In a previous blog I introduced Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats technique. The simple approach that encourages parallel thinking within a group or team environment has been useful in solving complex problems but can also increase productivity in meetings where decisions need to be made. Unfortunately, the tool is not used widely because many people don’t feel comfortable in using the technique (could be due to a number of reasons) or they don’t value the tool’s ability to deliver enhanced outcomes.

Having used the tool for over two decades I have seen the power of parallel thinking in a meeting environment. Unfortunately, I have also seen the tool challenged by a number of senior managers who don’t support the use of the tool because they don’t believe in it. The key to experiencing the power of the tool is to start using it and developing a deeper understanding of the power of the Six Thinking Hats. The best approach for applying the tool is to firstly understand the sequence of the coloured hats to use.

When I used the Six Thinking Hats in a workshop to work on the global problem of “Declining supply of petroleum fossil fuels” I used the following sequence of coloured hats and associated questions:

When considering a specific problem or topic it is best to start with the WHITE hat as this allows all the background information to be presented and documented. Once the problem or topic is fully defined then the RED hat is used to ask participants how they feel about the problem or situation. Participants’ feelings are documented. The general tendency for a proportion of people in a meeting, at this stage, is to present the negative aspects of the problem or situation, however in this process I like to encourage the use of the YELLOW hat to capture the positive aspects of the problem or situation from all participants. Sometimes we can identify the positive elements of a problem or issue. This step is then followed with the BLACK hat when everyone considers the negative aspects of the problem or situation. The BLACK hat is then followed by the GREEN hat where everyone is encouraged to use creative thinking to overcome the negative issues but also develop new alternatives to solving the problems or resolving the situation. I then encourage the use of the RED hat again to gauge the feelings of participants after considering the problem or issue. Generally, most participants who were previously concerned about the problem or situation now feel more positive after having gone through the process of using the different hats. Finally, it is always appropriate to use the BLUE hat as this allows participants to develop conclusions or to evaluate and summarise the solutions to move forward on the issue or problem. The BLUE hat also provides process control to ensure the right technique or approach was used by participants. If a solution or resolution was not identified then another approach or process would be suggested as more appropriate in solving the problem.

An example using the six thinking hats to solve the problem “Declining supply of petroleum fossil fuels” can be found below (summary extract of the workshop).

Dr John Kapeleris

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Recent global events are causing ripples of concern across many countries of the world. Globally we face many challenges (energy, water, food, climate change, economic stability, ageing population etc), but how are we going to solve some of these complex problems that currently exist. Many of these complex problems have networked dependencies, meaning that if we make changes in one domain this could cause a “butterfly effect” in other domains, which could make the current situation worse. There are numerous examples where government policy was implemented to solve one particular issue, but resulted in initiating or worsening  problems in other areas – the  result of many government agencies working in isolated silos.

In starting to consider some of these complex problems we need to understand what are the new emerging trends that can be utilised to leverage solutions for these complex problems. I came across the following article by Andrew Maynard posted in Dec 2009 that summarises the Ten Emerging Technology Trends of the Next Ten years.

What can we expect as we enter the second decade of the twenty first century? What are the emerging technology trends that are going to be hitting the headlines over the next ten years?

Ten years ago, at the close of the 20th century, people the world over were obsessing about the millennium bug – an unanticipated glitch arising from an earlier technology. I wonder how clear it was then that, despite this storm in what turned out to be a rather small teacup, the following decade would see unprecedented advances in technology – the mapping of the human genome, social media, nanotechnology, space-tourism, face transplants, hybrid cars, global communications, digital storage, and more. Looking back, it’s clear that despite a few hiccups, emerging technologies are on a roll – one that’s showing no sign of slowing down.

Here’s my list of the top ten technologies I think are worth watching. I’m afraid that, as with all crystal ball gazing, it’s bound to be flawed. Yet as I work on the opportunities and challenges of emerging technologies, these do seem to be areas that are ripe for prime time.

