If you are a trainer, you probably think of yourself as being creative. But are you? Do you have the tools to help groups that are stuck to gain fresh insights? Can you help individuals to generate new workable solutions?
In this article I want to provide an insight into how trainers can apply creative thinking when they find themselves working with people who need to make breakthroughs – and specifically what tools can help course participants to radically shift their energy, understanding and output.
Firstly, let us just agree some of the territory for creativity. There is often a belief in organisations that creativity is the preserve of a small group of people in marketing or new product development. This isn’t so. Not only can everyone be creative, but creativity is a key skill for people as they work with their customers, solve problems and improve their personal effectiveness. For trainers, whenever you are working to help people gain new insights or work in new ways, creativity isn’t just relevant – it is essential.
Another misconception is that creativity takes time. This is nonsense. People can get extremely creative in one minute, but this ties into the blocks that people have about creativity. People reject new ideas because they can’t see how else things would be done. They assume there is only one way of looking at a problem and they accept beliefs, judgements and facts as real. The joy of creative thinking is that it allows us to challenge such ‘fixedness’ and generate new perspectives.
So, as trainers, how do we do this? Well here are a few creativity tools on offer:
Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is a powerful and time efficient problem-solving technique, which is ideal for teams that are stuck. In essence the whole group thinks about a specific problem from six separate perspectives, which are represented by six different colours.
For example, ‘white hat’ thinking is like a white page and helps people to look at their problem from the perspective of ‘what information do we need?’ It provides a neutral, information gathering perspective.
‘Red hat’ thinking is where the team looks at the problem from what they feel about it.
‘Black hat’ thinking gives the team permission to be overtly critical about the issue. The beauty of Six Thinking Hats is that it allows a team to have productive discussions based on different perspectives. Instead of adversarial thinking, it promotes co-operative exploration.
The use of metaphors is another great way for trainers to help trainees develop new insights into difficult situations or problems. The trainer might ask the group to compare the problem they are grappling with to a symbolic metaphor and see how many similarities they can find.
For example, if a team is struggling with meetings, the trainer could ask participants to find the similarities between that problem and, say, ‘having a bath’. Answers might be – ‘it’s hard to get the temperature just right’, ‘there’s never enough time’, ‘it always spills over’ etc. This way, the team can speak about the issue in new ways and generate new insights into their problem.
Situational or solution reversal is another technique which trainers can use to help people overcome their blocks. So, for example, participants are looking at the issue of the best way to make a presentation. In this case the challenge could be restated as ‘how could you guarantee that your presentation would make a negative impact on your client.’ Giving people permission to explore what doesn’t work is extremely enlivening and, more importantly, the resulting answers and ideas can be reversed and examined when they are applied to the original challenge.
There are also a number of useful checklist tools that trainers can use to help delegates generate new ideas. The SCAMMPERR acronym is one of these and it works as follows:
Take a challenge and note what new ideas emerge when:
S. You substitute it – you see what else could be applied in its place.
C. You combine it – you mix, blend or merge your challenge in different ways.
A. You adopt it – you look at what else could be worthy of emulating.
M. You modify – you look at what could be changed to give it a new twist.
M. You magnify or minify it – looking at what could be added or subtracted so that size, time, value or quantity is increased.
P. You put it to other uses.
E. You eliminate it – looking at what could be removed or reduced from the issue.
R. You reverse it and consider its opposites.
R. You rearrange it – looking at possible changes in schedule, layout and pattern.
These are just a few of the tools available. However, the key for trainers is to ensure that creative ideas are considered properly. The easiest way to kill creativity and innovation is to say about a new idea ‘that will never work here’ or to evaluate it too quickly – in other words to allow black hat thinking to dominate.
In this respect, the issue of how to harvest ideas is critical. Creative ideas may not arrive fully formed – they may need shaping, strengthening, adapting and testing. It is up to the trainer to establish the environment in which such conversations and thinking can take place so that real business benefit can be assured.