Active Thinking Project Workbook – new edition released

Active Thinking project workbookThe new Active Thinking project workbook has been extensively updated and is now available from Amazon.

If you’d like to generate more creative, yet practical ideas in your work and personal life, the Active Thinking project workbook will help you to achieve this.

This updated book contains a series of advanced thinking techniques to ensure your thinking is even more effective. Four templates, each with their own set of tools, help you address a specific thinking project. There’s an additional fifth template with a set of esoteric tools based around the use of your subconscious.

A completed example of how to set up and run a group Active Thinking session follows the individual thinking templates, and includes an explanation of why the process is superior to conventional brainstorming. There are three blank templates as guides for running group-thinking sessions. The workbook also acts as an idea repository to help you keep all your thinking projects conveniently in one place.

If you’ve used a Better Business Thinking guide, you’ll find that Active Thinking will boost your creative thinking to an even higher level. This workbook is available online from Amazon (print only) here.

Better Business Thinking workbook

Better Business Thinking project workbookMy new book, the Better Business Thinking workbook has just been published.

Have you noticed how some people seem to be naturals at coming up with practical, new ideas while others seem to struggle? The truth is that there’s nothing natural about it – for it’s a skill that anyone can master.

This Better Business Thinking workbook guides you through a four-stage thinking development process. at each stage, there are a unique set of creative tools to help you embed that aspect of the process.

The tools are arranged around a template thinking project which considers a key issue that you have in your work environment. So as well as learning the process and tools, you get to apply them to an important issue that you have. This workbook will enable you to become a better thinker in just a few weeks.

There are two blank templates included which you can use for additional thinking projects of your own You’ll also read about some amazing aspects of what your mind is capable of in the Inside Your Head sections of the book.

The Better Business Thinking workbook helps you become a better thinker in the practical application of creative thinking in the business environment. Its available online from Amazon here.

Einstein’s mind switch and the Frenchman with no brain

Did you hear about the Frenchman who had no brain? While this may sound like the start of a really-funny joke, it’s actually true. Or almost true, as the Frenchman concerned had almost no brain at all.

FrenchBrainOur brain is surrounded by a liquid called cerebrospinal fluid, which acts like a shock-absorber. By floating in this liquid, our brain is protected from impacts to our head, and from bouncing around inside our skull when we walk or run.

Normally we produce around a half-litre of this fluid every day, but occasionally we produce too much, and develop a condition called hydrocephalus, which is colloquially referred to as water on the brain. Individuals with this condition will often have a tube inserted through their skulls to drain off this excess fluid. This is where our Frenchman appears.

As a child he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, and had a tube inserted into his head, which was subsequently removed at the age of fourteen, when doctors thought the condition had cleared. But it hadn’t.

Thirty-years later, the man was feeling unwell, and in 2007 was examined by Dr Lionel Feuillet, a neurologist at the Mediterranean University in Marseille, France. After performing a number of brain-scans, they discovered that his skull was full of cerebrospinal fluid, and that the pressure of the fluid had squeezed his brain to form a thin-layer of brain tissue around the inside of his skull.

The man was married with two children, and worked as a civil-servant in the French government. They ran some intelligence tests and he displayed an IQ of seventy-five, which is below the average figure of 100. If it had been any lower, he would have been categorised as being mentally challenged.

He effectively was living a normal life but with very little brain in his head.

A century before our French civil servant’s condition was discovered, there lived another man, who coincidentally also worked as a civil servant, and who also had a most-unusual brain. He worked in the Swiss patent office in the early 1900s, and was the man who Time magazine labelled as the most-significant-figure of the twentieth-century.

His name was Albert Einstein, and though regarded as one of the most intelligent individuals of all time, there are some very-peculiar facts regarding his genius that most people are unaware of.

EinsteinEinstein failed his initial entrance examination for the Zurich Polytechnic, but successfully passed it on his second attempt. He enrolled on a teaching diploma in maths and physics, but apparently didn’t distinguish himself in the eyes of his lecturers while he was there. He finally graduated, and then spent two-years unsuccessfully applying for university assistantships and permanent teaching positions. During this time, he held several temporary-jobs teaching mathematics at Swiss schools, until a friend’s father helped him get a job in the Swiss patent office, where he spent several years working as an assistant patent-examiner.

In 1902, he fathered an illegitimate child, a girl named Lieserl, who is mysteriously unaccounted for in any records after her first-year. A year later, in January 1903, Einstein married the mother of his child, and subsequently had another child with her in May 1904. He also completed his doctorate-studies at this time, and in 1905, at the age of twenty-six, he submitted his technical theses and was awarded a PhD from the University of Zurich.

Considering the tumultuous period that had occurred in his life during the conservative, early twentieth-century, Einstein then proceeded to have what is described as his miracle year.

In 1905, in addition to submitting his PhD thesis, and without having convenient access to scientific reference materials, Einstein wrote and submitted four papers to the highly-respected, academic publication Annalen der Physik (Annals of Physics) which subsequently published them the same year.

These are the four papers and the dates he submitted them:

AnnalenDerPhysik18 March 1905. Paper on the Production and Transformation of Light. This covers the photo-electric effect and eventually earns Einstein a Nobel Prize.

11 May 1905. Paper on the Motion of Small Particles. An explanation of Brownian motion, or how particles in a gas, travel in random paths based on the impact of atoms and molecules upon them.

30 June 1905. Paper on the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies. Also referred to as the special theory of relativity, which explains the dynamics of bodies when moving close to the speed of light.

27 September 1905. Paper on the Inertia of Bodies and their Energy Content. This introduces the relationship between matter and energy through the iconic equation of E=mc².

These ground-breaking papers, which were actually submitted in a period of just over six-months, are referred to as the Annus Mirabilis, or Miracle Year papers — and it’s easy to understand why they are so-named.

If you were to write a fictional-story based on a twenty-six-year-old character, who had produced no notable work, and who suddenly writes four amazing scientific papers in six-months, it certainly wouldn’t feel like a plausible plot. How was Einstein suddenly able to unleash his mind to discover these ground-breaking new concepts? How did he achieve his phenomenal Miracle Year out of the turmoil in his personal life?

Maybe he just decided to put his mind to the issue!  He somehow switched on his mind and used it to do some of the most remarkable thinking of the twentieth century.

We just need to know how to turn-on our own personal mind-switches to enable us to boost our own thinking significantly.
(This article is an extract from The Delicate Force by Chris Thomason)

 

The Delicate Force: the source of new ideas…

Do you get ideas that suddenly pop into your head?The_Delicate_Force_cover
Do you have instances of intuition about people or things?
Do strange coincidences sometimes happen to you?

In The Delicate Force, you’ll find out how these things relate to some of the most amazing anomalies that science has discovered — and that you probably aren’t even aware of. In this unusual half-fact, half-fiction story, the facts are so extraordinary that it needs a fictional plot to help you to believe they are true.

Synopsis: Reece Tassicker has a dream about a number he knows he needs to remember. When messages for him start appearing in books, he learns that his future activities are being predicted — to the precise minute. And that someone is mysteriously using this knowledge for their own benefit. As Reece starts to out-think the people who can control his life, he learns there are chinks in our reality that allow us discreet glimpses behind the true nature of the universe. Because our reality isn’t quite as real as we think it is.