Geoengineering

2009 was the year that geoengineering moved from the fringe to the mainstream. The idea of engineering the climate on a global scale has been around for a while. But as the penny has dropped that we may be unable – or unwilling – to curb carbon dioxide emissions sufficiently to manage global warming, geoengineering has risen up the political agenda. My guess is that the next decade will see the debate over geoengineering intensify. Research will lead to increasingly plausible and economically feasible ways to tinker with the environment. At the same time, political and social pressure will grow – both to put plans into action (whether multi- or unilaterally), and to limit the use of geoengineering. The big question is whether globally-coordinated efforts to develop and use the technology in a socially and politically responsible way emerge, or whether we end up with an ugly – and potentially disastrous – free for all.

Smart grids

It may not be that apparent to the average consumer, but the way that electricity is generated, stored and transmitted is under immense strain. As demand for electrical power grows, a radical rethink of the power grid is needed if we are to get electricity to where it is needed, when it is needed. And the solution most likely to emerge as the way forward over the next ten years is the Smart Grid. Smart grids connect producers of electricity to users through an interconnected “intelligent” network. They allow centralized power stations to be augmented with – and even replaced by – distributed sources such as small-scale wind farms and domestic solar panels. They route power from where there is excess being generated to where there is excess demand. And they allow individuals to become providers as well as consumers – feeding power into the grid from home-installed generators, while drawing from the grid when they can’t meet their own demands. The result is a vastly more efficient, responsive and resilient way of generating and supplying electricity. As energy demands and limits on greenhouse gas emissions hit conventional electricity grids over the next decade, expect to see smart grids get increasing attention.

Radical materials

Good as they are, most of the materials we use these days are flawed – they don’t work as well as they could. And usually, the fault lies in how the materials are structured at the atomic and molecular scale. The past decade has seen some amazing advances in our ability to engineer materials with increasing precision at this scale. The result is radical materials – materials that far outperform conventional materials in their strength, lightness, conductivity, ability to transmit heat, and a whole host of other characteristics. Many of these are still at the research stage. But as demands for high performance materials continue to increase everywhere from medical devices to advanced microprocessors and safe, efficient cars to space flight, radical materials will become increasingly common. In particular, watch out for products based on carbon nanotubes. Commercial use of this unique material has had its fair share of challenges over the past decade. But I’m anticipating many of these will be overcome over the next ten years, allowing the material to achieve at least some of it’s long-anticipated promise.

Synthetic biology

Ten years ago, few people had heard of the term “synthetic biology.” Now, scientists are able to synthesize the genome of a new organism from scratch, and are on the brink of using it to create a living bacterium. Synthetic biology is about taking control of DNA – the genetic code of life – and engineering it, much in the same way a computer programmer engineers digital code. It’s arisen in part as the cost of reading and synthesizing DNA sequences has plummeted. But it is also being driven by scientists and engineers who believe that living systems can be engineered in the same way as other systems. In many ways, synthetic biology represents the digitization of biology. We can now “upload” genetic sequences into a computer, where they can be manipulated like any other digital data. But we can also “download” them back into reality when we have finished playing with them – creating new genetic code to be inserted into existing – or entirely new – organisms. This is still expensive, and not as simple as many people would like to believe – we’re really just scratching the surface of the rules that govern how genetic code works. But as the cost of DNA sequencing and synthesis continues to fall, expect to see the field advance in huge leaps and bounds over the next decade. I’m not that optimistic about us cracking how the genetic code works in great detail by 2020 – the more we learn at the moment, the more we realize we don’t know. However, I have no doubt that what we do learn will be enough to ensure synthetic biology is a hot topic over the next decade. In particular, look out for synthesis of the first artificial organism, the development and use of “BioBricks” – the biological equivalent of electronic components – and the rise of DIY-biotechnology.

