show you at least 4 methods right now that you can try immediately without any practice at all, and you can have creative ideas at will. And this will work for the rest of your life whenever you choose to use it.
To understand creativity, it is helpful to understand a little of how the brain works physically. I have read that a baby's brain is smooth, whereas an older person's brain has lots of wrinkles and crevices. The new brain has no experiences, few thoughts and virtually no memories. But apparently scientists feel that as we accumulate experiences and memories and thoughts, we develop new pathways in our brain, that eventually create all the wrinkles you see in older brains. The physical manifestation of each thought or memory is an electrical impulse as a tiny electric shock bridges a synapse. A series of synapses basically form a pathway - like a connection of ideas. The bridging of one synapse leads to the bridging of the next nearest one. So they fire in succession and we end up having a train of thought. A series of ideas, one leading to the next. If we want to have more creative ideas, then we must burn NEW pathways into our brain. Alternate pathways. Alternate ways of thinking.
Creativity lies in thinking of things most people don't or can't think of. It is all about making the connections that escape others. Here are some techniques that do precisely that. I must give credit where credit is due. These following techniques come from Edward DeBono. An expert on thinking techniques. Read his books. These techniques WORK. Try them and you'll see.

Method 1: Random Word Association.
Let's say you are trying to come up with a creative new design for the dashboard of a car. Something other people haven't done yet. OK, let's get creative. Take a book. Any book. Flip open to any page, close your eyes and randomly place your finger on a page. Read the closest noun to your finger. If that noun has no obvious immediate connection to your problem, then that is a good one. In this case, if the word is switch, lever, dial,Then. then find another word. You want something weird and bizarre and offbeat - the moreso, the better. Let's say the word is "water".
Now, what you must do is to try to connect the concept of water to the concept of a dashboard of a car. These are normally unrelated concepts, so it makes an excellent pairing to generate brand new creative ideas. Let's see Water water and a dashboard.
1) How about a water-filled dashboard? As a way of padding the dashboard to prevent injury during a collision? Perhaps a jelly instead of liquid?
2) Liquids are used in hydraulics - how about a hydraulically controlled dashboard that moves components to surround you better and place all controls within easy reach while driving, but then retract when you shut down and go to leave?
3) How about a liquid drink dispenser? Using the heat of the engine to keep coffee hot or the A/C unit to help keep cool things cool.
4) Liquid displayHow.. how about a liquid crystal disAnay? an LCD screen! YES!!! How about instead of having a series of physical gauges and lights and needles, etc., we have a special LCD screen that has a user-customizable dashboard on the screen. The driver can select the color scheme, and the gauge type - digital or analog.
In fact - how about a video feed for rear-facing cameras to act as rear-view mirrors right in your dashboard display so your eyes don't have to wander all over to see what is behind and beside you? The driver can decide how big to make the rear camera images as well. In fact the driver can design his own dashboard layout to decide what is most important. The tach might be most important to some, while the gas gauge might be most important to others. You could make the gas gauge suddenly get much larger and turn red when fuel gets down to a critical level.
Some people might want to see an oil gauge, while others just want a warning light if it's low. Lots of room for critical error messages. Tire pressure low, engine hot, whatever. Since this is run by a computer, this approach has incredible flexibility. It can easily have a sunshade and be mounted on a gooseneck so it can be positioned in any way the driver needs it based on sunlight or driving position or whatever.

So there you go - a completely new creative idea for a new dashboard design for cars. Creativity on demand. I will now be more brief with the following techniques.

Method 2: Postulate Options
This is where you make a wild assertion as an obstacle and then try to work around it. The obstacle creates a need to explore areas you would not otherwise explore. Example: Lotus designers were given the P.O. question "How could you make a car suspension if the car had square wheels?" realizing that as each wheel would rise up onto the corner of the square, and then flop down hard on the next flat side facet - this would give an incredible bumpy ride. So they ended up inventing a method where the suspension of the car compensated instantly for the bumps by raising or lowering the chassis based on the bumps it detected and predicted. So the car would ride smooth because it was actively controlled to compensate for bumps, rather than just responding passively by springing. They called this Lotus Active Suspension and it allowed their high performance cars to lean into curves like a skier's legs, and compensate for road irregularities and maintain maximum traction. One of the best creative ideas the auto industry ever had.

Method 3: Parallel Thinking
This involves rethinking your assumptions about the events and world around you. You drown you nightstand alarm clock because it keeps ringing at 4 in the morning. Instead of that, you stop and ask yourself, "What if my assumptions are wrong? What if the truth is on a parallel track?" You find out it's really the alarm clock in your suitcase that is ringing and keeping you up.