He develops new thinking techniques that help him understand what’s happening. But as Reece gets closer to the truth, the mysterious individuals decide to eliminate him, to prevent him from revealing the extraordinary capability they have – and that everybody has.

After reading this book, you’ll be able to recognise the chinks that exist in the reality of your own life. But are you ready for it?

The Delicate Force is available online from Amazon.

A new model for customer experience design

What’s the primary aim of your business? Is it delivering shareholder value? Or providing a climate of mutual respect for colleagues? Or is it satisfying your customers? While all are important, the most successful companies will be those which recognise that the critical success factor in the future will be to put customers first. And to put customer experience delivery front-and-centre within their business.

Revenues from customersThe reason? Customers provide every penny of the revenues that are earned by established businesses. And even though providing returns to shareholders and respect for all employees are important, they are secondary to the aim of getting customers to repeatedly buy the products or services that you sell.

However, to achieve commercially sustainable growth, there’s more to it than just selling a product or service.

Expectation of excitement

The launch of the first smartphone (the iPhone) in 2007 was a watershed moment in customer experience. It spawned a dramatic new level of delight in the way you could pinch, swipe and flick on a touchscreen with instantaneous results. The experience that customers had on these devices was nothing short of miraculous compared to what had been seen before – in any medium or industry. As mobile phones have one of the highest levels of ownership as a consumer product – this experience expectation engaged a large chunk of the population in a very short timeframe.

As touchscreens spread to other devices, and vast numbers of applications were developed that fully utilised the device capabilities, the on-screen experiences grew exponentially. The high quality of interaction offered by these small and portable devices set new standards of customer expectations for every interface they had with a company – and across all channels. The simultaneous and rapid rise of home computing, high-speed internet connectivity, the willingness of consumers to embrace the online capabilities, and more recently the proliferation of free public wifi, has elevated customer’s expectations. They demand everything, anywhere, anytime – and they also expect your experiences to match those they have with their touchscreen devices – across all your channels.

This has set a challenge for many businesses. Consider how much your service and the experiences you deliver to your customers have changed over the last five years. Probably quite significantly. But is this enough? Potentially, even including all your best efforts, you’re simply holding ground as your competitors also increase the level of their delivered service and experiences too.

Another issue to contend with is that the technology your customers use and the access they have through social media as to how well (or how badly) you interacted with other customers similar to themselves, is a great challenge to your ability to provide adequate customer service. Never mind trying to delight them. Their knowledge around their issue and their available technology is often superior to yours.

If you need to be doing so much more just to stay where you are – how are you going to get ahead? The answer is by out-thinking your competition! Especially in the area of greatest opportunity for you – the customer experiences you deliver. And this is where Active Thinking can help you. Active Thinking offers ways for you to think differently about your customer experiences and to do things within your business that will make significant difference at both the operational and strategic levels.

A NEW MODEL

First we need to construct a new model for customer experience that will lay out and identify areas where your business can deliver customer delight. Then we can apply the Active Thinking process to develop new opportunities that will deliver business growth for you.

Your Super-ordinate proposition

Great serviceThe only way in which any business can sustainably grow is to offer its customers an over-arching combination of quality products with a great service at a fair price. And the more effectively this is delivered, the better the experience that is delivered to the customer, and hence the more successful your business will be.

This over-arching combination of elements is called your Super-ordinate proposition, and the people who accept your Super-ordinate proposition are destined to become your long-term customers.

The four elements of a Super-ordinate proposition are:

  1.  A valued transactional proposition
  2.  Your service design
  3.  Your service style
  4.  Moments of Truth

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

A valued transactional proposition

Whatever you are selling, from Frosties to Ferraris, there needs to be perceived value in the money-for-goods transactional exchange in the eyes of the customer. If there isn’t a perceived fair value exchange, then the deal won’t take place – no matter how brilliant the other elements of your Super-ordinate proposition. A valued transactional proposition will always form the core of any business deal that you have with the customer.

Your service design

You need to be easy to do business with in whatever channel the customer prefers, and the way you design your service interactions defines this. Having a five-level interactive voice response system when customers phone in may help your call-centre to know the reason for an inbound call, but this isn’t what customers like to experience. Similarly, replacing it with a system where you simply speak what you want – but which can’t pick up the difference between a spoken ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ – isn’t good service design either.

You will invariably find that in most organisations, many of the services offered to customers haven’t been smartly designed – they have been iterated over time from a compromised initial solution. You need to look around to see what the best practices are in any given situation to see whether your service offers an appropriate level of ease to the customer in achieving their desired outcome.

Your service style

Your service style is the manner in which you engage with your customers. It’s the branded personality of the overall experience that you deliver. If you stripped away all the branding from (for example) your retail store and did the same for your competitor’s stores, would a customer be able to know which store experience was yours? When asked, would they be able to say it just ‘felt’ like what they’d expect from you?

Hardware service styleA service style is the tangible manifestation of a company’s brand values and culture through all the various ways that employees interact with customers. As it’s a representation of your brand, it allows you to differentiate the experiences you deliver from that of your competition – for their brand values will invariably be different to yours.

Your service style may not be identical across your various channels due to the dissimilar nature of the interactions in these different channels. Each channel experience will dial-up or dial-down specific aspects of your service style as appropriate. This ensures that your distinctly branded experiences are delivered to your customers consistently, everywhere – and always.

Moments of truth

Moments of truth are the attention-getters where you have the opportunity to make a big impact on the customer and to significantly influence their behaviour or state of mind. These are the moments where you persuade them that you are the best company to buy from; to convert a complaint into a compliment; or to do something that will turn the customer into an advocate for your business.

Some examples of moments of truth are:

  • When an online customer watches a video about your company or reads reviews of your service
  • When a customer dials into a call centre and is answered immediately by a real person asking what they want rather than having to work through several layers of an interactive voice response system
  • When a customer first walks into one of your stores and has their initial experience of who you are as a business

Super-ordinate proposition summary

If a customer embraces only one element of your proposition and you fail to deliver on that specific element, then the whole relationship with you is at risk. However, customers who embrace your Super-ordinate proposition have a deeper level of engagement with you and are more willing to forgive you if any one element fails them in some way. Developing this willingness in a customer to forgive a transgression is the ultimate goal of any Super-ordinate proposition.

Appealing to customers – your Business Intent

The four elements of the Super-ordinate proposition come together to form your Business Intent – the aim of what you strive to achieve with your customers. This can be manifested in a statement of intent which identifies the overall guiding principles of the way you want to portray your customer experiences as a business. This is the master plan of the experienced feel of the output of all your efforts at doing business, and it should also show what ‘great’ looks and feels like for you.

SOP1 diagramThe other side of the interaction is the customer’s experience – how the customer actually experiences your Business Intent.

This model shows how your business needs to be set up to deliver your desired level and style of customer experiences. But it isn’t yet complete, for although your offer to your customers may stay relatively static, the customer’s needs change frequently, and often rapidly, depending of what their specific aim is with you at any point in time.