Personal genomics

Closely related to the developments underpinning synthetic biology, personal genomics relies on rapid sequencing and interpretation of an individual’s genetic sequence. The Human Genome Project – completed in 2001 – cost taxpayers around $2.7 billion dollars, and took 13 years to complete. In 2007, James Watson’s genome was sequenced in 2 months, at a cost of $2 million. In 2009, Complete Genomics were sequencing personal genomes at less than $5,000 a shot. One thousand dollar personal genomes are now in the cards for the near future – with the possibility of substantially faster/cheaper services by the end of the decade. What exactly people are going to do with all these data is anyone’s guess at this point – especially as we still have a long way to go before we can make sense of huge sections of the human genome. Add to this the complication of epigenetics, where external factors lead to changes in how genetic information is decoded which can pass from generation to generation, and it’s uncertain how far personal genomics will progress over the next decade. What aren’t in doubt though are the personal, social and economic driving forces behind generating and using this information. These are likely to underpin a growing market for personal genetic information over the next decade – and a growing number of businesses looking to capitalize on the data.

Bio-interfaces

Blurring the boundaries between individuals and machines has long held our fascination. Whether it’s building human-machine hybrids, engineering high performance body parts or interfacing directly with computers, bio-interfaces are the stuff of our wildest dreams and worst nightmares. Fortunately, we’re still a world away from some of the more extreme imaginings of science fiction – we won’t be constructing the prototype of Star Trek Voyager’s ‘Seven of Nine’ anytime soon. But the sophistication with which we can interface with the human body is fast reaching the point where rapid developments should be anticipated. As a hint of things to come, check out the Luke Arm from Deka (founded by Dean Kamen). Or Honda’s work on Brain Machine Interfaces. Over the next decade, the convergence of technologies like Information Technology, nanoscale engineering, biotechnology and neurotechnology are likely to lead to highly sophisticated bio-interfaces. Expect to see advances in sensors that plug into the brain, prosthetic limbs that are controlled from the brain, and even implants that directly interface with the brain. My guess is that some of the more radical developments in bio-interfaces will probably occur after 2020. But a lot of the groundwork will be laid over the next ten years.

Data interfaces

The amount of information available through the internet has exploded over the past decade. Advances in data storage, transmission and processing have transformed the internet from a geek’s paradise to a supporting pillar of 21st century society. But while the last ten years have been about access to information, I suspect that the next ten will be dominated by how to make sense of it all. Without the means to find what we want in this vast sea of information, we are quite literally drowning in data. And useful as search engines like Google are, they still struggle to separate the meaningful from the meaningless. As a result, my sense is that over the next decade we will see some significant changes in how we interact with the internet. We’re already seeing the beginnings of this in websites like Wolfram Alpha that “computes” answers to queries rather than simply returning search hits, or Microsoft’s Bing, which helps take some of the guesswork out of searches. Then we have ideas like The Sixth Sense project at the MIT Media Lab, which uses an interactive interface to tap into context-relevant web information. As devices like phones, cameras, projectors, TV’s, computers, cars, shopping trolleys, you name it, become increasingly integrated and connected, be prepared to see rapid and radical changes in how we interface with and make sense of the web.

Solar power

Is the next decade going to be the one where solar power fulfills its promise? Quite possibly. Apart from increased political and social pressure to move towards sustainable energy sources, there are a couple of solar technologies that could well deliver over the next few years. The first of these is printable solar cells. They won’t be significantly more efficient than conventional solar cells. But if the technology can be scaled up and some teething difficulties resolved, they could lead to the cost of solar power plummeting. The technology is simple in concept – using relatively conventional printing processes and special inks, solar cells could be printed onto cheap, flexible substrates; roll to roll solar panels at a fraction of the cost of conventional silicon-based units. And this opens the door to widespread use. The second technology to watch is solar-assisted reactors. Combining mirror-concentrated solar radiation with some nifty catalysts, it is becoming increasingly feasible to convert sunlight into other forms of energy at extremely high efficiencies. Imagine being able to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using sunlight and an appropriate catalyst for instance, then recombine them to reclaim the energy on-demand – all at minimal energy loss. Both of these solar technologies are poised to make a big impact over the next decade.

