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Unconstrained Thinking
— Accentuate the Negative

Have you ever been in a brainstorming session in which the facilitator was one of those “cheerful Charlies” who tell the group that it’s against the rules to say anything negative about an idea? How many rounds of ideas went by before you were biting your lip?

Whether working through organizational strategy or a shop-floor process problem, I prefer to forget all the old “non-critical, let's stay positive” approach common to much of classical brainstorming. Instead, take advantage of what people are really good at -- 1) complaining, 2) worrying, and 3) making excuses.

Why not simply start with what they’re good at, and ask…

1) What’s wrong in your part of the system?
By translating the disparate problems to dilemmas and conflicts, we accomplish two things. We get everybody involved by including their problems in the universe of things that will be addressed. And we can develop a solution based on a true root cause (systemic) conflict easily derived from the individual issues.

2) Why shouldn't we do this? What could go wrong?
These questions will help to complete any solution or proposal you're considering – You don’t want your solution to generate any negative side effects, do you? You also get the buy-in of folks whose concerns you manage to address.

3) Why can't we do this? What's blocking us?
Obstacles are the best source of ideas for an implementation plan. The more you raise, the more complete your plan will be. Building a map of what needs to be done (based on the obstacles raised) lets you break an ambitious objective down to reasonable bites, and tells you where to take the first bites.

©2000, Frank Patrick

The important thing is not to stop questioning. - Albert Einstein

This is one of a series of columns on improvement, TOC, constraint management, change management, systems thinking, uncommon sense, and whatever else comes into my mind. Suggestions for topics are welcome. - FP, 908-874-8664 or via the contact page of this site.

If you are interested in using these 1/2-page columns for your APICS, ASQ, or IIE newsletter, let me know through the same channels, and I'll send you the more easily usable MS Word versions.

-- Frank Patrick

Related links:

Unconstrained Thinking Index

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