The customer lifecycle

To make the model complete we need to overlay the different need-states of the customer, and this is represented by the customer’s lifecycle with you. Unfortunately (from a commercial perspective) it isn’t always about customers buying things from you. Even though this is the primary goal of your business, the customer has other aims in their dealings with you, and their need is represented by the stage of the lifecycle they are at with you.

The customer lifecycle identifies the various life-stages of the relationship they have with you, and every industry has a different way of dealing with their customers. A basic seven-stage customer lifecycle is shown below:

AWARE: the various ways that the customer may become aware of your company, service or product.

INTEREST: when the customer begins to show an active interest in what you have to offer.

BUY: the point at which the customer purchases your product or service.

USE: the stage when the customer uses your product. This may be several years in the case of durable goods or a matter of minutes if it’s a bar of chocolate.

SERVICE: the customer may have a complaint about some aspect of your product or may need a relevant support service of some kind.

RE-COMMIT: when the customer returns to buy another product from you.

LEAVE: the point at which a customer ceases to be a customer.

These different life-stages can last for moments or years – and the customer will jump around the lifecycle depending on their needs. They rarely, if ever, progress linearly along it.

SOP LifecycleFor example if the lifecycle refers to a car, then the customer will spend a relatively short period in the AWARE, INTEREST and BUY stages but will spend years in the USE stage, while spending a day every six-months in the SERVICE stage when the car receives its routine maintenance service. When the owner feels it’s time for a new car, they may RE-COMMIT and buy another from you, or they may sell the car and buy another model from a competitor. At this point they LEAVE the relationship they have with you to start another lifecycle with your competitor.

SOP Lifestage impactThe key understanding is that the customer is only ever in one of these stages at any moment in time. The lifecycle model sits over the point at which the delivered customer interactions and the experience of the customer meet in the Super-ordinate proposition model.

As the customer moves through the lifecycle model, the delivered interaction and the experience had by the customer can meet around only one stage at any time. The aim of the delivered customer experience is to be appropriate to the stage in the lifecycle at which it is occurring. In this example below it is when they BUY from you.

SOP2 diagramThis model is likely to look similar to that of your competitors. In any industry the customer lifecycle model tends to be the same, so you need to make it ‘practically different’ wherever you can. Your service style is based on your company’s brand values and culture and so this will be one differentiator for you. But we now need to look at ways to lift the experience to a much higher level than that of your competition.

It’s about Customer Delight, not Customer Satisfaction

The typical way of measuring how a customer feels about an interaction with you is to measure the level of their customer satisfaction. This is unfortunate terminology – for it totally underplays what is aiming to be achieved. Customer satisfaction is the base-level of what you should be aiming for. If you fail to provide the agreed base-level of service then you are immediately creating dis-satisfaction in your customers.

TapwaterIn your home you expect a continuous supply of electricity at the correct voltage and clean water at an appropriate pressure. You expect your mobile phone to work all the time. You expect your newspaper to be delivered each day. You expect your bank to account for every penny in your cheque account. You expect your cleaning products to do what is said on the side of the bottle. Your core-service should ideally not instil any levels of dis-satisfaction. If it does, then the elements that caused the dis-satisfaction are called pain points and are the areas that you need to improve on immediately.

Don’t be a commodity

The vast bulk of the resources in your company are applied to the delivery of the base-level of service. This is customer satisfaction – just getting your basics right. Customers expect this – and woe-betide you if you fail to deliver. It’s a disappointing thing for any business to realise – but often your base service or product has become (or is close to being) commoditised. That there’s not much difference between what you sell and what your competitors sell.

Think about the attributes of smart phones today. In the few years since their launch, they are looking very much the same in appearance – both physically as devices and how you interact with them on the screen. They may not be commoditised items yet, but they aren’t far from it.

The way you need to prevent yourself from being in a commoditised environment is through the experience you deliver to your customers. With mobile devices for example, the experience that you have with the companies that provide network services on these devices is vastly different. And this is where the differentiator lies – the revenues and profits that a company can achieve as a differential over the competition will be based primarily on the service experience that the company offers and provides. This is the aspect that every business needs to think differently about.

Delight & Advocacy

Moments of truthYour goal needs to be on delighting customers – but more particularly, knowing when, where, and how to delight them. This is your real opportunity for future growth – how you will achieve your own brand of customer delight. Offering the kinds of experience that surprise and impress the customer and which cause them to become advocates of your service and your business.

Advocacy is one of the most aspired-to statuses in the relationship that a business has with their customers – and it is the one frequently deemed too hard to achieve. But not so when you delight customers with amazing experiences. In today’s socially-networked world people want to have things to talk about and share – and their experience of your business is the one personal aspect that they can talk about.

Designing delight

Any great product can be copied relatively quickly – however, a great service experience is harder to replicate. Just as there are design teams at work on new products, so there needs to be a similar focus on the way a business services its customers and the resultant experience that this delivers.

The people responsible for designing the customer services and experiences often aren’t as formalised in a team structure as the product development team are. They frequently lack the depth of resources that the product design team has. So they need to make up for this in their ingenuity and ability to identify new and innovative ways to offer better services and experiences. And this requires better thinking than is currently being done in organisations.

Your products may be standard for every customer but the service you deliver to a customer is unique to them by their very nature of having unique circumstances that you have met. Delivering this perceived unique and personal experience is the one true way to deliver customer delight – and hence advocacy. This is what you need to strive to achieve.

Identifying customer touchpoints

At every lifecycle stage there are many different touchpoints that the customer could experience. For example in the BUY stage, your in-store touchpoints with the customer may include:

  • Browsing your shelves
  • Watching a demonstration screen of the product
  • Reading the box
  • Using a display model
  • Interacting with a salesperson
  • Carrying the product to the payment point
  • Paying for the item
  • Being offered an extended warranty
  • Being given their purchase in a carrier bag
  • Receiving a receipt
  • Being offered a discount off a next purchase

However, there are potentially many other BUY touchpoints in other channels too. Can your customers buy from you online, or on their mobiles, or through a call-centre? There may even be other retailers that sell your products, and the customer’s touchpoints in those stores will be different to the ones in your own retail channel.

Mulberry Consulting are rated as the leaders in their field for customer journey mapping by Forrester Research. [Note: Mulberry Consulting has recently been bought by CustomersFirst Now]. They use their proprietary Ci Map software to map out the entire touchpoint terrain for a business’s interactions with their customers.

Sample CiMapPlotted customer journey maps showing the route a customer takes in their dealings with you are idealised – and by default are therefore nearly always wrong! They represent the journey that the typical customer will take – but the typical customer never exists. Everyone is an individual with their own needs and preferences and they will follow some variation of any plotted customer journey. Customers have objectives they desire to achieve – they don’t actually plan to go on a journey with you to buy your product.

Mulberry Consulting create a model where they identify every touchpoint that a company has with its customers under each stage of the customer lifecycle. Each touchpoint is mapped on their Ci Map software to create the touchpoint terrain that the business has with its customers. This ensures that every possible interaction the company can have with a customer is identified. This also ensures that whatever the objective or need of the customer – they are guaranteed to be somewhere on that terrain map at any given time. The insightful aspect is that there will only be one touchpoint active at any moment in time – but there will always be a touchpoint active at every moment in time.