Nootropics

Drugs that enhance mental ability – increasingly referred to as nootropics – are not new. But their use patterns are. Drugs like ritalin, donepezil and modafinil are increasingly being used by students, academics and others to give them a mental edge. What is startling though is a general sense that this is acceptable practice. Back in June, I ran a straw poll on 2020 Science to gauge attitudes to using nootropics. Out of 207 respondents, 153 people (74%) either used nootropics, or would consider using them on a regular or occasional basis. In April 2009, an article in The New Yorker reported on the growing use of “neuroenhancing drugs” to enhance performance. And in an informal poll run by Nature in April 2008, one in five respondents claimed “they had used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory.” Unlike physical performance-enhancing drugs, it seems that the social rules for nootropics are different. There are even some who suggest that it is perhaps unethical not to take them – that operating to the best of our mental ability is a personal social obligation. Of course this leads to a potentially explosive social/technological mix, that won’t be diffused easily. Over the next ten years, I expect the issue of nootropics will become huge. There will be questions on whether people should be free to take these drugs, whether the social advantages outweigh the personal advantages, and whether they confer an unfair advantage to users by leading to higher grades, better jobs, more money. But there’s also the issue of drugs development. If a strong market for nootropics emerges, there is every chance that new, more effective drugs will follow. Then the question arises – who gets the “good” stuff, and who suffers as a result? Whichever way you look at it, the 2010’s are set to be an interesting decade for mind-enhancing substances.

Cosmeceuticals

Cosmetics and pharmaceuticals inhabit very different worlds at the moment. Pharmaceuticals typically treat or prevent disease, while cosmetics simply make you look better. But why keep the two separate? Why not develop products that make you look good by working with your body, rather than simply covering it? The answer is largely due to regulation – drugs have to be put through a far more stringent set of checks and balances that cosmetics before entering the market, and rightly so. But beyond this, there is enormous commercial potential in combining the two, especially as new science is paving the way for externally applied substances to do more than just beautify. Products that blur the line are already available – in the US for instance, sunscreens and anti dandruff shampoos are considered drugs. And the cosmetics industry regularly use the term “cosmeceutical” to describe products with medicinal or drug-like properties. Yet with advances in synthetic chemistry and nanoscale engineering, it’s becoming increasingly possible to develop products that do more than just lead to “cosmetic” changes. Imagine products that make you look younger, fresher, more beautiful, by changing your body rather than just covering up flaws and imperfections. It’s a cosmetics company’s dream – one shared by many of their customers I suspect. The dam that’s preventing many such products at the moment is regulation. But if the pressure becomes too great – and there’s a fair chance it will over the next ten years – this dam is likely to burst. And when it does, cosmeceuticals are going to hit the scene big-time.

So those are my ten emerging technology trends to watch over the next decade. But what happened to nanotechnology? And were any other technologies on my short list?

Nanotech has been a dominant emerging technology over the past ten years. But in many ways, it’s a fake. Advances in the science of understanding and manipulating matter at the nanoscale are indisputable, as are the early technology outcomes of this science. But nanotechnology is really just a convenient shorthand for a whole raft of emerging technologies that span semiconductors to sunscreens, and often share nothing more than an engineered structure that is somewhere between one to one hundred nanometers in scale. So, rather than focus on nanotech, I decided to look at specific technologies which I think will make a significant impact over the next decade. Perhaps not surprisingly though, many of them depend in some way on working with matter at nanometer scales.

In terms of the emerging technologies short list, it was tough to whittle this down to ten trends. My initial list included batteries, decentralized computing, biofuels, stem cells, cloning, artificial intelligence, robotics, low earth orbit flights, clean tech, neuroscience and memristors – there are many others that no doubt could and should have been on it. Some of these I felt were likely to reach their prime sometime after the next decade. Others I felt didn’t have as much potential to shake things up and make headlines as the ones I chose. But this was a highly subjective and personal process. I’m sure if someone else were writing this, the top ten list would be different.

