Learning Technologies Newsletter

ISSUE 2 - July 2005 - by Phil Chambers

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Quote of the Month

"The secret of success without hard work is still a secret. "
- Dr Ivan Misner (at the BNI Members' day June 2005)

Whilst this is true, hard work on the wrong things can be more damaging than inaction.

For many more quotes click here.

Mind Mapping Tip of the Month

Remember that you should always try to draw a central image rather than write a word. Images add visual variety to your Mind Maps. If each Mind Map has a word in the middle they become very similar in appearance and can be confused in your memory. If you absolutely have to use a word, make it as visually interesting as possible by using unusual lettering, colours, patterns, etc.

For another 100 tips on Mind Mapping see "101 Top Tips for Better Mind Maps" by Phil Chambers, available from our online shop, click here.

Effective brainstorming

Any company that does not continually invest in research and development, creativity and innovation will eventually stagnate and be overtaken by its competitors. As Rikki Hunt, Chief executive of Fuel Force puts it, "The winning companies will be those that mobilize the most brains".

One of the most common attempts at creativity is the brainstorming session. This was originally used solely in the advertising industry and was developed by Alex Osborn of advertising agency Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn. Traditionally, a 'facilitator' stands at a flip chart writing down words and phrases as members of the team call them out.

This is very ineffective for a number of reasons. Despite the fact that all ideas are supposedly treated as being equally valid there is a fear, especially by more junior members of the team, of making a fool of themselves and therefore holding back from the process. Conversely, more confident and extrovert members can dominate the process, thereby reducing the diversity of ideas. Personalities aside, the act of openly recording ideas as they are generated stifles creativity. Each idea recorded is directly influenced by the previous one, so that the group follows a narrow shared path.

A much more effective way to conduct a brainstorming session is for each person to individually come up with a number of ideas on their own and then to collect in the results with an open discussion towards the end of the session. As each person starts from their own unique point and develops ideas in different directions, a far more diverse and hence creative range of ideas is generated.

To ensure everyone comes up with plenty of ideas rather than limiting themselves or just feeling uninspired, each person starts by writing the problem (or drawing a picture to represent it) in the centre of a sheet of paper with at least 10 lines radiating outwards. Writing one idea per line. As the brain naturally likes completion, it generates enough ideas to fill all the lines. If more ideas are generated additional lines can be added.

Once the ideas have been collected it is beneficial to re-gain some focus by clustering related concepts. Come up with about half a dozen categories and assign each idea to one (or more). This grouping of related ideas makes it much more manageable to take action or develop them further. You can perform the clustering exercise by using a colour for each category and simply ringing or highlighting each word on the list or, if you prefer, you can write each idea on that icon of creativity, the Post-it Note. Pin up a large sheet of paper for each category and arrange them as appropriate.

The categories that you choose when clustering can be used as the main branches on a Mind Map. This allows you to further develop and organise your thoughts. If you are not familiar with Mind Mapping, it is a graphical thinking technique originated by British psychologist and author, Tony Buzan in the early '70s. Originally designed as a note taking and memory aid, Tony's brother Barry identified its usefulness as a planning and analysis tool when writing his PhD thesis. It has since developed into one of the most widely publicised thinking techniques with an estimated 250 million users worldwide. Basically, a Mind Map starts with an image in the centre representing the topic that is being thought about. A number of curved, flowing lines (or branches) are drawn radiating out from this with a word or image on each representing a category or sub-topic. Additional lines are joined to the end of lines as required, using colour, images, arrows and codes to stimulate ideas generation. The beauty of a Mind Map is that even if your thinking is disjointed initially, as each idea is connected to the branch to which it relates most strongly, you end up with a succinct, well structured set of notes. As these are represented on a single page you are able to see new connections that you may not have otherwise noticed. As Gordon Dryden says, "An idea is a new combination of old elements...There are no new elements. There are only new combinations." Mind Maps help you see new combinations.

Some of the most profitable products have come from seemingly crazy ideas that have lead to new approaches and combinations. For example, glue that doesn't stick lead 3M engineer Art Fry to develop the Post-it Note. Initially in response to his frustration at constantly losing paper bookmarks from his hymn books in the church choir. In 1998 a 3M company spokesperson valued worldwide sales of Post-its and their spin-offs at approximately one billion dollars a year.

It isn't enough to come up with crazy ideas. These need to be considered and modified into a form whereby they can form workable solutions to problems or new products. This process is what Edward deBono calls movement. It includes the following steps:

•  Consider differences

•  Look at how the situation changes in time

•  Focus on positive implications of the idea - how could it be adapted?

•  Look at a single principle in isolation and consider its implications.

•  Consider how a feature could lead to value

DeBono gives the example of the crazy idea of a car with square wheels. If you consider how the situation changes with time as the car travels along a road it will give a bumpy ride but in a predictable series of jolts. The jolts could be ironed out if the suspension of the car shortens to compensate. This idea lead to active suspension now used in cars that sense the road ahead and compensate in a similar way.

Sometimes applying the principles of movement to observations can lead to innovation. Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike, after watching his wife make waffles, poured liquid urethane into the waffle iron and invented the sole for the first trainers.

Richard Rausing, while watching his wife make sausages, observed how she peeled back the skin to insert the sausage meat. He reversed the idea and invented the tetrapak milk carton. His heirs are now amongst the richest people in Europe.

There are many other techniques and variations that will help you to step off the well trodden path of conventional thinking to come up with creative and innovative ideas. Whatever method you use as a starting point, remember not to take it too seriously. Give yourself and your colleagues permission to play, joke and enjoy the process. In the words of Carl Jung, "The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, which belongs also to the child, and ... appears to be inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth."

References: The Learning Revolution by Gordon Dryden & Jeannette Vos. Braindancing by Dilip Mukerjea, The Mind Map Book by Tony & Barry Buzan, Creating a Thinking Organisation by Rikki Hunt with Tony Buzan, Serious Creativity by Edward deBono.









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That's all for this month. Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions. (Contact Details Here.) I look forward to hearing from you.

Phil Chambers