Innovation tools for the Management Writer

Creativity Techniques 

The tools in this section can help you to become more creative. They are designed to help you devise creative and imaginative solutions to problems, and help you to spot opportunities that you might otherwise miss.

Before you continue, it is important to understand what we mean by creativity, as there are two completely different types. The first is technical creativity, where people create new theories, technologies or ideas. This is the type of creativity we discuss here. The second is artistic creativity, which is more born of skill, technique and self-expression. Artistic creativity is beyond the scope of these articles.

Many of the techniques in this chapter have been used by great thinkers to drive their creativity. Albert Einstein, for example, used his own informal variant of Provocation   to trigger ideas that lead to the Theory of Relativity.

Approaches to Creativity

There are two main strands to technical creativity: programmed thinking and lateral thinking. Programmed thinking relies on logical or structured ways of creating a new product or service. Examples of this approach are Morphological Analysis   and the Re framing Matrix  .

The other main strand uses ‘Lateral Thinking’. Examples of this are Brainstorming  , Random Input   and Provocation . Lateral Thinking has been developed and popularized by Edward de Bono.

Programmed Thinking and Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking recognizes that our brains are pattern recognition systems, and that they do not function like computers. It takes years of training before we learn to do simple arithmetic – something that computers do very easily. On the other hand, we can instantly recognize patterns such as faces, language, and handwriting. The only computers that begin to be able to do these things do it by modeling the way that human brain cells work . Even then, computers will need to become more powerful before they approach our ability to handle patterns.

The benefit of good pattern recognition is that we can recognize objects and situations very quickly. Imagine how much time would be wasted if you had to do a full analysis every time you came across a cylindrical canister of effervescent fluid. Most people would just open their can of fizzy drink. Without pattern recognition we would starve or be eaten. We could not cross the road safely.

Unfortunately, we get stuck in our patterns. We tend to think within them. Solutions we develop are based on previous solutions to similar problems. Normally it does not occur to us to use solutions belonging to other patterns.

We use lateral thinking techniques to break out of this patterned way of thinking.

Lateral thinking techniques help us to come up with startling, brilliant and original solutions to problems and opportunities.

It is important to point out that each type of approach has its strength. Logical, disciplined thinking is enormously effective in making products and services better. It can, however, only go so far before all practical improvements have been carried out. Lateral thinking can generate completely new concepts and ideas, and brilliant improvements to existing systems. In the wrong place, however, it can be sterile or unnecessarily disruptive.

Taking the Best of Each…

A number of techniques fuse the strengths of the two different strands of creativity. Techniques such as the Concept Fan   use a combination of programmed and lateral thinking. DO IT   and Min Basadur’s Simplex   embed the two approaches within problem solving processes. While these may be considered ‘overkill’ when dealing with minor problems, they provide excellent frameworks for solving difficult and serious ones.

The Creative Frame of Mind

Often the only difference between creative and uncreative people is self-perception. Creative people see themselves as creative and give themselves the freedom to create. Uncreative people do not think about creativity and do not give themselves the opportunity to create anything new.

Being creative may just be a matter of setting aside the time needed to take a step back and allow yourself to ask yourself if there is a better way of doing something. Edward de Bono calls this a ‘Creative Pause’. He suggests that this should be a short break of maybe only 30 seconds, but that this should be a habitual part of thinking. This needs self-discipline, as it is easy to forget.

Another important attitude-shift is to view problems as opportunities for improvement. While this is something of a cliché, it is true. Whenever you solve a problem, you have a better product or service to offer afterwards.

Using Creativity

Creativity is sterile if action does not follow from it. Ideas must be evaluated, improved, polished and marketed before they have any value. Other sections of Mind Tools lay out the evaluation, analysis and planning tools needed to do this. They also explain the time and stress management techniques you will need when your creative ideas take off.

Concept Cards™ – Innovation Tool for Developing Insights

Concept cards is one of the tools we use in innovation consulting engagements to help client teams develop insights.   Concept Cards™ – single frame documents that make complex concepts accessible and usable in the planning process.