And one final word. Many of the technologies I’ve highlighted reflect an overarching trend: convergence. Although not a technology in itself, synergistic convergence between different areas of knowledge and expertise will likely dominate emerging technology trends over the next decade. Which means that confident as I am in my predictions, the chances of something completely different, unusual and amazing happening are… pretty high!

Update: Something’s been bugging me, and I’ve just realized what it is – in my original list of ten, I had smart drugs, but in the editing process they somehow got left by the wayside! As I don’t want to go back and change the ten emerging technology trends I ended up posting, they will have to be a bonus. As it is, drug delivery timelines are so long that I’m not sure how many smart drugs will hit the market before 2020. But when they do, they will surely mark a turning point in therapeutics. These are drugs that are programmed to behave in various ways. The simplest are designed to accumulate around disease sites, then destroy the disease on command – gold shell nanoparticles fit the bill here, preferentially accumulating around tumors then destroying them by heating up when irradiated with infrared radiation. More sophisticated smart drugs are in the pipeline though that are designed to seek out diseased cells, provide local diagnostics, then release therapeutic agents on demand. The result is targeted disease treatment that leads to significantly greater efficacy at substantially lower doses. Whether or not these make a significant impact over the next decade, they are definitely a technology to watch.

 

How will these emerging technology trends affect your current business to help solve your problems, identify new opportunities, and help you develop the products and services for your future markets?

Dr John Kapeleris

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We are faced with many decisions on a daily basis both in our work and personal lives, for example:

  • Do we pursue a new business, product or market opportunity?
  • Do we proceed with establishing a new collaborative partnership?
  • Do we accept an invitation to attend a network meeting?
  • Do we take the family on another vacation even though the budget is tight?

Decision making is a mental function that involves selecting a course of action among alternative options and involves making a final choice. Decision making is critical to managing and leading individuals, teams and organizations. Following is a model that outlines where decision making and choice making occur in a problem solving context. 

The model begins with the realisation that an undesirable state  (a problem) exists and that a solution needs to be identified and implemented. The decision making stages involve firstly the diagnosis of a problem, followed by the generation of alternative solutions and finally choosing an appropriate solution. 

Decision making on a daily basis may involve the following approaches:

  • Choosing the first option that comes to mind (based on past experience) which is perceived to be likely to achieve the desired outcome
  • Listing the advantages and disadvantages of a situation, then making a decision
  • Making a list of available options and then choosing the most appropriate option to acheive the desired outcome
  • Decision making based on intuition
  • Flipping a coin to make a decision

When faced with difficult decisions it is best to utilise a systematic approach to achieve the best outcomes. An effective decision making approach is outlined below:

  1. Outline the goal and desired outcome you wish to achieve.
  2. Gather the available data and information to provide background knowledge on the situation.
  3. Brainstorm to develop a number of alternative solutions.
  4. Evaluate each alternative by determining the advantages and disadvantages for each option, and the likely impact it will create.
  5. Make the decision by choosing the most optimal solution.
  6. Implement the solution immediately by taking action.
  7. Evaluate the outcome, and learn from and reflect on the decision making.

Dr John Kapeleris

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Crowdsourcing refers to the outsourcing of tasks and activities, traditionally performed internally by an employee or an external contractor, to a large group of people (a crowd), through an open innovation approach or an open call.

In their book Wikinomics Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams discuss how mass collaboration can impact big changes in business. They also present a number of case studies of successful outsourcing and collaboration, including Goldcorp and Proctor & Gamble. In the case of Goldcorp, a Canadian gold mining company, after internal reports and advice from technical staff indicated that the gold mine had run out of gold, the CEO placed all the geological studies, surveys and reports related to the gold mine into the public domain via the Internet and offered a sum of money to whoever could come up with new information or leads for new gold deposits. The CEO’s strategy was successful. New computer modeling technology located in another small organization was able to predict the location of new gold deposits using the existing geological survey data.

By utilizing an open call to an undefined group of people (generally through the Internet), the call brings together people who are in the best position to be able to solve complex problems, provide new ideas and develop new opportunities.

