Learn how to think better by using productive thinking approaches with Tim Hurson’s book Think Better – An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking.
In the book Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking, Tim Hurson teaches a step-by-step process for dealing with big challenges.
He explains the approach and gives tools and techniques for each step. This makes it something you can apply for yourself and your team.
Success in your life and career is a result of how you think. You don’t have to know everything. Information is far more easily accessible these days. But being able to think in a way that helps you solve problems can help you be far more successful.
“Everybody talks about creativity and innovation these days, but very few actually know how to put them into practice.”Tim Hurson, Think Better
Modes of Thinking
Hurson’s book teaches that productive thinking consists of two distinct activities. Creative thinking and critical thinking. These two modes of thinking are different, and each important for coming up with innovative solutions.
Creative brainstorming is important. It uses techniques and approaches to foster creativity and a large quantity of options.
But once you’ve got many creative ideas, you need to do something with them. You need to assess them and determine the best approach. That’s where critical thinking comes in.
You’ve got to use more analytical approaches to assess the ideas and determine the best course of action.
The two components make up productive thinking.
Productive thinking is Your Competitive Advantage
Most people in the world today have the same access to the same information.
This is no longer what helps people get ahead.
It’s how they use that information that can be helpful. And how they use their brains.
How people think can help them be successful. It’s your competitive advantage.
And thinking better can help people solve problems in the world.
And thinking better is a skill that can be learned. Tim Hurson teaches you how to think better through the instruction in his book.
But thinking is hard work. It takes more calories and oxygen for our brains to work harder.
Hurson points out that it takes effort because we’re working against the way our brains are wired. Our brains tend to switch to monkey mind, moving through a stream of consciousness and distraction. Additionally, our gator brain is often simply reacting to our surroundings.
Additionally, our brains fall into old thinking patterns. Pattern recognition is an important survival mechanism. But following old patterns won’t move you toward new ways of thinking and new ideas.
Keep this in mind as you engage in new ways of finding solutions to tough problems.
Productive Thinking: Creative Thinking vs Critical Thinking
Hurson explains that productive thinking is made up of both creative thinking and critical thinking.
But these have to be separate activities. Usually, we try to do them together. But they’re very different approaches. When we try to do them at the same time, we hinder both processes.
“Productive thinking consists of two distinct thinking skills: creative thinking and critical thinking.”Tim Hurson
Creative thinking has three characteristics:
- Generative: create something from nothing and generating new ideas.
- Non-judgemental – don’t judge ideas while producing them. If you do, you’ll diminish how productive you can be.
- Expansive – continuing to create more ideas from the ones you’ve already generated.
Critical thinking also has three characteristics:
- Is analytical – you explore to try to understand better and unwrap the ideas – dig deeper – to get more meaning.
- judgmental – determine if the ideas meet your success criteria and can serve you.
- Selective – narrows down the choices to the best few.
The creative thinking activities are done first and separate from the critical thinking activities so that you can get the most from each.
Productive Thinking Techniques
Hurson explains several techniques you can use to generate more productive ideas. You can learn how to think better by simply generating a larger quantity of ideas.
Here are several exercises you can use to increase the quantity of ideas you come up with.
Stay in the Question
When you think you know something, you stop questioning, and you’re no longer seeking new information or ideas. For productive thinking, you need to keep questioning even if the answer seems obvious. Stay with the uncertainty and the question.
This is hard to do since we’re wired and trained to jump to conclusions.
Stay with the questions and see as many possible answers as you can.
The Third Third
Good brainstorming sessions follow four rules:
- No criticism
- Freewheeling is welcomed. It’s okay to have wild ideas
- Go for quantity. The more ideas you have, the more likely you’ll have useful ideas
- Improve on or combine ideas for better ones.
The first third of brainstorming sessions produce mediocre ideas.
The second third of a brainstorming session starts to get better.
The third third is where the really good ideas come from. You’ve exhausted the easy ideas and this now you get to the unexpected connections.
Don’t stop at the first right idea. Keep going.