Imagine having a hundred or several hundred concepts from in and around your business and industry, from the environment, from psychology, from business models, and from management theory to combine and recombine – to play with to stimulate creative conversation and insight. That could be invaluable to helping to create the innovative products and services needed to be a leader in your industry.

 6-3-5 Brainwriting

6-3-5 Brainwriting (also known as the 6-3-5 Method, or Method 635) is a group creativity technique used in marketing, advertising, design, writing and product development originally developed by Professor Bernd Rohrbach in 1968.

Based on the concept of Brainstorming, the aim of 6-3-5 Brainwriting is to generate 108 new ideas in half an hour. In a similar way to brainstorming, it is not the quality of ideas that matters but the quantity.

The technique involves 6 participants who sit in a group and are supervised by a moderator. Each participant thinks up 3 ideas every 5 minutes. The ideas are written down on a worksheet and passed on to the next participant. The participant reads the ideas and uses them as inspiration for more ideas. Participants are encouraged to draw on others’ ideas for inspiration, thus stimulating the creative process. After 6 rounds in 30 minutes the group has thought up a total of 108 ideas.

Brainwriting is simple. Rather than ask participants to yell out ideas (a serial process), you ask them to write down their ideas about a particular question or problem on sheets of paper for a few minutes; then, you have each participant pass their ideas on to someone else, who reads the ideas and adds new ideas. After a few minutes, you ask the participants to pass their papers to others, and the process repeats. After 10 to 15 minutes, you collect the sheets and post them for immediate discussion.

The number of ideas generated from brainwriting often exceeds what you’d expect from face-to-face brainstorming because you’ve reduced anxiety somewhat, followed a parallel process in which a dozen people may add items simultaneously, and reduced the amount of extraneous talk that happens during brainstorming, which takes time away from idea generation.

Attribute Listing, Morphological Analysis and Matrix Analysis

Tools for Creating New Products and Services

Attribute listing was pioneered in 1931 by Robert Platt Crawford in his course on creative thinking. The technique takes an attribute or idea from one thing and applies it to another. The task of creating the ideas is more than just the process of combining things; an essential element of the process is the Attribute Listing Matrix (ALM) where the features, attributes and ideas are listed.

The Bahco Ergo Screwdriver was developed through a focus on the attributes of its handle both in terms of safety (preventing repetitive strain injury) and that at some point most people want to use a screwdriver with both hands, which meant the handle had to be redesigned.

Attribute listing is a means of getting you to focus on as many attributes of a product or problem as possible. In breaking down the elements of a problem or object, you can look at each in turn and generate new ideas. The technique is particularly useful for considering complex products or processes in that it allows you to consider each feature or stage and look at the associated attributes in detail. You can also specify the criteria by which you want to examine an attribute, for example it could be quality, cost or speed of production. You can also look at the attributes from a range of perspectives:

  • Physical attributes: shape, form, colour, texture
  • Social attributes: responsibilities, taboos, roles, power
  • Process attributes: selling, marketing, production
  • Psychological attributes: needs, motivation, emotions
  • Price attributes: cost to the customer, manufacturer, supplier
How could this basic product be changed?

Attribute Listing, Morphological Analysis and Matrix Analysis are good techniques for finding new combinations of products or services. They are sufficiently similar to be discussed together. We use Attribute Listing and Morphological Analysis to generate new products and services.

How to Use the Tools

To use the techniques, first list the attributes of the product, service or strategy you are examining. Attributes are parts, properties, qualities or design elements of the thing being looked at. For example, attributes of a pencil would be shaft material, lead material, hardness of lead, width of lead, quality, color, weight, price, and so on. A television plot would have attributes such as characters, actions, locations, and weather. For a marketing strategy you might use attributes of markets open to you, uses of the product, and skills you have available.

Draw up a table using these attributes as column headings. Write down as many variations of the attribute as possible within these columns. This might be an exercise that benefits from brainstorming  . The table should now show all possible variations of each attribute.

Now select one entry from each column. Either do this randomly or select interesting combinations. By mixing one item from each column, you will create a new mixture of components. This is a new product, service or strategy.

Finally, evaluate and improve that mixture to see if you can imagine a profitable market for it.