Crowdsourcing has a number of advantages, however, it can also result in intellectual property (IP) issues, including ownership issues and confidentiality of IP. An appropriate governance process is required to ensure the disadvantages of crowdsourcing are minimized. Some of the advantages of using a crowdsourcing approach can include:

  • Reducing transaction costs of organisations
  • Finding new business opportunities
  • Building appropriate teams by finding the right  external people
  • Re-using previous work
  • Building user defined products and services
  • Solving difficult and complex problems

A number of online sites are available that specialise in bringing together different parties or groups to work on a particular project or solve a specific problem. Alternatively an organisation can also ask a question through one of its online networks such as facebook or LinkedIn. A selection of crowdsourcing sites of interest are outlined below:

  • ChaordixBusiness innovation – Engaging crowds through the web to solve your business problem
  • kluster – Brainstorming / feedback – Harness the power of your own hand-picked crowd to brainstorm ideas
  • namethisBrand names – A 48 hour competition site to find a suitable brand name for your venture
  • innocentive –  Problem solving – Brings together seekers who have a problem together with solvers from around the world who may be able to help
  • Rent A Coder – Software development – International marketplace to locate software coders
  • Global Ideas Bank – Social innovation – A site which collects social inventions that can change the world, which are rated by online voters.

One specific type of crowdsourcing strategy is crowdfunding which is also referred to as crowdlending. Crowdfunding is the collective cooperation,  attention and trust by people who network and pool their money together, usually via the Internet, in order to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. For example, crowdfunding has been used to fund open source live chat software, online services, music, independent films, charity and social enterprises.

A number of online crowdfunding and crowdlending websites are available that can be used to raise funds for specific projects or for charitable work. A number of websites are described below:

An entrepreneur seeking seed funding for a new venture, who has not been successful sourcing funds through either government funding programs or through traditional angel investors or venture capitalists, could use crowdfunding from online communities to solicit pledges of small amounts of money from individuals who typically would not be professional financiers. The amounts pledged are usually so small people tend to support a venture that has the right value proposition for them. Confirming a threshold value also ensures that all pledges will not be used unless a threshold target amount is reached.

Crowdfunding, therefore, has the potential to help launch simple ideas through minimal investment, resulting in faster outcomes and the development of new products or services, particularly for social enterprises.

To your success!

Dr John Kapeleris

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The year 2011 is technically the start of a new decade. Therefore, one of the questions on my mind has been, “What will be the focus or trend for the new decade?” I spent some time doing some research online to identify the new trends and found that three things will definitely occur in the new decade:

1. There will be more change in the world than ever before
2. There will be more competition
3. There will be more opportunities available.

I also identified that the emerging theme or trend, particularly in the complex digital age, will be “thinking”. The use of computers and the escalation of digital handheld devices has removed the human element from interactions and transactions. Technology in the last decade has limited our ability to take time out to spend on thinking – thinking about our current situation, thinking about our goals, and thinking about the future. Instead we spend significant amounts of time watching shows in front of flat-screen TVs, playing games or surfing the internet on computers, and tapping away on handheld devices.

Many decades ago Thomas Edison stated, “There are few people who think, a few people who think they think, and then there are the great majority, who would rather die than think“. Interestingly, this quote is still relevant today. We either avoid making the effort to think, or we have essentially allowed technology and computers to do our thinking for us. Humans, in general, have also become more complacent by focusing on the present rather than thinking about the future. Thinking provides the ability to make better decisions which translate into better actions, and ultimately better results.

One of the characteristics of successful and insightful people is that they are future-oriented. They set aside the time to think about changes and trends that will impact on the future. They use these trends and factors to identify new opportunities providing first-mover advantage. Future-oriented people believe they can create their own future and influence their destiny by taking advantage of these opportunities.

Thinking can also change the way we perceive a problem. We can think of a problem as an undesirable situation that needs to be rectified. We can also take this undesirable situation or problem and view it as a challenge that can stimulate motivation for us to take action. Ultimately, we can perceive a problem as an opportunity and take advantage of what it can offer.