The Mulberry Ci Map approach to identifying every customer touchpoint is an ideal mechanism to become a source of customer activity data – and the target for the subsequent re-application of derived customer experience analytics and insights.

Because you can only influence customers at touchpoints, it’s important for businesses to realise that your customers actually live on your touchpoint map! A well-developed (and used) touchpoint map helps you influence the behaviour of customers through the experiences you deliver at each touchpoint.

Each touchpoint needs to be owned by a specific person in the business who is responsible for the development and improvement of the customer’s interaction and experience at that touchpoint. Mulberry’s findings over many years is that frequently there is no specific and responsible owner for each touchpoint – which means the manner in which a company interacts with their customer at that point isn’t being shaped to be the best that it can be.

Developing the touch points

Once every touchpoint has a specific owner, then that person is responsible for boosting that touchpoint to deliver as much customer delight – and business value – from it as is practically possible. Each touchpoint is assessed for the experience it delivers to a customer. Some touchpoints can be identified as problematic areas where the customer’s experience is below the desired standard. These are pain points and need to be addressed and corrected as a matter of urgency.

Browsing in storeOther touchpoints may be recognised as times where a significant impact can be made on the customer. These are the moments of truth (mentioned earlier) and are the defining moments in your relationship with the customer where you have the opportunity to influence them significantly. These touchpoints are your prized possessions and you need to protect and develop them as far as is practical.

Thinking about touchpoints

Every touchpoint owner has the responsibility of boosting their own touchpoints in a way that is (ideally) different and better than anything the competition can offer. This can be achieved through the process of Active Thinking.

For each touchpoint there are a number of questions that can be asked. These need to be hard questions as they are the key to the advancement of your touchpoints – and subsequently yourself as a business. Hard questions are the key to achieving a greater differential for you over your competition. Anyone can ask and answer easy questions, but it takes courage to pose yourself hard questions to answer.

These hard questions will become the Killer Questions that you’ll ask when you apply your Active Thinking. Some examples might be:

  • What things can only we do at this touchpoint that our competition can’t copy?
  • What is the current way we and our competitors interact with our customers at this touchpoint and what will be a bold way to do something different that will be of great value to us?
  • How can I convert this touchpoint into a moment of truth?

How are you going to answer these Killer Questions on developing your customer experiences? And how are they going to change to be different from those of your competition? I’ve covered that in two other posts. Read Why you shouldn’t waste your time brainstorming any more. And then Learn how to undertake an Active Thinking exercise on your customer touchpoints and customer experience design here.

Summarising the steps to your New Model for  Customer Experience

1.  Create your Super-ordinate proposition by:

  • Ensuring you have a valued transactional proposition
  • Designing your service interactions to make you easy to do business with
  • Creating your own service style based on your brand values
  • Knowing where your moments of truth are where you can significantly influence the customer
  • Define your overall business intent

2.  Identify your customer lifecycle model and overlay your Super-ordinate proposition onto each life stage

3.  Create a touchpoint terrain map of every single touchpoint that exists in your business and allocate an owner to each one

4.  Apply Active Thinking to each touchpoint to:

  • Make it a moment of truth for your customer
  • Identify ingenious ways to differentiate it from the competition, and
  • Explore ways to extend it into being a new revenue growth opportunity

If you need more information on how you can transform your customer experiences then either contact Ingenious Growth here or Mulberry Consulting (CustomersFirst Now) here. We have offices in London, New York and Toronto.

 

Try the new Active Thinking project workbook

Active Thinking workbookWith Active Thinking you’ll discover a new way of thinking that helps your business to out-think your competition!

You may want to consider buying one of our Active Thinking project workbooks. The workbook contains a fully-worked through demonstration project that explains how to lead a team through an Active Thinking exercise. The workbook also contains five blank team-thinking project templates and five blank individual-thinking project templates for you to use.

The Active Thinking project workbooks are available here or online from your local Amazon store.

Changing to a new reality

A Skype conversation with an Atlanta book-club barely 60-hours ago prompted this insight.

Facts that seem more like fiction

LectureThe Delicate Force is a fiction book that contains five factual chapters. These chapters are written as lectures by imaginary characters – but the content is entirely factual. The sixth lecture is by the book’s lead character as he summarises what he’s heard and begins to make sense of the universal anomalies presented in the lectures.

Other elements of the fictional story are also based on fact. Events that have happened to me in my life which I can vouch to be absolutely true.

The initial trigger for this book was my curiosity around a number of peculiarly unresolved aspects of science, nature and humanity that I was aware of. However, the more research I did to answer my questions, the more unanswered – and unanswerable – questions I exposed. These questions are the anomalies that exist in our world, and became my purpose in writing The Delicate Force.

Reality that seems more like fiction

During the Skype call, a lady in the Atlanta book-club kindly shared an unfortunate incident from a few days earlier, when her (normally deep-sleeping) husband suddenly woke in the middle of the night at the exact moment a close family member passed on.

How many more of these remarkable occurrences do we need to have, or be aware of, before we begin to whole-heartedly accept and embrace the existence of anomalies in our world?

We are at a tipping point in our existence

In the last five generations, the way we live has put the future existence of humanity at risk. Governments, businesses and individuals all recognise this and want to act to protect the future for our children. But what can individuals do, especially when we are unwilling to sacrifice our current lives full of creature-comforts?

Doing more of the same isn’t going to have the impact we need. We need to be doing something different. We need a much greater number of people to recognise the anomalies that exist all around us. Only when more people begin to realise that reality isn’t as rigid as they believe it to be, can we begin to make changes on the scale that is needed.

There are many people who believe in anomalies as a part of everyday life – because they have personal experience of them happening. Others may not recognise them, or may turn a blind-eye when they occur. For those of us that know these things exist – it’s our responsibility to assist others become aware too.

This will no doubt sound melodramatic – but possible the only way for us to protect our descendants and the environment from what we are doing to the planet, is to recognise that it’s time to tell a story. Your story!

Getting people to change through understanding

I know it can sometimes feel embarrassing to be telling personal stories to people that may seem ‘beyond belief’, but that’s the whole point of the anomalies that occur to us. They are beyond the normal belief that needs to be subject to scientific and logical explanation. However, we know these anomalies exist and we know these anomalies happen – because we experience them ourselves.

To get people to change, we need to help them to understand there’s another layer of reality that individuals can engage with. We can’t do this with proof because there is none – except for our own uncontroversial experience of these anomalies as individuals. To change humanity may seem like an impossible goal. But to change a handful of people is a readily-achievable task for all of us.

Share your story

I’ve shared my personal story with you in The Delicate Force. I included some of the events that happened to me – and the large number of issues that my research has uncovered. However, my story won’t be able to raise the awareness and changes that humanity needs unless you improve it so it becomes your story – and you relate it in your own voice.