Imagine that you want to create a new lamp. The starting point for this might be to carry out a morphological analysis. Properties of a lamp might be power supply, bulb type, size, style, finish, material, shade, and so on.

You can set these out as column headings on a table, and then brainstorm variations. This table is sometimes known as a “Morphologial Box” or “Zwicky Box” after the scientist Fritz Zwicky, who developed the technique in the 1960s.

Power Supply Bulb Type Size Style Finish Material
Battery Halogen Very Large Modern Black Metal
Mains Bulb Large Antique White Ceramic
Solar Daylight Medium Roman Metallic Concrete
Generator Colored Small Art Nouveau Terracotta Bone
Crank Hand held Industrial Enamel Glass
Gas Ethnic Natural Wood
Oil/Petrol Fabric Stone
Flame Plastic

Interesting combinations might be:

  • Solar powered/battery, daylight bulb – possibly used in clothes shops to allow customers to see the true color of clothes.
  • Large hand cranked arc lights – used in developing countries, or far from a mains power supply.
  • A ceramic oil lamp in Roman style – used in themed restaurants, resurrecting the olive oil lamps of 2000 years ago.
  • A normal table lamp designed to be painted, wallpapered or covered in fabric so that it matches the style of a room perfectly.

Some of these might be practical, novel ideas for the lighting manufacturer. Some might not. This is where the manufacturer’s experience and market knowledge are important.

Key Points

Morphological Analysis, Matrix Analysis and Attribute Listing are useful techniques for making new combinations of products, services and strategies.

You use the tools by identifying the attributes of the product, service or strategy you are examining. Attributes might be components, assemblies, dimensions, color, weight, style, speed of service, skills available, and so on.

Use these attributes as column headings. Underneath the column headings list as many variations of that attribute as you can.

You can now use the table or “morphological box”, by randomly selecting one item from each column, or by selecting interesting combinations of items. This will give you ideas that you can examine for practicality.


  • Attribute Listing focuses on the attributes of an object, seeing how each attribute could be improved.
  • Morphological Analysis uses the same basic technique, but is used to create a new product by mixing components in a new way.
  • Matrix Analysis focuses on businesses. It is used to generate new approaches, using attributes such as market sectors, customer needs, products, promotional methods, and so on

AIDA: Attention-Interest-Desire-Action

Inspiring Action With Your Writing

© iStockphoto/LyaC

 “Free gift inside!”
“Dear Jim, You have been specially selected.”
“Calling all Parents.”

Every day we’re bombarded with headlines like these that are designed to grab our attention. In a world full of advertising and information – delivered in all sorts of media from print to websites, billboards to radio, and TV to text messages – every message has to work extremely hard to get noticed.

And it’s not just advertising messages that have to work hard; every report you write, presentation you deliver, or email you send is competing for your audience’s attention.

As the world of advertising becomes more and more competitive, advertising becomes more and more sophisticated. Yet the basic principles behind advertising copy remain – that it must attract attention and persuade someone to take action. And this idea remains true simply because human nature doesn’t really change. Sure, we become increasingly discerning, but to persuade people to do something, you still need to grab their attention, interest them in how your product or service can help them, and then persuade them to take the action you want them to take, such as buying your product or visiting your website.

The acronym AIDA is a handy tool for ensuring that your copy, or other writing, grabs attention. The acronym stands for:

  • Attention (or Attract)
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action.

These are the four steps you need to take your audience through if you want them to buy your product or visit your website, or indeed to take on board the messages in your report.

A slightly more sophisticated version of this is AIDCA/AIDEA, which includes an additional step of Conviction/Evidence between Desire and Action. People are so cynical about advertising messages that coherent evidence may be needed if anyone is going to act!

How to Use the Tool

Use the AIDA approach when you write a piece of text that has the ultimate objective of getting others to take action. The elements of the acronym are as follows:

1. Attention/Attract

In our media-filled world, you need to be quick and direct to grab people’s attention. Use powerful words, or a picture that will catch the reader’s eye and make them stop and read what you have to say next.