It’s best to work toward getting to the third third.
To do this, use the word “else”. Ask questions like these:
- “how else might we solve the problem?”
- “who else might be involved?”
- What else haven’t we thought of yet?”
Most of your third third ideas will be bad. But you’ll also have some true gems to work with.
Wind Tunnel Exercise
Follow these instructions for the wind tunnel exercise:
- Identify a problem you want to solve or focus on.
- Write it down.
- Set a target: either five minutes (if you’re going to talk about your ideas) or fifty ideas (if you’re going to list them). With more experience you can set bigger targets.
- Now start. Record your ideas in some way -writing or recording.
- After you exhaust the obvious ideas, they’ll start to get better and more creative.
The wind tunnel exercise will force you to create so many ideas that you’ll get some great ones.
Hurson’s Productive Thinking Model
Hurson’s productive thinking model helps you generate many possible solutions to tough challenges. It can be used for many types of problems. And, it’s practical and easy to learn.
He breaks it down into steps and explains each, along with activities you can do for each step. He explains exactly how to think better with a step-by-step guide, along with activities for each.
Step One: What’s Going On?
In the first step, you fully explore the issue. Do this by going through five questions.
5 Questions to help you explore an issue:
1. What’s the itch?
List what needs fixing or improving. Create a long list of all possible problems, then pick the ones that best express the issue.
Ask questions that could help you identify more potential problems. Look at all kinds of possible problems or itches you may have – be comprehensive in your approach.
Then once you have a big list you can group them using affinity mapping.
Use an affinity mapping approach.
Now that you have grouped your itches you can get a better view of what you would like to address. Think about where it would be best to focus your attention. Where can you get the best results or make the most impact or make the biggest difference?
2. What’s the Impact?
Make a long list of the ways that this problem is a concern. Ask questions about the impacts and what bothers you about them. Then narrow this down to what’s most important.
Once you’ve created a long list of choices. Then narrow them down to a of what’s most important
3. What’s the information?
Explore what information you have about the problem. Look at causes, effects, and hidden assumptions. Make a list and choose the best to focus on.
4. Who’s involved?
Who are the stakeholders and how are they each impacted? Is anyone contributing? Does anyone benefit if things change or stay the same? Make a list and choose the most important.
5. What’s the vision?
Shift your focus to a powerful “Target Future” or desired goal. Make a list of possible Target Futures you can envision. Then choose the best one for your purpose. You need to be able to envision a future with a great outcome. Craft a target future statement in a way that gets you and your team excited.
Don’t rush this step. You’re building a foundation for your decision making and solutions. Give these activities the time they need.
You may even need to provide some mental incubation time. Turn your attention away from the problem and go for a walk or take some type of break to allow ideas to incubate for a bit. Don’t force or rush it. Give this portion the time it needs, and you’ll lay a great foundation to build on.
Step 2: What’s Success?
The next step is to establish your success criteria that you’ll measure your solutions against.
You want to create a compelling vision that excites people and makes them want to stay focused on the new way of doing things. Help them imagine a compelling and wonderful future so they’ll be pulled toward it.
Remember that people tend to resist change, go back to old ways of doing things, or get distracted. You need to create a vision that will keep their attention.
Your imagination is one of your biggest assets. Use it to your advantage. Let yourself imagine the ideal future to inspire and motivate you and also get great ideas.
Even if you and your team come up with unrealistic dreams, you’re still shooting for a target that will move you to a better result.
Hurson explains the Imagined Future Excursion exercise to come up with a great ideal future.
He also explains in detail the DRIVE exercise to help you develop your list of success criteria.
DRIVE is an exercise that helps you define a successful outcome.
D = Do. What do you want your solution to do?
R = Restrictions. What changes you need to avoid?
I = Investment. What resources can you allocate, and what are your limits?
V = Values. What values do you need to follow in achieving your goals?
E = Essential outcomes. What targets do you need to meet?
Step Three: What’s the Question?