People only change their view when they are shown a new truth that changes their feelings. So your challenge is to find five people and explain to them your new truth in a way that influences their feelings. Encourage them to explore the anomalies for themselves – and if my book helps you to help them, then it’s serving its true purpose.

The tipping point is now

BloodlineAs individuals you are all living proof at the end of a long chain of life-development from pond-scum through to who you are today. You represent your bloodline’s ability to survive against seemingly insurmountable odds of natural disasters, famines, plagues, wars – and a host of other natural obstacles.

But pause to think about your impending descendants coming out of your bloodline. In a future potentially-disastrous environment, will they look back and wonder why those who knew at the time – you – failed to act? If we are to help mankind achieve a better future, then it’s your time to act.

However you perceive the Delicate Force to exist and influence you in your life, the world for your descendants tomorrow depends on the stories you are willing to share today. So make The Delicate Force part of your truth. Use the book’s facts to boost your own stories – and share them with others today!

Chris Thomason
04h10 on Sunday 25th January 2015

The Delicate Force coverThe Delicate Force is available online from Amazon

Customer Experience for the UK’s Elite

How do you think the customer experience provided to the United Kingdom’s elite differs between the North and South of the country? I looked at two organisations, Transport for London (TfL) and Scottish Power, and checked out how the online complaint forms for each differ in the way they address customers.

Title dropdown screen

As with most online forms you have to enter personal details and I looked at the ‘Title’ box for each that allows you to state how you’d like to be addressed. Below is the comparison between the options that each organisation offers – and the options are very comprehensive!

Prefixes

While both acknowledge that a significant number of Cardinals submit complaints, Scottish Power appear to have more whinging Archbishops and Bishops than do TfL – but they seem not to bear the bleatings of the insufferable Dowager Ladies that TfL have.

Scottish Power obviously get numerous Admirals and Brigadiers contacting them, but there’s a clear one-upmanship in the South from TfL as they have significant numbers of dis-satisfied (and more senior) Fleet Admirals and Brigadier Generals travelling on the Northern line during a summer rush-hour morning.

It appears that many Princes seem to complain to both organisations. If one were a member of the Royal Family and wanted to complain about one’s service, then one would surely use the most regal title one possessed. That means there are only three people in the British Royal family who would use the title ‘Prince’ – Prince’s Charles, Michael and Harry. I’m sure Prince George grumbles a lot but I doubt that he’s up to complaining online considering he’s only 18 months old. I presume that there must be lots of foreign Princes unhappy about travelling on London’s buses or using Scottish Power to heat their palaces.

It’s odd that TfL include the Scottish title of Laird – but this doesn’t make Scottish Power’s list.

It’s also interesting to note that Scottish Power obviously added additional options, as below Wing Commander, a shorter alphabetically ordered list starting with Abbot appears. Their list of additions is curious in that it consists mainly of religious and military titles. Nice to see that they are being socially inclusive by having Squadron Leader bounded by Right Reverend and Swami.

I use both these organisations in a personal capacity every day and I’m delighted with the services they provide. But it’s cute to see the levels they go to in an effort to provide excellent customer service. Well done to you both!

Active Thinking: A better way of brainstorming

Active Thinking LogoIf the question is identifying business growth opportunities, then the answer is likely to be a brainstorming session. It’s the most-commonly used creative-thinking process around the world. However, conventional brainstorming frequently fails to deliver the hoped-for ideas needed to deliver the required results. Some new and different ideas are always identified in a brainstorming session – but do you believe that’s the best output your team of skilled and experienced people was capable of?

Brainstorming is failing business today – and potentially has been doing so for many years. I’ve written before here on how inherently-inefficient traditional brainstorming is.

It encourages a passive, peaceful, wait-your-turn, unbounded type of thinking, which doesn’t cut it in today’s economic climate. Today’s more-demanding situations need a more-demanding process. A more-focused, harder-driven, yet stimulating approach to thinking – a process of Active Thinking. Where, with the same number of people, in the same period of time, you can achieve significantly better and more relevant outputs.

Setting up an Active Thinking session

Sponsor and facilitator roles

Know your mindThere are two roles involved in setting up an Active Thinking session. There’s the sponsor who needs the outputs, and the facilitator who runs the session. Frequently these two roles will be done by the same person. Whether they are or they aren’t – the preparation work is the same, so let’s assume there are two different people in this case. We’ll also assume there are six people involved in the session (in addition to the facilitator) – which is an optimal number of participants to aim for, and that the duration is ninety-minutes.

The Killer Question

Your Killer Question is that issue – which when answered well – will help you to achieve your goals. The sponsor will normally set the Killer Question – and the facilitator and sponsor jointly identify interesting areas they want to guide the participants through during the Active Thinking session. They can invite others to input regarding what additional areas have been missed. Circulate the Killer Question (not the areas) to the participants beforehand and ask them for feedback (well before the session) whether they feel the Killer Question needs to be changed.

Why do this: In an Active Thinking session it’s important that from the start, everyone is committed to addressing the Killer Question as set. Sort out any changes to it before the session starts to enable everyone to be fully committed to answering it.

Your Killer Question elements

The facilitator needs to have a framework of areas to explore which should be identified in advance of the Active Thinking session. You will need:

  • Three PRIMARY elements of the Killer Question, each printed large on an A4 sheet
  • Six SECONDARY elements of the Killer Question, each printed large on an A4 sheet
  • Three CHALLENGING elements of the Killer Question, each printed large on an A4 sheet.

Why do this: Defining these elements helps lead the participants through the richest areas of the Killer Question. These pre-identified areas offer the greatest chance for success based on the experience of the sponsor, facilitator – and other requested inputs prior to the event.

The PRIMARY elements are those where the bigger potential for success seems likely to lie. The SECONDARY elements are other interesting areas of potential opportunity, while the CHALLENGING elements are those which are edgy, unusual or exciting in some way.

There could be many different ways in which you break your Killer Question down; the choice is up to you. But the aim is to guide the participant’s thinking from one potentially rich area to the next, while ignoring the barren areas in-between. It minimises the wasted time and effort exploring areas deemed to be of little benefit.

An example of a Killer Question might be How can we get more customers to sign up for our new loyalty card?

If this was the question then a PRIMARY element might be If we were to co-brand the card, who would be a good business to work with?

A SECONDARY element may be How do we get more tradesmen to sign up for the card?

And a CHALLENGING element is What’s an innovative, rapid, promotional event we can do that would get national press coverage?

Prepare the ground

Come with the appropriate mind-set

When you invite the participants, ask them for permission to go beyond brainstorming. Invite them to be involved in a better thinking-process that you are running, and ask them to come prepared for a change to the way thinking is done in your business.

Why do this: We’ve all had the rules of brainstorming crammed into our heads so many times that it’s hard to get them out – unless changes are made. Explain that using a different approach – Active Thinking instead of brainstorming – is a different way of thinking. So we need to forget the old brainstorming rules as there’ll be new guidelines to suit a very different process.

There’s an automatic – and potentially negative – association to brainstorming, and this expectation needs to be broken. So refrain from calling it Brainstorming and instead refer to it as an Active Thinking session.

The guidelines for the session

Use these as the guide for running your session. Explain to the participants the different approach you’re going to be taking.