With most office workers suffering from e-mail overload, action-seeking e-mails need subject lines that will encourage recipients to open them and read the contents. For example, to encourage people to attend a company training session on giving feedback, the email headline, “How effective is YOUR feedback?” is more likely to grab attention than the purely factual one of, “This week’s seminar on feedback”.

2. Interest

This is one of the most challenging stages: You’ve got the attention of a chunk of your target audience, but can you engage with them enough so that they’ll want to spend their precious time understanding your message in more detail?

Gaining the reader’s interest is a deeper process than grabbing their attention. They will give you a little more time to do it, but you must stay focused on their needs. This means helping them to pick out the messages that are relevant to them quickly. So use bullets and subheadings, and break up the text to make your points stand out.

For more information on understanding your target audience’s interests and expectations, and the context of your message, please read about Rhetorical Triangle.  

3. Desire

The Interest and Desire parts of AIDA go hand-in-hand: As you’re building the reader’s interest, you also need to help them understand how what you’re offering can help them in a real way. The main way of doing this is by appealing to their personal needs and wants.

So, rather than simply saying “Our lunchtime seminar will teach you feedback skills”, explain to the audience what’s in it for them: “Get what you need from other people, and save time and frustration, by learning how to give them good feedback.”

Feature and Benefits (FAB)

A good way of building the reader’s desire for your offering is to link features and benefits. Hopefully, the significant features of your offering have been designed to give a specific benefit to members of your target market.

When it comes to the marketing copy, it’s important that you don’t forget those benefits at this stage. When you describe your offering, don’t just give the facts and features, and expect the audience to work out the benefits for themselves: Tell them the benefits clearly to create that interest and desire.

Example: “This laptop case is made of aluminum,” describes a feature, and leaves the audience thinking “So what?” Persuade the audience by adding the benefits”.giving a stylish look, that’s kinder to your back and shoulders”.

You may want to take this further by appealing to people’s deeper drives”… giving effortless portability and a sleek appearance and that will be the envy of your friends and co-workers.”

4. Conviction

As hardened consumers, we tend to be skeptical about marketing claims. It’s no longer enough simply to say that a book is a bestseller, for example, but readers will take notice if you state (accurately, of course!), that the book has been in the New York Times Bestseller List for 10 weeks, for example. So try to use hard data where it’s available. When you haven’t got the hard data, yet the product offering is sufficiently important, consider generating some data, for example, by commissioning a survey.

5. Action

Finally, be very clear about what action you want your readers to take; for example, “Visit now for more information” rather than just leaving people to work out what to do for themselves.

Key Points

AIDA is a copywriting acronym that stands for:

  • Attract or Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action.

Using it will help you ensure that any kind of writing, whose purpose is to get the reader to do something, is as effective as possible. First it must grab the target audience’s attention, and engage their interest. Then it must build a desire for the product offering, before setting out how to take the action that the writer wants the audience to take.

Gordon Little Technique

The idea behind this problem-solving technique is to encourage you to step as far away from a particular problem as possible. Developed by William Gordon (of Arthur D Little Consulting) in the 1960s, it involves a process of progressively more detailed revelation, to avoid defining the problem too soon and limiting possible solutions. He built this approach in response to a problem he witnessed with classical brainstorming whereby people begin the process by giving what they regard as ideal or obvious solutions and then their creativity trails away.


The purpose of the technique is to bring you out of the immediate detail of a particular problem. For example, instead of asking, “How do we get our audiences to spend another £2 each per visit,” you might ask:

  • “How do we make our audiences happy?”
  • After exploring this question in a little more detail you might ask, “How can we provide good customer service?”
  • Once answers to that question have finished you would get more specific still, “What do our audiences want from our programme/activities?”
  • Finishing with your original question, “How do we get our audiences to spend another £2 each per visit?”

It is mainly a tool for group discussion to ensure you get as wide a range of perspectives as possible, but you could try using it on your own with post-its and large sheets of paper for doodling your answers. (You would have to suspend your knowledge of the final question though!)

The Tool

This tool takes you through the technique and is ideally undertaken by a group. It is suitable for businesses of any scale or purpose. Set up a group and give yourselves enough time to work through the various layers of the problem, probably two to three hours.

