Breaking Out Of The Creativity Crisis

PART 1: Breaking Down The Problem

So many times I have found myself in the state of mental vacuum, overwhelmed with existing and arising problems that by far I could probably major at mind emptiness and complete lack of ideas. I guess it would be the least productive major ever, but, well, that’s just how I felt over so many brainstorming meetings I’ve participated in in the past, both as a moderator and participant. If you can relate to the feeling of helplessness while facing the need for coming up with solutions (especially if you must be quick about it), I might just have a First Aid Kit that comes in handy.

This text is going to come in two parts—the first one is about gaining a new perspective on the issues at hand and how to make them look more bearable, while the second one will equip you with an efficient tool to come up with solutions.

Keep Your Eyes On The Prey

Pointless. That’s how I would describe quite some of the brainstorming meetings I’ve had the chance to take part in. They didn’t lead anywhere. The ideas we came up with—they were nice, but {{first_excuse_that_comes_to_your_mind}} and {{what_might_go_wrong}}. And it’s not even about the resistance, as it always comes—and, unlike many managers think, it’s a good thing! It means that people process what they are told and the worst thing that can happen is having a bunch of indifferent individuals who don’t care at all. Still, when you have your team emotionally engaged, having a pointless meeting with no outcome will lead to frustration so big, it will pin your team down more effectively than a rock falling onto Coyote’s head:

What’s the first thing to take care of, then? Like any other meeting, a brainstorming session needs to have a clear objective that will be relevant and understandable for all the participants. Be careful, though; there will be a strong temptation to set a simple objective like, “We need more sales” or “We need more publicity.” I invite you to take this way instead—let me know what is the actionable outcome that you got, if any, when you set your goals this way. Think of your objective as a beacon, a principle that shines so bright in the discussion it doesn’t let you keep your eyes off of it. It will be your main reference point while deciding which ideas to explore and which ones are going to be parked away. Need more sales? Have more meetings, goddammit. Need more meetings? Make more calls. Simple, right? Well, you probably know it is not that simple in real life. The intuition, however, pushes us to the sweet concept of backward planning where the main principle is to break down your process, and it’s something we are going to do while setting the right objective as well.

Problems don’t appear; they are made

To come up with an actionable output, it’s necessary to know what problems we are facing and what is going to be the scope of the discussion. Many teams fail on the analytical part of the creation process, while sometimes identifying and naming a problem is enough to find a sufficient solution, dramatically changing your ability to achieve whatever business objectives you might have. When you hit the wall, and the problem seems to be unsolvable, try breaking it down, using a technique called the Problem Family Tree. It has very simple rules:

  • Write down a problem you have at work at the top of the sheet.
  • It shouldn’t be directed at a specific person. All of the elements should be complaints about a procedure, product, or some other non-human problem you’ve observed or believe exists.
  • Below the main problem, write down two smaller things you think have led to it and draw a line between them (much like a Family Tree).
  • Find two smaller things that led to each of the smaller problems.
  • Continue until your mind goes blank.

Take a look at the example here:


We can keep on going from here, but I suppose you get the idea. I’m pretty sure an experienced salesperson could come up with a good piece of advice after only giving a quick glance at this chart, but for the problems that are more complex and stuck deep in the vast network of interdependence, there is a follow-up model I’ve been working with for years that you will get to discover in part two.

The Secret Technique of Achieving Things a.k.a The Best Piece of Advice I Have Ever Been Given

I assume that if you’ve identified something as a problem, you’d be glad to get rid of it as soon as possible. You can name your current state Point A, and the desired state, where this problem doesn’t exist any longer, will be your Point B. So, how do I get from A to B? Prepare yourself, as I am about to give you the best piece of advice you have ever been given. Take a deep breath and embrace the everlasting, universal truth from Mr. Ted Mosby:

Please, do not stop reading at this point—I am not one of the internet gurus preaching about self-fulfillment and personal development; that won’t offer much more than a change in the attitude. Is it that simple, though? Well, I am biased here—it is, and at the same time, it is not. Sparking the right energy and strong determination will be crucial if you do want to change something. I believe, however, that it’s the right tools that might be substantial in fighting against the overwhelming tide of your problems.

So, did you break down your issues and are you determined to find your way to Point B? Stay tuned for part two!

Read the Part Two