Asking The Right Question

the right questionTo get the right answer we need to ask the right question. Consider the scenario where your sales are falling. You ask the question ‘why are our sales falling?’ and get an answer like ‘because our sales people are rubbish’.

Before we fire our sales force let us try a different and more in depth style of questioning.

Why are sales falling?  – Because customers don’t like our products

Why don’t they like our products? – Because they are outdated, not as cool as this year’s model

Why are our products outdated? – Because we have not developed any new ones for 5 years

Why have we not done this before? – Because the boss has not allowed us

Why has the boss behaved in this way? – Because they have no spare time to spend

So our sales are falling because the boss (potentially us) needs a lesson in time management. Not only do we need to ask the right question, we might need to ask more than one in order to inform our decision about which course of action to take.


How to become a Jedi Master of Creativity

creativity jedi masterHave you ever wanted to be the person who has all the new ideas?  Some people think that creativity is something that you either have, or you don’t. The fact is that everyone of us is creative and the creativity that we have can be boosted. Here’s how!

Learning to think creatively is a lot easier than you think.  The left and right hemispheres of your brain work together like a two man soccer team, and it’s natural for them to try out new tactics every now and them.  With just a little bit of effort, you can be bending your brain, and twisting your thoughts in new and exciting ways in no time at all.

The first step to training your brain to generate new thought patterns is to sneak up on yourself. There are things that you do, that you take for granted.  Patterns, or ruts that simplify your life and that help you to focus on what is important.  It is natural and healthy to develop patterns in your life so that your brain is comfortable and at ease, and able to focus completely on whatever task you assign it, but be aware that every pattern you fall into unthinkingly, is another thread of unconscious-unthinkingness that collectively binds and suppresses your creativity if you don’t take steps to keep your thinking clear and fresh.

Here are one or two things that you can do to spice up your life and trick your brain into thinking a little bit differently:

  • Wear your watch on your other wrist or even somewhere completely different
  • Wear differently coloured socks or gloves
  • Use your left hand to do something when you would normally use your right
  • Wear a flower on your lapel
  • Invent a new handshake with your friends
  • Start up a conversation with a stranger that you wouldn’t normally consider talking to
  • Try ordering something strange or out-of-the-ordinary at a restaurant

Coming up with your own creativity exercises is a great way to flex your own creativity muscle. Judicious use of self-trickery can slice through complacent, uncreative thought patterns like a Jedi’s light sabre and release your natural creative power in no time at all.


Crowdsourcing – why it may not work for you

This is not an attempt to malign the use of crowdsourcing as a valuable technique, it is simply a way of pointing out that it is not a ‘cure for all ills’ as some people seem to think. Any technique used incorrectly or inappropriately can be at best ineffective and at worst damaging or disruptive (in terms of both cost and reputation).

Following the recent election and subsequent formation of a coalition government here in the UK, much was made of the need to consult widely and get the input of real people to help in the formation of government policy. Ignoring the fact that this was probably a political ploy and that nearly all of the suggestions collected have been ignored completely, this was never going to work. But why?

The first (and possibly least important) reason was the method of idea collection. Simply gathering ideas electronically via bulletin boards or email is a very blunt instrument and places limits on how much people can say. Neither does it allow other contributors to build or add to the contributions of others. This would be a very good time to build a huge virtual nominal group!

Secondly, the biggest error when attempting to make radical (or progressive as the government labelled them) changes is to consult those at the sharp end, the people who are involved in day to day delivery. This seems harsh at first, but if you think about it the resulting ideas are not likely to be radical, just ways of trimming costs or reducing waiting times. The question for this group of people is ’what should the service look like?’ not ‘how should the service be delivered?’. These people can still participate in consultation but with a different label. They need to take a step backwards and see the bigger picture.

Rather than try to trim money from everyone’s budget, a holistic view is needed. Just as in a business when Marketing and Finance are no longer contained entirely within their respective departments, our new government should take a wider view. The questions should be ‘what is the best way to provide relevant education for our children?’ rather than ‘how can we keep exam grades up and chop 40% from the budget?’ To answer these types of questions simply asking people their opinion will not do. Maybe this is not coalition thinking and radical and progressive politics really are not on the agenda.


Only We Can …

Only we can … I notice that a number of people play this game in their workshops but here is my version. It can be used in a number of different ways and can also be used solo or in groups.

If you are having issues with a current product or service then you might try to produce statements such as:

  • Only we can deliver product xx within 24 hours
  • Only we can produce xx at a cost of less than £5
  • Only we have the technology ….

This should not be too difficult, especially if you are already having some success but if you cannot find statements of the above type that describe why your products and/or services are unique then you are probably flogging a dead horse and should consider cutting your losses.

It is then time to use this technique in a different way. You might have already created some new ideas which are still in your head or are just scribbles on a piece of paper. Try the same exercise but using knowledge of your capabilities and resources create statements of the form ‘Only we could …’. This might require some knowledge of your competitors as well so some digging will be required. Once again, if your product or service ideas fail this simple test then perhaps they are not worth pursuing.

All is not lost though. One final exercise is ‘If only …. then we could …’ so you might generate statements of the form:

  • If only we had a new machine we could produce xx at a cost of less than £5
  • If only we had a new van then we could deliver within 24 hours

So you can work out your unique advantage assuming that you can meet the conditions of your ‘If only …’ statement. This is a little easier and can usually be carried out with the aid of a calculator. If you are a larger business then you might wish to involve employees from all areas and at all levels in this exercise. Be realistic though, ‘If only we had infinite resources, we could do anything’ is not an option if you are trying to make a decision although it might be good for generating some wacky ideas.

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