The Reframing Matrix

Generating Different Perspectives

Things look different when you change perspective.

© iStockphoto

When you’re stuck on a problem, it often helps to look at it from another perspective. This can be all that you need to do to come up with a great solution.

However, it is sometimes difficult to think about what these perspectives might be.

This is when a tool like the Reframing Matrix is useful. In this article, we’ll look at how you can use it to look at problems from different perspectives.

About the Matrix

The Reframing Matrix tool was created by Michael Morgan, and published in his 1993 book, “Creating Workforce Innovation.” It helps you to look at business problems from various perspectives. Using these, you can come up with more creative solutions.

The approach relies on the fact that different people with different experiences are likely to approach problems in different ways. The technique helps you put yourself into the minds of different people, imagine the way that they would face these problems, and explore the possible solutions that they might suggest.

How to Use the Tool

The Reframing Matrix is very easy to use. All you’ll need is a pen and paper to get started.

Step 1: Draw the Grid

Start by drawing a simple four-square grid, like the one pictured in figure 1 below.

Leave a space in the middle of the grid to define your problem, and then write the problem that you want to explore in this space.

Figure 1 – Reframing Matrix Step 1

Blank Reframing Matrix

From ‘Creating Workforce Innovation’ by Michael Morgan, p.75. © 1993. First published by Allen & Unwin, New South Wales. Reproduced with permission from Allen & Unwin.


The boxes around the grid are there for your different perspectives. If this four-box approach doesn’t suit you, feel free to change it.

Step 2: Decide on Perspectives

Now, decide on four different perspectives to use in your matrix. Two useful approaches for doing this are the 4Ps Approach and the Professions Approach.

The 4Ps Approach (not to be confused with the 4Ps of marketing  ) helps you look at problems from the following perspectives:

  • Product perspective: Is there something wrong with the product or service? Is it priced correctly? How well does it serve the market? Is it reliable?
  • Planning perspective: Are our business plans, marketing plans, or strategy at fault? Could we improve these?
  • Potential perspective: How would we increase sales? If we were to seriously increase our targets or our production volumes, what would happen with this problem?
  • People perspective: What are the people impacts and people implications of the problem? What do people involved with the problem think? Why are customers not using or buying the product?

(These are just some of the questions that you can ask as you look at your problem using these four perspectives.)

The Professions Approach helps you look at the problem from the viewpoints of different specialists, or stakeholders  . For instance, the way a doctor looks at a problem would be different from the approach that a civil engineer or a lawyer would use. Or the way a CEO sees a problem may be different from the way an HR manager would see it.

This approach can be especially useful when you’re trying to solve a problem that involves many different types of people, or if you need step away from your usual way of thinking so that you can be more creative.

Step 3: Brainstorm Factors

Finally, brainstorm   factors related to your problem from each perspective, and add these in to the appropriate quadrant of the matrix.

Once you’ve completed the matrix, you’ll have a better understanding of your problem, and you’ll be able to generate more solutions.

Tip 1:

The Perceptual Position  technique can be useful when you want to see things from other people’s viewpoints.

Tip 2:

CATWOE  has a similar approach. This asks you to look at a problem from the perspectives of Customers, Actors, the Transformation process, the World view, the Owner, and Environmental constraints.

Example Reframing Matrix

In the example in figure 2, below, a manager has used the 4Ps approach to explore why a new product is not selling well.

Figure 2 – Example Reframing Matrix

Example Reframing Matrix

Key Points

The Reframing Matrix tool was originally created by Michael Morgan, and published in his book “Creating Workforce Innovation.” It helps you to look at a problem from different perspectives.

You use the tool by drawing a simple four-square grid and putting your problem or issue in the middle of the grid.

You then choose four different perspectives that you will use to look at your problem, and brainstorm factors related to your problem, starting with each of those perspectives.


Provocation is a lateral thinking technique. It works by disrupting established patterns of thinking, and giving us new places to start.

A key way that we think is by recognizing patterns and reacting to them. These reactions come from our past experiences, and from logical extensions of those experiences; and it’s often hard to think outside these patterns. While we may know a good answer as part of a different type of problem, the structure of our brains can make it difficult for us to access this.