  1. Your company’s future growth is one of the most important and challenging subjects you face. However, brainstorming often tries to encourage a jolly environment – which runs counter to the serious nature of the issue at hand. Would your Board of Directors be expecting such a fun, happy-go-lucky approach to this issue when they depend on your brainstorming session to identify this growth? Imagine the Board are observing your session – make it mentally-stimulating yet stretching of the mind. There’s no need to focus on fun. A keen, professional mind loves to be stretched!
  2. We need to get into the flow zone where we can create a stream of creative consciousness. To help create this state, much of the thinking is done in silence – that’s how we get our best ideas. As the facilitator, discourage people from making comments except when you’ve asked for them. Your aim is to maintain the optimum environment for exceptional mental flow.
  3. For the period of time set aside for your Active Thinking session, strive to keep an intense focus on your issue. At the start get their permission for you to aggressively work their minds, and ask for absolute commitment to achieving this for the next hour or so. You have many years of collective experience in the room just waiting for you to tap into it. Make the best possible use of it that you can.
  4. Only allow snap-feedback where each person briefly reads out their one most-interesting idea from that particular exercise. The purpose of the snap-feedback is to gauge the extent to which people are moving into interesting areas with their most-interesting idea.
  5. There will not be any assessing or selecting of ideas during the session. It will be the responsibility of the facilitator and sponsor to sort-through and review the output afterwards.

 

Vile venues

Companies only have so many meeting rooms that can host a brain storming session – and you’ve probably been in them all many times before. The magnolia colour walls, grey carpeting squares and brown cushioned chairs combine to quench every last creative spark that might wish to surface. The first time you run an Active Thinking session you may want to use one of these standard meeting rooms. However, with practice you’ll realise that you don’t need whiteboards or wall space – and you can run an Active Thinking session almost anywhere that’s got peace and quiet. When you are confident with the process, look for some different locations to stimulate the thinking.

Why do this: If those rooms could talk, their brainstorming personality would need heavy psychotherapy. Any creative session needs uplifted energy – so is this room bringing back memories of great successes from the past – or an anticipation of another wasted hour about to happen?

White-boarding or water-boarding?

Ever noticed how a new idea appears in your mind as a fleeting moment of insight? If you focus on this tenuous, ephemeral thought you can bring it to life – but only if you grasp it in the moment. It’s difficult to do this when sitting around a white-board where people are constantly putting forward their own ideas that they expect you to be focussing on. Making new mental connections that are meaningful often requires quiet and personal focus time – something lacking when sitting around a white-board. It’s a little like water-boarding someone and expecting this to stimulate their creativity.

Why do this: To encourage the new mental connections to form, there will be no led-discussions around a white-board. Instead all thinking is performed in silence to encourage access to each individual’s flow of conscious thought – and to encourage the snowball effect of ideas building on each other in their minds.

Kick-off the session with the Killer Question

Killer QuestionsHave your sponsor set the scene. If the sponsor is a senior manager who can’t attend the session, it’s a powerful kick-starter to begin the session with them explaining the Killer Question, why it’s important to them, and what they will do with the best ideas going forward. And then they can leave. Sometimes this alleviates the HiPPO effect where the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) overly influences the output from the participants.
At this point give each person three sheets of A4 paper and a marker pen and ask them to write the Killer Question down three times – big and bold.

Why do this: It’s an unusual start to a session – but the aim is to embed the Killer Question deep into the subconscious of the participants. It helps to flush the myriad of issues floating around the participants’ minds from their previous meeting, and to replace those with the focus topic that the Active Thinking will address.

Brain dump

Start the session by allowing people to empty their heads of the ideas that are at the forefront of their minds. When they claim to have finished, insist that each person write at least three more ideas on the sticky notes. This flushes out the lingering ideas that are ‘already known’. Don’t bother getting feedback on these. Just collect in all the ideas, then move on to the next exercise.

Why do this: By emptying the participants’ minds, it allows you to lead them through the journey of specific areas where they focus on your issue without having to unload the baggage of old ideas that they’d brought with them.

Think inside the box

think_inside_the_boxThe sky’s the limit. Think outside the box. Blue-sky thinking. There are no limits on ideas.
Misdirected aphorisms like these encourage ideas and solutions which end up being way-beyond the realms of your area of responsibility, available budgets & timeframes, and also have no reasonable practicality of being adopted.

Great thinking knows what the limit is and hovers around this limiting border, trying not to stray too far from it. The unfettered thinking of brainstorming frequently goes way beyond the limits of practicality and into the realm of fantasy-land.

Read out the first of your PRIMARY elements and allow three-minutes for people to capture any ideas within this element. If the writing down of ideas slows, you may want to embellish the primary element in some way. Only give one or two guiding sentences and avoid being too prescriptive – you just want to encourage a little latitude in the participant’s thinking around this specific element. When this cycle is finished ask each person to briefly state their one most-interesting idea. Then pass the A4 sheet with this primary element written on it around and tell the participants to stick their piles of sticky-note ideas onto it. You now have all the answers to that particular element conveniently on one sheet of paper.

Now move on and do the same with your second PRIMARY element, and after collecting that in, do the same with the third element. All your PRIMARY elements have now been considered.

Why do this: You know what your parameters of success are – so work to them. Compared to a design or creative agency – you have many restrictions. You have limited resources and capacity and skill and appetite for risky things. Even though they may be espoused – the adversity to risk will preclude any of the ideas that are deemed to be too extreme. The creative industry is different to you, for a design agency may need a wild idea to work with – but in the typical business scenario, wild will usually mean too risky.

Extended individual Killer Question elements

Give each person one of the pre-printed A4 sheets that state one of the SECONDARY elements. Ask each person to address the issue in front of them by placing their sticky-note ideas onto the sheet. After two-minutes, everyone passes their sheet to the person on their left. No feedback is given at this stage.

Each person repeats the process for the new issue in front of them. They have to first read the ideas that are already stuck on the paper and then add more of their own. Allow three minutes for this cycle, after which everyone again passes their sheet to the person on their left. No feedback is given at this stage.

Each person again repeats the process for the new issue in front of them. They have to first read the ideas that are already stuck on the paper and then add more of their own. Allow five minutes for this cycle. At this point each person states the issue that is in-front of them and gives snap-feedback on the one most-interesting idea of all those stuck on their sheet. The facilitator then collects in all the sheets with their sticky notes on.

Extended paired Killer Question elements

Break into pairs and give each pair one of the A4 printed CHALLENGING Killer Question elements. They have five-minutes to address this issue. At the end of this exercise, one person from each pair states the issue they have and gives snap-feedback on the one most interesting of all the ideas stuck on their sheet. The facilitator then collects in all the sheets with the sticky notes on.

Edgy opportunity areas

Ask each person to think of one ‘edgy, peculiar or exciting’ area where they believe some interesting solutions might lie. Get them to write it down on an A4 sheet in a similar style to the question elements that have been posed before.
The participants then spend one-minute individually to address the issue in front of them by putting sticky-note ideas onto the sheet. After the time is up pass the sheet to the person on the left and repeat the exercise for two-minutes. After this time is up, pass the sheet to the person on the left and repeat again for four-minutes. At this point each person states the issue that is in-front of them and gives snap-feedback on the one most-interesting idea of all those stuck on their sheet.