In this step you will develop the essential questions that must be answered to reach your Target Future. It’s like the problem definition phase of many problem-solving models, but you turn problem statements into questions in order to stimulate better thinking.
One problem statement might be “We can’t reach the right stakeholders.” Instead, convert this to a question such as “How can we reach the right stakeholders?”
Generate a long list of questions. Then narrow your choice down to two key questions that can help you solve the issue.
Hurson suggests using the “How might I or how might we” approach as a great way to think of questions. He also suggests ways to approach this question from different angles and perspectives to generate even more ideas.
Look for questions that seem unusual or those that make you uneasy. Those may hold the most promise.
It’s important to make sure you’re addressing the right question. Once you move on to developing solutions, you want to be sure you’re doing so for the right problem!
Step 4: Generate Answers
Generate as many ideas as possible. People generally think of this step as brainstorming.
This is the idea generation phase in which you make a long list of ways to solve the strategic questions you chose in step 3.
In order to get many good ideas, you’ll need to generate even more failed ideas. But don’t worry about that. Aim for quantity: practical, impossible, unaffordable, and those borrowed from other fields.
Some tricks to stimulate more creative thinking are questions like “how else might you solve this problem?” Adding the word “else” can help.
And you can try other questions such as “how might a child answer this question? Your boss? Your neighbor?” and keep going with stimulating questions to get new ideas.
Make connections between ideas you’ve come up with for even more creative ideas.
Then select the ideas that seem most promising to explore and develop more fully. These will not be fully developed ideas, but instead they are the most intriguing ideas that you’ll want to explore more fully.
Now you’ve got to go through the answers to find some good ones. The C5 exercise help with this:
- Cull – take out those that are far too crazy to try. Don’t completely throw them out. Just set them aside for now.
- Cluster – Group similar items in groups of no more than 5. If you have more than 5, make another grouping.
- Combine – combine items that are very similar. The book gives the example of “a clock that runs away from you” and “a clock that jumps off the nightstand” grouped as “a clock that runs away from you by jumping off the nightstand.”
- Clarify – “Label each cluster with a descriptive statement that captures the essence of each of its ideas.”
Don’t dismiss your crazy ideas
Also now go back to the crazy ideas. It’s best to assess those separate from the others so you can evaluate them more thoughtfully. If you evaluate them alongside more reasonable ideas, the group will more likely quickly dismiss them.
For the crazy ideas, understand the underlying principle of the idea, and how can it be applied. You may get some great ideas from these.
Choose the best ideas
Choose the clusters you want to explore further.
Following your gut can be a good guide here.
Check with your success criteria.
Ideally, aim for between three to six promising ideas. They’re not fully developed yet. You’ll do that in the next step.
Step 5: Forge the Solution
Take your most promising ideas from the last step and develop them into solutions. Do this in two steps:
Take the most promising ideas and evaluate them against your success criteria. Choose the one that best meets your success criteria.
You can do this be scaling your success criteria back to three to five items like deal breakers, so you don’t have to go through a ton of success criteria. You can add more later if needed.
Refine that best idea into a robust solution.
Craft a clear explanation of one or more solutions that meet your success criteria and solve the problem.
Step 6: Align Resources
This step involves creating a plan to put your solution in place.
Though plans often don’t go as expected, the act of planning is valuable:
- Gives you the chance to learn what’s needed
- Gets buy-in and commitment from team members
- Helps you envision success
Define the tasks. Define the resources needed. Create a timeline.
You’re basically creating an action plan of what you’ll do to put your plan in place, and who will carry out and be responsible for each step.
Hurson’s book Think Better gives step-by-step guidance through the innovation process. He explains the different modes of thinking and how to apply them. He explains tools to help with more productive thinking. He gives ample examples to help you understand more fully.
And through all this he does indeed help you know how to think better.
Hurson’s appraoch certainly has lots of value. I’ve facilitated many project development and risk workshops using a ‘Value Management’ method based on Checkland’s ‘Soft Systems Methodology’. In more discursive areas, the VM way can be less helpful, but Hurson’s approach fills the gap very nicely.