Peter Drucker wrote some years ago that the definition of an
executive is someone who is expected to get results. You are an
executive to the degree to which results are expected of you.
You don’t have to have a staff or an office to be an executive.
All you have to do is be a person in be a person in charge of
getting the job done in a timely and measurable fashion.
As an executive, your key ability is solving problems and making decisions. In fact, from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed at night, you are continually taking in information, analyzing the information, solving problems based on that information, and making decisions that lead to action from yourself and others. It’s safe to say that the quality of your decision making and problem solving determines the quality of your life. If you want your future to be better than your present, you must simply improve your quality of thinking and make better choices. You must become a creative problem-solver.
Building creative brain power is a lot like building muscle power in that the more strain you place on your brain, the stronger it becomes. And you can pump “mental iron” by using two powerful methods for increasing your creative problem solving ability.
The first method is called “mindstorming.” To engage in mindstorming, also called “The 20-Idea Method,” all you need is a pen and a piece of paper. Begin by writing a particular goal or problem at the top of the page.
For example, if you want to increase your income by 50 percent over the next year, you would write something like, “What can I do to increase my income by 50 percent over the next 12 months?” Or, you can be even more specific by writing the exact amount. If you are earning $50,000 a year today, you would write: “What can I do to increase my income by $25,000 over the next 12 months?” The more specific the question is, the better the quality of answers will be. So don’t write, “What can I do to be happier over the next 12 months?” That kind of question is too fuzzy for your mind. Be specific, detailed, and focused in your questions and you will find practical, effective answers.
Once you have written the question, jot down twenty answers. Let your mind flow freely. Write down every answer that comes to you. Don’t worry about whether it is right or wrong, intelligent or foolish, possible or impossible. Just come up with at least 20 answers.
For example, you could start with answers such as, “work harder,” or “work longer,” or “work faster.” Eventually you might work up to more in-depth answers such as, “change jobs,” or “introduce new products or services,” or “start my own business.”
Whatever you write, keep writing until you have at least 20 answers. If you get stuck after writing the obvious answers, write about the opposite solutions. Don’t be afraid to be ridiculous. Very often, a ridiculous answer triggers a breakthrough thought that might save you years of hard work.
Next, go back over the answers and select the one that seems to be the most appropriate for you at this moment. You will often have an instinct or feeling about a particular answer. It appeals to you for some reason. This is an unconscious suggestion that you are on the right track.
Once you’ve selected the best option, here’s a way to double the creative impact of this exercise: Transfer the answer to the top of a new page and then write 20 ideas for implementing it in your life. You will be astonished at the outpouring of creative ideas that flow from your mind through your hand and onto the paper.
The second method of creative problem solving is called brainstorming. This is a form of mindstorming done with a group. In brainstorming you again start off with one problem or question, but this time, you have a variety of individuals contributing to the solution.
The keys to brainstorming are simple. First, the problem or question should be stated clearly and simply so that it is understood by each participant. Take a little time to discuss the problem questions, and then write it on a flip chart. This will dramatically increase the quality of answers generated.
The aim of the brainstorming session should be to generate the most ideas possible within a specific period of time. An effective session will last anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, and 30 minutes is usually ideal.
The best number of participants for a brainstorming session is between four to seven people. Any less than four, and you run the risk of not having enough stimulation. Any more than seven, and you may find that there is insufficient opportunity for everyone to contribute.
Each brainstorming session requires a group leader. The role of the leader is to keep the ideas as free-flowing as possible. The group leader is a stimulator of ideas, encouraging each person to speak up with anything he or she has to contribute.
The most important rule of brainstorming is to avoid evaluating the ideas during the process. The focus is on quantity, not quality. Evaluation and discussion of the ideas will take place at a separate session, away from the original brainstorming.
There should also be a recorder at each session. This person will write down every idea as it is generated so that the list can be typed up and circulated at a later time.
The final keys to successful brainstorming are positive emotions, laughter, ridiculous ideas, and absolutely no criticism of any kind. The group leader needs to ensure that no one says anything that throws water on the ideas of anyone else.
When I conduct brainstorming sessions, I find that the best way to get going is to first agree on the question or problem, and second, to go around the table one by one. Pretty soon, everyone will start to contribute and the session is off and running.
When it comes to evaluating the ideas in a later session, it can be helpful to bring together an entirely different group of people. This group will consider the ideas without the ego involvement and emotional attachment of the original group. As a result, they will be able to assess the ideas far more objectively.
The amazing thing about mindstorming and brainstorming is that virtually anyone can come up with an incredible number of ideas when stimulated by one or both of these methods. And you can never tell which ideas are going to provide the breakthrough solution that you need. So go for quantity, because the more ideas you generate, the greater the likelihood that you will have exactly the idea that you need at exactly the right time.
By practicing mindstorming and brainstorming on a regular basis, you can unleash a torrent of ideas that will enable you to accomplish your goals faster than you ever believed possible. Today, in the information age, ideas are the most valuable tools of production. And since your ability to generate innovative, effective, usable ideas is virtually unlimited, your future is unlimited as well.