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More 1-on-1: Breaking Through Barriers for More Productive Thinking

Tim Hurson is the founder of Thinkx Intellectual Capital, a training firm that helps Fortune 500 companies create innovative programs. He’s a faculty member of the Creative Education Foundation, founding director of Facilitators Without Borders, and a speaker on productive thinking and creative leadership. He’s also the author of Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking.

SUCCESS: Tell us about your productive thinking model to help people think better.

Tim Hurson: I have a disciplined process that taps both creative and critical thinking strategies. It’s a six-step productive thinking model.

Step one is to ask yourself, What’s going on? Explore and truly understand the challenge. List exactly what needs fixing or improving. What’s causing the aggravation? And ask yourself if you know what the answer is going to be. Here you switch your focus from what it is to what it could be. It’s your Target Future, or the goal you want to achieve.

Next, ask yourself: What’s success? Envision the ideal outcomes and establish success criteria. What would the world look like if I resolved this issue? What does your Target Future look like? You have to resolve the potential future condition. So many people don’t do this. The analogy I use involves the Where’s Waldo? books. Could you find Waldo if you didn’t know what he looked like? You couldn’t. So all we are saying is get a picture of that future you want, so once you get there you know you got there. It’s as simple as that.

The next step is pivotal in the productive thinking process. It requires phrasing each of your problems as a question. Pinpoint the real problem or opportunity. What are the specific questions that if we answer them well are going to relieve that itch? I hate problem statements. We have no budget. Well, that’s inert. If you turn it into a question, “How can we get more budget?” people start answering those questions and generating ideas. It’s really important that you get to a point where you can articulate a number of problem questions that if answered well are going to resolve that initial discomfort or itch. Ideation. This is when you make long lists of possible answers to your key questions from step three. List as many solutions as possible. And you select the most promising answers for further exploration and development.

Next, forge the solution. Decide which solution is best. It employs something called generative judgment. Most people tend to judge things in a binary way. So we say, yes, no, in, out, good bad. We look at an idea and we say yes or no, but there’s a whole different way of judging. And that’s called generative judging. It’s a remarkable thing we can do; we can actually use the process of judging, to improve the ideas we come up. All you do instead of saying is it good or is it bad, is follow the acronym, power. Power stands for positives, objections, what else, enhancements and remedies.

Postives: What’s great about this idea? Make long lists.

Objections: What’s lousy about this idea? Why will we go to jail or go out of business? And make lists.

What else?: What else is in this idea that we haven’t articulated yet?

Enhancements: We go back to the positives and say, “Okay, we said this will make us money, but how could it make us more money? How can we have it make money faster? How can it enhance all of those initial positives to improve the idea?”

Remedies: How can we remediate that objection? How can we turn it from an objection into a positive? Even if it is ultimately rejected, these steps transform a little idea and morph it into something far more interesting.

Last, align resources. Create an action plan. List the action steps required to complete the solutions. Identify the people who may help you and those who may be obstacles. Ensure that each action step has someone accountable for its completion. Every single stage is about making lists and making choices.

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