Welcome to part 2 in my series on “Three Steps to Solving Any Problem.” In Part 1, I overviewed the general process:
1. The 10-10-10 technique
2. Make connections
3. Converge and Analyze
In part 2, I’ll break down the 10-10-10 technique, explaining why it works and the really fine points of how to use it.
The great thing about this process is it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be! You can spend 10 minutes on this by yourself, or you can get your whole department together and spend a week on it. It all depends on how deep you are willing to go to generate new, unique, unheard-of, wiz-bang, boss-impressing ideas.
The basic process:
Take your problem, and generate ten possible solutions, without putting too much pressure on yourself to make them “good” solutions.
Take one of those ten solutions, and generate ten variations of that solution.
Then, take one of those solutions, and generate ten variations of that solution.
If you want, go back to your original list, take another one of your ideas and 10-10 that idea.
At a minimum, you will have thirty possible solutions, at least one or two of them are statistically likely to be “creative” (unique, unheard of, never before seen in this context).
What’s the science?
Generating thirty ideas out of a vacuum is hard. Cognitive neuroscientists describe a phenomenon called a “knowledge constraint,” where your existing knowledge on a subject prevents you from thinking differently about it.
Think of a knowledge constraint as being a path cut through a forest. Your first ten ideas are likely right along that path - it was the easiest thinking to do. However, when you are generating your first round of variations, you’re going in the same direction but find yourself veering off the path. In the second round of variations, you may even find yourself not just off the path, but moving in a different direction.
It’s harder thinking, but the results are more unique than the same path everyone walks down.
Alex Osborne, one of the fathers of creative thinking research, always reminds us in his writing, “Quantity breeds quality.” The more ideas you have, the more good ideas you’ll have.
How to do this really well: the fine points
First and most important: don’t put too much pressure on yourself to generate “good” ideas. The process results in “good” ideas, but only if you put a focus on having fun, being unique, and generating a large quantity of ideas.
This type of thinking you’ll recognize as Divergent Thinking if you have followed this blog for any length of time. Divergent thinking is measured in three ways:
1. Fluency - the number of ideas generated
2. Flexibility - different types of ideas; category shifts in ideas
3. Originality - the uniqueness of each idea
By forcing yourself to generate thirty different ideas, you are increasing the fluency. As you work out each subsequent variation, the ideas are becoming more original. The ideas here may not necessarily be that flexible, but we work that out in Step 2: Make Connections.
Follow Divergent Thinking Rules
Divergent thinking has four rules:
1. Defer judgement - don’t reject any ideas or decide whether ideas are good or bad yet. Write down every idea you have.
2. Combine and build - combine parts of multiple ideas and see what you get; build off of ideas.
3. Seek wild and unusual - it’s easier to tame a wild idea than invigorate a weak one.
4. Go for quantity - more ideas breeds more good ideas.
As you make your variations, be mindful of these rules. Don’t limit yourself to variations that are only a few degrees different from each other. Allow yourself to have fun, and create variations that are waaaaayy out there! And when you do that, don’t reject it as being too wild or impractical - we don’t do that until the Analyze and Converge step.
Write down every idea you have, no matter how wild and impractical (or not), and move on to the next idea.
Remember: by the end of the three-step process, you will have around 100 ideas, and one or two of them will be really good, wiz-bang, boss-impressing ideas. But not yet. Does it seem like a lot of work to generate 100 ideas only to have one or two good ones? Yes, but it is necessary work. This is the process that leads to the creative outcome.
Be mindful of “Lightbulb Moments”
While doing this exercise, you may have a “lightbulb moment,” a flash of insight that helps you move toward your solution. Write it down, even if it seems unrelated to the variation you are working on. The whole point of this exercise is to generate a large number of ideas, not stick to a rigid set of rules.
Any idea that comes at any time is valid, regardless of the method you used to create it.
This is a lot of work. But, here we’re relying on intentional creativity instead of accidental creativity. You’re not hoping for a good idea to pop into your head, you’re actively taking steps to create one. This will give you a significant advantage over everyone else, who only has that hope to rely on (and, when they fail to spontaneously generate good ideas, wind up thinking they’re “not creative”).
In part 3, we will break down the process of making connections in order to generate even more ideas.
In part 4, we will look closer at techniques to converge and analyze, taking ideas that seem interesting but aren’t good enough yet and finding how to turn them into good, wiz-bang, boss-impressing ideas.
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