The facilitator then collects all the sheets with the sticky notes on – and at this point the exercise is essentially complete.

Closing out

You’ve just run an intense ninety-minute Active Thinking session and you’ve worked the participants hard. Ask them how they feel about the process and the outcomes. Was it usefully different? What specific new perspectives or opportunities did they encounter?

Engage the subconscious

Ask the participants to take away one of the A4 sheets on which they wrote the Killer Question down. This issue is now deep within their subconscious. Get them to look at it just before they go to bed – or before they take a shower/bath etc. This will be an interesting exercise for them to engage their subconscious. If they happen to have any more interesting ideas that occur to them on the spur of the moment, ask them if they’d send them to the facilitator in an email to be included in the pool of ideas. The subconscious is an amazingly powerful tool and this is might be an interesting demonstration of it at work for them – and you!

Explain what’s next

The next stage is for the facilitator and sponsor to whittle down the ideas to identify the ones that fall within your remit to execute, or your domain of control. It’s likely that only 10-15% of the ideas will make the cut. Be ruthless – and if you have the experience, allow your intuition to decide what does – and doesn’t – make the cut.

Ask the participants which of them will be willing to give feedback on the selected ideas in a few days from now. From these ideas you will choose the ones that will help you achieve your Killer Question in the most appropriate manner.

Your first Active Thinking cycle is now complete. Well done!

Active Thinking workbook

The Active Thinking project workbook is now available here or online from Amazon. It contains templates for five-team and five-individual Active Thinking exercises.

Chris Thomason is Managing Director of Ingenious Growth, a business growth design company. He is also the author of The Delicate Force which explains what drives our ideas, inspiration and creativity. The Delicate Force is also available from the Amazon online bookstore.

14 surprising reasons why you should stop brainstorming

Growth1In business, growth is king. The targets we need to meet consistently require us to develop new and more creative ways to increase revenues. And when we’re out of good ideas, the natural next step is to set up a brainstorming session. A sure-fire way to deliver lots of practical new ideas, right?

Or perhaps not.

If you find that brainstorming frequently fails on its promise to deliver, you’re not alone. When six people have spent an hour in a room and plastered the walls with scores of sticky-notes – what’s left at the end? Rarely the amazing new idea that was hoped for.

Brainstorming is failing business today – and there’s a good reason for this. Fourteen in fact!

The process of brainstorming was coined in 1953 by Alex Osborn, an ad-agency executive, and it quickly caught the attention and imaginations of many at the time. However, the earliest investigations into the effectiveness of brainstorming happened at Yale University in 1958. The surprising findings were that 48 solo-participants had roughly twice as many ideas as 48 participants formed into brainstorming groups. A panel of judges regarded the individuals’ ideas to be more feasible and effective than those from the groups. Other studies have arrived at similar conclusions.

Keith Sawyer, a psychologist from Washington University, summarized the findings “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”

While a brainstorming group will get more ideas than you ever would working on your own, it’s a fundamentally flawed process. Conventional brainstorming is – to be blunt – a terrible waste of good-people’s time. And here’s why.

Let’s start by looking at the traditional rules of brainstorming to see why they don’t work.

#1 There are no dumb ideas. Encourage wild and exaggerated thinking

There are plenty of dumb ideas. Everyone in a brainstorming session knows that many of the ideas that are created will be impractical, way beyond the scope of the issue, too risky, not aligned to the company values or business aims – and so on. Wild and exaggerated ideas aren’t stupid ideas – they’re just totally impractical pie-in-the-sky stuff. So they might as well be dumb.

#2 Quantity counts at this stage, not quality

No it’s not. Quality is always important. Fewer ideas but with a better sense of quality will always be of more value than a large number of useless ideas.

#3 Don’t criticize other people’s ideas

There’s limited time available in a brainstorming session, and if someone is being consistently way beyond the realistic, then wouldn’t a little constructive guidance help them to potentially create the one idea we are looking for within the likely acceptable zone? Is there any other aspect of business where we encourage people to be wrong? Not offering guidance is a clear failure of any process.

#4 Build on other people’s ideas

Sometimes useful, but often it can start adding weight and credence to an idea that wouldn’t have made the grade if someone hadn’t started to build on it.

#5 Every person and every idea has equal worth

No! Everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute something useful. How they use that time is up to them. Allowing people to wander too far into la-la-land starts to waste their chance for meaningful contributions – and it can also start to lead other people astray too.

#6 Create a fun environment.

The future growth of your company often depends on these brainstorming sessions – so do you think that fun is at the forefront of your Board of Director’s mind? Children need to have fun. Serious professionals relish the chance to stretch their brains. There’ll be more overall satisfaction among the participants if they sense a successful outcome rather than them having a fun time.

#7 Only one person talking at a time

Blocking_Sound_outWhen you’re trying to concentrate on some important thinking issue, do you find it useful to have someone blabbing? Especially when you are supposed to be paying attention to what they’re saying? I doubt it. Our best ideas frequently come when we have moments of silence to consider the issue in our mind. This brainstorming rule ensures that there may only be one person talking at a time – but also that there’s always someone talking.

 

So the basic principles of a brainstorming session are flawed. But that’s not all. There are other deeper issues that cause problems too.

#8 HiPPOs rule the waves

The highest paid person’s opinion (HiPPO) openly and sub-consciously influences what success will look like. What they offer in the way of ideas, how they comment on the ideas of others, the slow-nodding of their head in agreement when they hear a good idea. HiPPOs adversely affect what people say and do in brainstorming sessions. Having a HiPPO in the room can also limit what ideas people voice for fear of making a career-limiting move through the suggestion of an idea which the HiPPO may regard negatively.

#9 Accepting the lowest common denominator

Rather than allowing a motivated individual to develop a feasible idea that they feel passionate about, a brainstorming group often promotes the idea that they feel most comfortable with. This is the lowest common denominator of agreement. It’s similar to agreeing to just take the low-hanging fruit, which invariably consists of lesser, and easier ideas to execute. While the brainstorming group is promoting the lowest common denominator as their recommendation – the best opportunity for the business may invariably be left on the wall.

#10 False anchoring

Early in the session, somebody puts up an idea which gets a supportive comment like “that’s brilliant“. This is a recipe for disaster, for from that moment on, this idea acts as a false anchor or a black hole for thinking. Similarly with a HiPPO’s comment too. The early ideas in a session frequently tend to get prominence, as people openly (or inadvertently) state their pet-idea with some supporting comment designed to influence people. The early ideas (if they are strong) tend to define the terrain and also form immovable anchors. Additionally, people who are the acknowledged experts in their field will invariably tend to provide artificial anchor points through the ideas they voice in a group.

#11 Aggression or agreement

If a team is involved in brainstorming an issue, the general guidelines sit around being supportive and reaching a consensus. However pleasant and warming it may feel, in-breeding isn’t a desirable trait to encourage. Teams need to get outsiders in to strongly challenge their thinking. This is contrary to the brainstorming approach where a team want to be seen to be getting along. Potentially, it’s during this search for new opportunities where the existing ‘pleasant stability’ needs to be most-strongly challenged.

