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Investigating ideas and possible solutions

Finding possible solutions to problems. In group situations this involves finding ways to actively involve everybody - encouraging participation and generating as many ideas and possible solutions as possible.

Stage Three: Possible Solutions


Brainstorming is perhaps one of the most commonly used techniques for generating a large number of ideas in a short period of time.  Whilst it can be done individually, it is more often practised in groups.

Before a brainstorming session begins, the leader or facilitator encourages everyone to contribute as many ideas as possible, no matter how irrelevant or absurd they may seem.

Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Divergent Thinking:

Divergent thinking is the process of recalling possible solutions from past experience, or inventing new ones.  Thoughts spread out or 'diverge' along a number of paths to a range of possible solutions.  It is the process from which many of the following creative problem solving techniques have been designed.

Convergent thinking:

Convergent thinking is the subsequent process of narrowing down the possibilities to 'converge' on the most appropriate form of action.

The elements necessary for divergent thinking include:

  • Releasing the mind from old patterns of thought and other inhibiting influences.
  • Bringing the elements of a problem into new combinations.
  • Not rejecting any ideas during the creative, problem solving period.
  • Actively practicing, encouraging and rewarding the creation of new ideas.

Techniques of Divergent Thinking:

Often when people get stuck in trying to find a solution to a problem, it is because they are continually trying to approach it from the same starting point.  The same patterns of thinking are continually followed over and over again, with reliance placed on familiar solutions or strategies.

If problems can be thought of in different ways - a fresh approach - then previous patterns of thought, biases and cycles may be avoided.

Three techniques of divergent thinking are to:

  • Bring in someone else from a different area.
  • Question any assumptions being made.
  • Use creative problem solving techniques such as 'brainstorming'.

Bring in Someone Else From a Different Area

While it is obviously helpful to involve people who are more knowledgeable about the issues involved in a problem, sometimes non-experts can be equally, or more valuable. This is because they do not know what the 'common solutions' are, and can, therefore, tackle the problem with a more open mind and so help by introducing a fresh perspective.

Another advantage of having non-experts on the team is that it forces the 'experts' to explain their reasoning in simple terms.  This very act of explanation can often help them to clarify their own thinking and sometimes uncovers inconsistencies and errors in their thinking.

Another way of gaining a fresh viewpoint, if the problem is not urgent, is to put it aside for a while and then return to it at a later date and tackle it afresh. It is important not to look at any of your old solutions or ideas during this second look in order to maintain this freshness of perspective.

Questioning Assumptions:

Sometimes problem solving runs into difficulties because it is based on the wrong assumptions.  For example, if a new sandwich shop is unsuccessful in attracting customers, has it been questioned whether there are sufficient office workers or shoppers in the local area?  Great effort might be spent in attempting to improve the range and quality of the sandwiches, when questioning this basic assumption might reveal a better, if perhaps unpopular, solution.
Listing assumptions is a good starting point.  However, this is not as easy as it first appears for many basic assumptions might not be clearly understood, or seem so obvious that they are not questioned.  Again, someone totally unconnected with the problem is often able to offer a valuable contribution to this questioning process, acting as 'devil's advocate', i.e. questioning the most obvious of assumptions.

Such questions could include:
  • What has been done in similar circumstances in the past?  Why was it done that way?  Is it the best/only way?
  • What is the motivation for solving the problem? Are there any influences such as prejudices or emotions involved.                         

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