Tag: problem solving

Examining Business Boundaries

Many business owners think of their business in terms of what they do on a daily basis e.g. farmers milk cows, printers print brochures and jewellers make jewellery. A better way of thinking about your business is to ask the question ‘what is it (of value) that I create and who helps me to do this?’ We should be examining business boundaries. Any other person or business that helps you in terms of creating value, and hence money for your pocket, is in fact an extension of your business.

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How Much Of Your Brain Do You Use?

99% of your brain activity is responsible for your creativity. The trouble is that you are only likely to be aware of the other 1%!

Research suggests that all of your conscious thought makes up less than 1% of your brain activity. The the old saying that “you only use 10% of your brain” is most definitely false. But, it’s amazing that the vast majority of your brain activity is actually going on without you knowing about it.

The generation of new ideas is one thing which happens under wraps . Ideas are generated when your brain takes existing knowledge and memories. It then forms new neural connections which did not previously exist.  Thus it links together and builds on concepts in a new way. This can sometimes generates a solution to a challenge (a new idea).

Your brain works at varying levels during the course of a day. The linking of new neural connections (and hence the generation of ideas) happens best when your brain is in a  more relaxed state . If you are extremely focused on something,  then these activities actually put your brain in a higher level of activity and require greater energy resources. This in turn hinders your brain’s ability to form new connections and generate ideas. So if you work long hours or remain focused for long periods of time  you’re harming you brain’s ability to come up with creative ideas. It is this idea of being relaxed/focused behaviour that has partly led to the creation of the left brain/right brain model.

To improve your idea generation ability, it is therefore important to give your mind an opportunity to get into a relaxed state. Many of history’s eureka moments  have occurred  when no one was expecting them due to their mind being elsewhere. Using brain scans, scientists have been able to show that our brains are more able to generate ideas and come up with better solutions to problems when it has been rested. Here are just a few things that might help your brain attain that relaxed state:

  • Sleeping
  • Showering
  • Exercising
  • Daydreaming
  • Doing anything that  lets your mind wander

You might not be conscious of how much of your brain you use. However, you are actually using all of it. By relaxing a little you might get better at generating ideas. Give it a try!

Problem Solving Through Boundary Relaxation

Boundary examinationWhere are the boundaries?

In business we often seem to be constrained by all sorts of things from statutory rules (red tape), availability of resources and even our own thinking. Sometimes we just make things far too complex. We all need a bit of boundary relaxation.

I remember a time when I was at school (quite a while ago now). I often ended up in detention after school. Often we sat staring at the wall waiting for detention to end. I used to take sweets from the jar in the head mistress’ office (but thats another story). Sometime we would, however, be left in the care of a teacher who tried to be too clever. One day we were asked to write an essay. ‘Can I write about a red London Bus?’ I asked. My friend has already been primed to ask about writing an essay all about a green London Bus. You can almost see what is coming can’t you? The teacher foolishly agreed.

My essay started a little like the following:

Once upon a time there was a red London Bus. The red London Bus had four wheels and an engine. Now this red London Bus with four wheels an engine and a poster on the side was travelling down the road ….  

You can see how this would build into a story that would infuriate a teacher. Don’t forget there was a green version also!

How can we use this approach?

A pair of infuriating schoolboys had simplified the rules surrounding essay writing for that particular occasion. We had written essays that conformed to the requirements. We had relaxed the boundaries and made life simple. The teacher had made some assumptions, He had not tested the ‘givens’, the rules that normally apply in these cases. He could (should) have given us a topic, made us create an essay plan and stipulated the length of the essay.

This was a little like a business transaction in which one side tries to test and possibly manipulate the apparent constraints upon them whilst the other party makes assumptions that are based on previous experiences.

So next time you have a tricky business issue to solve, try seeing if there is any ‘wriggle room’, any way that some of the boundaries can be stretched or even removed. It is often worthwhile trying a little boundary relaxation.

Solving Multi Layered Problems

multi layered problemsWhat is a multi layered problem?

I can hear some readers saying to themselves ‘but I have not got any multi layered problems’. Well have I got news for you (sorry for the plagiarism there). Most problems bar the very simplest are multi level. Asking ‘Why’ over and over again is considered to be an alternative or creative technique for investigating issues. Let us consider the following scenario from a medium sized business.

Initially there are reports that sales are not as good as forecast and so the spotlight falls on the sales force. There are cries to sack and replace salesmen but one thoughtful soul begins to ask why? The following scenario unfolds:

  • Our salesmen are rubbish. Why?
  • Sales are falling. Why?
  • Our product range is out of date. Why?
  • There is no commitment from the boss. Why?
  • The boss has no time. Why?
  • The boss has time management issues.

So you were ready to sack your sales force. But all you really needed to do is to send the boss on a time management course or perhaps get him a secretary to help with his workload.

Solving multi layered problems

Firstly, we have discovered that the initial problem and possible solution are quite a way apart. We have revealed a multi layer problem. Just like the zipper in the picture above or a deep wound, the multi layered problems we encounter must be solved a layer at a time and from the bottom up. Solving the boss’s time management issues will not suddenly make sales leap up but it will allow he/she to devote more time to new products. This will in turn lead to increased sales (if these issues are properly addressed).

And the moral of the story? Solving complex problems requires a little more effort and the problem you initially see is not necessarily the one that needs solving!