Method 4: Refiltering
Have you ever noticed that as soon as you buy a new car, suddenly you start to see them on the road everywhere? That's because you were filtering them out before, but now you're aware of them and so they seem to pop up more often.
On your way to work every morning do you pass a shoe repair place? A tailor? How many jewellers? How many banks? These are places you go right past every day TWICE, and you've done it perhaps for years, but most people cannot say what they pass by because they don't notice them. They filter it all out.
When I presented this concept in a seminar mode, I would ask someone, or several people, to look around the room and make a mental note of all the things that are red, then I would tell them I plan to have them close their eyes and ask them questions in a minute with their eyes closed. I give 30 seconds to look around, then get them to close their eyes, then I would say, "Okay, now forget everything you saw that was red. Instead, with your eyes still closed, tell me about the things you saw that were GREEN!" That always gets embarrassed laughs. They missed the green because they were filtering for red.
I would also ask people, "Put your hand on your watch to cover it up. Now, without peeking, does your watch have roman numerals or ordinary Arabic numbers?" People would think and then say. When I asked them to check, then many of them were surprised that they were wrong.
Then I would say, "Okay, cover up your watch again. Now tell me, does it have a 6 on it? " Again people are surprised to find there is no number six. (many watches don't have a number 6 because of logos, etc.).
Then I would ask them to cover their watch again and ask them, "Okay - does your watch have individual tick marks for each second/minute, or dots, or anything there?" Again, people are surprised to find out that they are wrong AGAIN.
Now I tell them to cover the watch again. "Now tell me without moving your hand. What time is it?" They sit stunned and begin to laugh. "You just looked at your watch FOUR TIMES IN A ROW, and you can't even tell what time it is? And that is what the watch is FOR!!!" Point made.

We all filter everything in our daily lives all the time. It is necessary because of the sheer volume of things in our lives. We can't possibly deal with all the input flooding into our eyes and ears, and minds on a moment to moment basis. And things like TV and radio are specifically designed to cram even more messages even faster into our heads. Our natural response is to filter out what we expect will be non-essential to our purposes at the moment. But this also means that we have access to a lot of valuable input to us, if we simply change the filtering criteria. Re-filter the things you usually look for and you will start to see a whole different world all around you. Your creative solution may be right in front of you, once you are tuned to a different frequency.

Don’t dismiss ANY possibilities here. You can analyze them all later. For now, just heap on any ideas that come up. Think out of the box The ideacreateo creat as big a pile of ideas to select from as possible while here in this mode. Nothing is dismissed or discarded.

Black Hat: Critical thinking.
This is where you break down and classify your creative ideas. Weed out the ones that are not logical or reasonable. There is a whole bunch of tests here. Basically, you find negatives, evaluate risks, reasonability tests. Write everything down. Here are some Critical thinking evaluation methods: Look for these kinds of problems:
Risk Analysis (legal, economic, strategic)
False assumptions
Non-Sequitur Logic
Insufficient Evidence
Nature of Evidence (Anecdotal, Experimental, Testimonial or Statistical)
False Loyalty
False Economy
“Groupthink” Effect
Face-Saving Effect
Stereotyping Effect
Fear of Change effects
Prejudices or Biases
Hasty Conclusions
Errors of perspective
Unpopular Truths
Irrational loyalty to earlier decisions
Motivations toward personal best interests

Use these above items as ways of testing the validity of the list of ideas/solutions you came up with in Green mode. This will allow you to eliminate the less valuable options, and focus on the better, more viable ones.

Yellow hat: Optimism/Positive Thinking.
Write down everything positive that could happen. Don’t skip this step. Note how one success could lead to others and note the causality triggers. This doesn't just generate happiness and good feelings after a negative mode. It's real purpose is to come up with other ideas and visions for moving ahead. It builds vision, and passion for it that allows you to convince others of the right path.

Blue Hat: Control.
Write everything down, make sure when you are in one color/mode you ONLY entertain thoughts and ideas of that type during that time. Exercise those thinking skills of that method. In the end, you will build a strong business case where
1) you define the problem to be solved
2) Define explore and analyze at least three to five highly viable options List positives and negatives, etc
3) Compare options one against another
4) Make a recommendation to the executive committee (nevermind that that it may be you – do it anyway)
5) Summarize.
6) Print it off, then leave it for one day
7) Then pick it up during the sharpest time of your day, and read it all the way through, beginning to end as if reading it from another person.
8)Setup a timeframe schedule and a plan to get it done working backward from the goal to the present
9) Decide to follow the plan
10) Track your progress. Don’t forgive yourself when you fall behind. Make it up.

If you do all this, you will have
1) a reasonable, well-thought-out solution that solves your problem.
2) a way to achieve it
3) a plan to get there
4) You’ll know what the next step is at all times

This method of problem solving can be used by an individual working alone, or by a whole team as a way of organizing the efforts of the team toward solving a complex, common problem. The blue hat mode is more important in the teaOftenuation. often, there is one person who is in Blue hat mode all the time to keep the other people on track and keep them in the current mode at the same time.
Also, there is usually a scribe to keep a record of everything that comes up. I have used it many times in both ways, and I can assure you it is highly effective. Used in a team environment, you may find that these meetings are literally the most effective, productive, powerful meetings you have ever been part of.

This is an incredibly powerful technique for solving any kind of problem.


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