John C. Maxwell in his book “Thinking for a Change” describes the eleven different styles of thinking that can change your life:

  1. Acquire the wisdom of big-picture thinking – holistic thinking that extends beyond your domain
  2. Unleash the potential of focused thinking – concentrated thinking to clarify the issues
  3. Discover the joy of creative thinking – thinking laterally outside the box to identify breakthrough opportunities
  4. Recognize the importance of realistic thinking – asking whether your thinking has a solid foundation
  5. Release the power of strategic thinking – thinking about the future and the potential opportunities it brings
  6. Feel the energy of possibility thinking – possibility thinking can help you find solutions to complex problems
  7. Embrace the lessons of reflective thinking – thinking about the past or your current situation to better understand and learn from your experiences
  8. Question the acceptance of popular thinking – understand the current trends of common thinking in society
  9. Encourage the participation of shared thinking – engaging others to expand and sharpen your thinking
  10. Experience the satisfaction of unselfish thinking – considering the needs of others in your thinking
  11. Enjoy the return of bottom-line thinking – staying focused on results and outcomes from your thinking

To engage in the thinking process, set aside some quiet time in the right environment with a clear and relaxed mind, together with pen and paper, using the following step process:

  1. Determine the purpose of your thinking – What is the objective that you are trying to achieve?
  2. Focus on the topic, issue or opportunity – Take the time to focus so that you can achieve clarity.
  3. Explore the possibilities using some of the thinking styles above – Identify the different alternatives available by using different thinking styles.
  4. Synthesize your thoughts and ideas – Combine, adapt, modify, substitute, eliminate or reverse your thoughts and ideas to create new opportunities.
  5. Record your thoughts and ideas on paper – Think on paper! Get back to basics by using a pen and pad or journal to write down your thoughts and ideas, also allowing you to get things out of your head.
  6. Act on the outputs and opportunities resulting from your thinking – Take action and implement your ideas.

If you focus on thinking about the future an unlimited number of possibilities and opportunities become available that can create a new direction and a more desirable life.

Dr John Kapeleris

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We are faced with problems and challenges in our work and personal lives, daily. A problem occurs when a present state is unsatisfactory and we wish to change the present state to a more desirable state. The model of a problem is outlined below:


However, finding the appropriate solution path is not always easy and straight forward, requiring a number of different options and meandering pathways, as represented by the diagram below:

A number of different approaches and processes have been documented to solve problems. However, in addition to the process, the right mindset (attitude) is also required for successful problem solving. A simple problem solving process, involving a sequence of steps, was presented by Herbert Simon in 1978 and is outlined below:

The process begins with the realisation that an undesirable state (problem) exists which needs to be analyzed and defined. The next step, design, involves the development of potential solutions to solve the problem. This step is followed by selecting the most suitable solution to the problem and implementing the solution. Finally, a review activity is undertaken to ensure that the solution implemented was effective in solving the problem.

A more detailed Rational Problem Solving process was described by Kepner and Tregoe in 1981 and involved nine discrete steps, as outlined in the diagram below:

Although it became widely used as a rational and systematic approach to problem solving, it did not incorporate creative thinking tools or approaches to solve more complex problems. Having used a number of different problem solving processes, I developed a novel six step Creative Problem Solving process in 1996 that combines a number of creative and analytical tools with a rational approach to problem solving. The process is summarised in the table below:

I also developed a Problem Solving Worksheet that can be used with the above six step Creative Problem Solving process. By using the approach outlined above I have found that both simple and complex problems can be resolved with minimal effort, but at the same time achieve effective and long-term solutions.

Dr John Kapeleris

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In my previous company Panbio Ltd, one of the key success factors of the company was embedding innovation across the whole organisation and not limited to the R&D Department alone. One of the initiatives that I implemented to drive innovation in the organisation was the establishment of a Creativity Club. The main objective of the creativity club was to stimulate creative thinking in individuals and encourage the use of creative thinking tools to come up with new ideas, and to solve problems in the organisation and for our customers.

