Wednesday 22 October 2014

Goal Setting? Think as if there is no box! Creative Problem Solving

Shake Loose Great Ideas That Will Change Your Future

Before reading this, you may want to quick scan my other posts in this series.

Think as if There is no Box
So, here we are! The big day has arrived. The team has checked into the hotel and the meeting room is prepared.

You want to find new ways to solve tired old problems! Your greatest hope is to come out of the two-day goal-setting session with ideas that will change the course of your company. The goal is to shake loose world-changing ideas.

I’ve used our method for various business and not-for-profit clients. I have also adapted it for use with focus groups with great success. 

  • Finding golden nuggets
  • Amazing creative solutions
  • Creative linking, transference
  • Ideas become “unstuck”
  • Jolting normal patterns of thinking

What am I talking about? I was introduced to Creative Problem Solving while teaching drama at a high needs Junior High School years ago. If you could cope with the daily challenges, it was a fun place to teach. As one teacher said, “I loved teaching there because the kids had “spunk! You never knew what was going to happen next!”

Some students faced social and economic barriers to learning. Others were involved in pretty much every illegal activity on the books.

Into this mix were dropped children of refugee families from Vietnam, Uganda, Chile, Jamaica, Spain and other troubled areas of the world. 

To get the kid’s attention, we not only had to think outside of the box, but we also had to think as if there was no box. We had to come up with innovative approaches to keep them engaged and motivated.

Confidence Breeds Success
The first step was to convince them to stay in school. Although it was very innovative for the time, we placed great emphasis on the arts offering music, drama, art, photography and media. Practical arts like shop, home economics, and sports options were also offered. We planned school fairs and sports days and encouraged the kids to bring their parents and siblings.

Once the students gained self-confidence and experience success it was easier to transfer their interest to academics. While not all students made the leap, many did.

Two of my former students own a multimillion-dollar fabricating company and are national leaders in their industry. They give back in many ways. One way is to give job applicants from the “hood” hiring preference.

Many of my students went on to become doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, and tradespeople. Most of all, most became great parents, community leaders, and citizens. They are awesome people, no other descriptions necessary.

The System
My method uses a brainstorming structure modified to a process I call Creative Problem-solving. The approach stimulates ideas that can seem off the wall, on the loony tunes side. And that, is exactly what you want!

Totally absurd ideas that bring gales of laughter and lively discussion break the ice and get the process moving. When taken to a logical conclusion, many of these ideas become nuggets leading to amazing creative solutions.

The process must flow unimpeded to allow creative linking and transference. Ideas are “unstuck” as your team is and jolted out of normal patterns of thinking. It helps if they have a sense of humor.

Donny Downer Rides Again
A long time senior executive was recently fired from a local post-secondary institution. This was a big deal! It was a large school with a student body of 25,000+. It was a surprise to the faculty, staff, academic community, and the fired gentleman in particular.

The timing was interesting. Due to changing funding models and increased global competition for students, the institution needed a complete organizational transformation.

The day after he was fired the C-Suite launched a process for radical change. The executive team was able to express ideas without fear of rejection or recriminations.

An insider told me the team experienced exhilarating freedom because the shadow of “Donny Downer” was gone. With one look of disapproval, he could squish new ideas before they could germinate. His heavy-handed manner and old-school thinking had made him an original idea killer.

Getting Ready
So, team makeup is critically important for goal setting. I also recommend hiring an experienced facilitator who can control the room without being heavy handed. You want someone who can shape discussions and take them towards finding new ways to solve old problems.

Robyn T. Braley is a writer, speaker and music composer. He is the President of UniMark Creative which focuses on website design, video production, media services (editorial and advertising), and graphic design. Contact him at or

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