#12 Voting on ideas

Frequently at the end of a brainstorm, people vote on the best ideas to take forward. Unless the team are all responsible for the success of the outcome, the choice of what to do next should be left to the owner of the issue. They, as the responsible person, should decide in the light of a new-day what will be taken forward. In longer ideation sessions that have an overnight break, it’s remarkable how often the priorities identified at the end of the previous day change as a result of the overnight subconscious of the participants being given time to influence – without any formal exercises being done. If a brainstorming group vote on the best idea in a session, it’s demoralising for them when a single person overrides their decision at a later stage.

#13 The illusion of productivity

A group of people working towards the same company goals will invariably feel that their combined skills, knowledge and abilities working in a brainstorming session will have added value to the business. The aforementioned lowest common denominator effect potentially means that they will deliver outputs lower than their potential to achieve. Unfortunately this starts reinforcing beliefs that mediocrity is deemed to be success – and that the process has been successful.

#14 Group-hugs

At the end of a session, it’s customary for the sponsor to thank people and be complimentary about the output. If six people have been in the meeting, five will walk out having been warmly-thanked by the sixth, and feel that they’ve added value in the time they gave up. The sponsor, meanwhile, is left to pull some magic out of a sticky-note hat. One unhappy person, five happy – and the myth of another valuable brainstorming session is perpetuated within the business.

Retiring brainstorming

RetireSo much of the process and structure of a brainstorming session works contrary to what is required to facilitate exceptional, new, business thinking. It was 1953 when Alex Osborn’s book Applied Imagination birthed brainstorming. It was a cutting-edge concept at the time. It thrived in the same corporate offices alongside accounting’s hand-cranked adding-machines and marketing’s action list written in chalk on the blackboard in the director’s office.

Times have changed. The adding machines and blackboards are sitting in landfill sites or museums. But shockingly, a company’s thinking about growth opportunities still hangs on brainstorming.

In 2018 brainstorming will be sixty-five years-old – the official retirement age in most businesses. But any company that is serious in its needs for better growth opportunities should retire it early.

Brainstorming is a broken model with too much ineffective-momentum locked up in it to be able to be turned around. Today is as good-a-day as any to put it out of its misery. Brainstorming is an inefficient thinking process, and business growth deserves something better. It needs to be replaced with a thinking approach that is based upon our contemporary knowledge of how the mind works.

Brainstorming encourages passive thinking – a peaceful, wait-your-turn, unbounded type of thinking. It’s time for a twenty-first century approach to thinking. A more aggressive, focused, and stimulating approach that will help businesses to out-think their competition. And Active Thinking delivers this.

You can read how to run an Active Thinking session here.

Chris Thomason is Managing Director of Ingenious Growth, a business growth design company. He is also the author of The Delicate Force which explains what drives our ideas, inspiration and creativity. The Delicate Force is available from the Amazon online bookstore.

The Delicate Force

The Delicate Force coverMy first book The Delicate Force has just been published. I’ve taken an unusual approach by writing a book which is part fiction and part non-fiction. I’ll let the cover-blurb tell you all about the book…

Do you get ideas that suddenly pop into your head?
Do you have instances of intuition about people or things?
Do strange coincidences sometimes happen to you?

In The Delicate Force, you’ll find out how these things relate to some of the most amazing anomalies that science has discovered — and that you probably aren’t even aware of. In this unusual half-fact, half-fiction story, the facts are so extraordinary that it needs a fictional plot to help you to believe they are true.

Reece Tassicker has a dream about a number he knows he needs to remember. When messages for him start appearing in books, he learns that his future activities are being predicted — to the precise minute. And that someone is mysteriously using this knowledge for their own benefit. As Reece starts to out-think the people who can control his life, he learns there are chinks in our reality that allow us discreet glimpses behind the true nature of the universe. Because our reality isn’t quite as real as we think it is.

He develops new thinking techniques that help him understand what’s happening. But as Reece gets closer to the truth, the mysterious individuals decide to eliminate him, to prevent him from revealing the extraordinary capability they have – and that everybody has.

After reading this book, you’ll be able to recognise the chinks that exist in the reality of your own life. But are you ready for it?
Available from Amazon in the UK here or from your local Amazon sites in other countries.

My week by numbers

In the last week I’ve experienced a few interesting things with numbers.

Harry Potter address

Unusual address 2On Tuesday I was attending a meeting in the Southbank area of London, and came across this address plaque on the way there.

Someone obviously doing a play on Harry Potter’s platform 9¾ here – but a great idea for creating a memorable address for a door that’s partway along your building.

I’m scoring this one as 9.5 out of 10 for ingenuity!

TheKey card

On Thursday I used Southern Rail to travel into London Bridge station. They offer an excellent service called Meet the Managers, where their management team are on the station to discuss any issues that customers have. I’m an early adopter of certain technologies (and a complete laggard in others – but that’s a different story) and I applied for one of their TheKey cards when they were first available at my local station. This is a smart card that allows you to store tickets without having to use paper tickets. It’s a great concept – but I’m having a disastrous time using it from a user experience perspective. Rather than list the litany of faults, I’ll just summarise by saying the overall user experience of booking tickets online and using it in reality is crap.TheKey

But I’m willing to help – and so I spared some of my precious time to suggest changes that would help the customer’s experience – and so increase uptake and usage of the technology. At the Meet the Managers session, a delightful customer services person noted all my concerns and said someone would get back to me to address the issue. And they did.

Now bearing in mind that this card has my name printed on with a 18-digit number and is linked to my TheKey account, one would imagine that their systems should be able to track my usage – and hence problems with using at the gates.

I’ve been asked that the next time I try to use the card would I please note down:

  • The date of usage
  • The time of usage at the entry gate to the exact-minute at my departure station
  • The two-digit error message that appears on the screen when I try to use my card at the departure station
  • The number of the ticket-gate that I use at the departure station
  • The time of usage at the entry gate to the exact-minute at my arrival station
  • The two-digit error message that appears on the screen when I try to use my card at the arrival station
  • The number of the ticket-gate that I use at the arrival station

I must then email all this information back to them so they can see what the issue is. This is quite a big ask of a customer – but I’m willing to help them out. In the past when I’ve tried to advise them of the issues by email, their level of response has fallen well-short of excellent. I’m curious to see how they will respond to the effort I put in.

My score on this is pending – but I’ll keep you informed.

Doctor’s surgery

On Friday I dropped in at our local doctors surgery for a check-up and they have a device to automatically check you in. You enter your basic details on a touchscreen and it confirms your appointment time and tells you where to wait.

Waiting timeIt also tells you how many people are in front of you and what the average waiting time is. In my case the waiting time was expected to be 9.47523333333333 minutes. Clearly the NHS system usability check was performed by someone with severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – or it wasn’t done at all.

I’m grading this one as 9.47523333333333 per cent for poor UX-design testing.

Let’s see what next week brings for numbers.