The original objectives that we brainstormed at our first creativity club at Panbio are outlined below:

The format and structure of the creativity club included the following:

  1. The creativity club was open to all employees of the organisation. Everyone was invited to deliver presentations, and to share their knowledge and experiences.
  2. The creativity club was held either at lunchtime or before work (lunch and breakfast were provided which was a great attraction for employees).
  3. The agenda of each meeting consisted of the following:
    1. Ice-breaker – each participant would be asked to describe a creative experience or reading since the last meeting (those participants that could not describe a creative experience would be asked to tell a joke – right brain thinking)
    2. Formal presentation – a theme was chosen as a focus of each creativity club including: Introduction to Creative Thinking, Serendipity vs Synchronicity, Idea Management, Creativity Tools, Imagination, Innovation case studies (3M, Dupont, Lotus Corporation, Ideo etc), Creative Problem Solving, Intuition, Chaos Theory, etc
    3. Informal discussion – this session included open discussion about the specific topic presented and the practical application of the learnings from the presentation
    4. Action planning – the creativity club concluded with the recording of action plans that each participant could take back to their department or functional area and implement
  4. The creativity club was modelled on the Dupont OZ Creative Thinking Network and the Parisian Salons (creative communities) of the 1920’s. The creativity club included a number of games and puzzles to stimulate the creative juices of participants. It also provided a fun environment conducive to the sharing of knowledge and ideas that could be further developed or implemented. A database was set up within the Knowledge Management system of the organisation to capture and record the presentations, knowledge, ideas, learnings, discussions and action plans arising from the creativity club.

The creativity club at Panbio also spawned the development of Creative Problem Solving Hit Teams. These teams consisted of cross-functional team members that would work on solving problems both inside and outside the organisation. When an internal functional area or an external customer could not solve a particular problem then a Creative Problem Solving Hit Team was deployed. The cross-functional nature of the team allowed a wider range of skill-sets to be incorporated in the team, providing a diverse perspective when investigating each problem. The team included people directly involved with the problem but also people who had never been exposed to the problem. Team members were also equipped with a variety of creative problem solving tools and resources. These teams became so effective that we started to provide this service beyond our existing clients and domain areas of expertise.

Enjoy!

Dr John Kapeleris

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“Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Did you know that if you ask “Why?” three to five times you can identify the root cause of a problem or issue? Children often ask “Why?” because their curious and open mind is trying to explore how things work or they are trying to better understand their surrounding environment. As adults we tend not to ask “Why?” that often because we either have already formed our own preconceived perceptions or are afraid to challenge the status quo.

A Why-Why diagram can be used to identify the causes of a particular situation in a systematic way[1]. The Figure below shows an example of a Why-Why diagram. The problem statement is written on the left hand side and then by asking “Why?” a number of possible causes are identified. Asking “Why?” again leads us to further causes and finally to the root causes of  problem. Even though it is simple, this technique is very powerful because it looks at the overall problem as opposed to focusing on a single cause.

The example in the Why-Why Diagram above aims to solve the problem of poor sales relating to a particular product. In many organisations the result of poor sales of a product is usually perceived as poor performance of the Sales Manager and/or the Sales Team. The first inclination is to replace the Sales Manager and/or the Sales Team, however when this is done inconsiderately the result is typically the same – continuing poor sales. The organisation has failed to clearly identify the root cause of the problem. From the example above there can be a number of different reasons why a product has poor sales. The Why-Why Diagram provides a disciplined approach to explore all the possible causes of a problem and not to focus on a single preconceived possible cause.

Humans need to continue to ask “Why?” as a means of fulfilling the needs of their curious minds. We also have been given the freedom and opportunity to challenge the status quo in our society, in our environment, of our governments and in our working lives, otherwise we will become complacent and accept what we have been told by someone else.

As an exercise try applying the Why-Why Diagram technique to a problem you are facing in your personal or business life. You can use the template I have provided – Why-Why Template.

Dr John Kapeleris


[1] Higgins, J.A. (1994), 101 Creative Problem Solving Techniques, New Management Publishing Company, Florida

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