Provocation is a tool that we can use to make links between these patterns. In this article, we’ll review Provocation, and discuss how you can use it to come up with creative ideas and solutions to problems.

About the Tool

The Provocation technique was developed and popularized by psychologist Edward de Bono.

You use provocation by making deliberately wrong or unreasonable statements (provocations), in which something you take for granted about the situation isn’t true.

For instance, the statements “Cars have square wheels” or “Houses have no roofs” can be provocations.

Statements need to be outrageous like this to shock your mind out of existing ways of thinking. Once you’ve made a provocative statement, you then suspend judgment and use that statement to generate ideas, giving you original starting points for brainstorming   and creative thinking.

Understanding Provocation

Here’s a useful way of thinking about the technique.

Imagine you take the same route to work every day. You’re so used to it that you stop noticing the scenery, and you don’t even have to think about which route to take to get to your office.

We can use this as an analogy for our normal approach to brainstorming, where we habitually follow the same track, or steps, when we brainstorm. This limits our creativity, because any forward movement is based on the step or idea we had before.

Now, imagine that you’re leaving for work and, suddenly, you’re magically transported to an entirely new location. You’ve never been to this place before, and nothing is familiar! If this happened, you’d have to start figuring out where you were, and how you were going to take a new route to work.

This is what provocation does, and it’s why it can be so useful. Its purpose is to take you outside the routes that you normally think along, and put you in an entirely new place. Then, it’s up to you to work back to where you want to be.

When you do this, you’re addressing problems from a new perspective, and, hopefully, you’ll generate new ideas.

Using the Technique

Provocation is quite straightforward to use, although it can be challenging when you first start.

All you do is make a shocking or outrageous statement about the problem you’re trying to solve. Then, you begin to work back through several further steps.


The technique is most useful when your provocations are far-out. De Bono suggests that at least 40 percent of your provocations should be completely unusable. If you make “safe” statements, you won’t get the full value of the technique.

Step 1: Create the Provocation

It can sometimes be difficult to come up with a provocation, simply because our brains are hard-wired to come up with sensible solutions.

One way to get started with provocations is the “escape method.” Here, you make a statement that everyone takes for granted. This “take for granted” statement should be related to the problem you’re trying to solve. Once you’ve created a take for granted statement, you can then come up with a provocative statement to counter it.


Due to severe budget cuts, you need to come up with ways to bring in more revenue to your department for things like staff gifts, holiday parties, and little extras for the office. So, your take for granted statement would be: “We take for granted the fact that the department needs to bring in more money.”

The provocation to this assumption would be: “The department doesn’t need to earn money”.

Step 2: Create Movement/Ideas

Once you’ve made a provocation, you need to imagine what would come next. This is called the “moment-to-moment” technique. Essentially, you’re going to imagine, on a moment-by-moment basis, what comes next.


Provocation: The department doesn’t need to earn money.

Moment-by-Moment: Employees are coming to work, but not to make money. Because they’re no longer trying to make a profit for the department, they decide to start working on creative pursuits during the day.

Because the employees feel so free to be creative, they begin to come up with all kinds of product ideas, artwork, and volunteer opportunities. They start to improve the department to make it a more pleasant and stimulating place. Morale and camaraderie improves since competition isn’t an issue any longer, and the hierarchy of the department breaks down since there’s no difference between entry-level workers and management.

Keep in mind that as you use the moment-by-moment technique, you don’t have to follow one line of thinking. You’ll get the greatest value from provocation if you try to come up with several alternative ideas, stemming from your initial provocation.

There are several other ways that you can create movement and ideas from your provocation. Examine:

  • The consequences of the statement.
  • What the benefits would be.
  • What special circumstances would make it a sensible solution.
  • The principles needed to support it and make it work.
  • How it would work, moment-to-moment.
  • What would happen if a sequence of events was changed.
  • The differences between the provocation and a sensible solution.

You can use this list as a checklist to help you brainstorm.

Step 3: Extract Value

Keep in mind that your goal is not to prove that your provocation is useful or justified. Your goal is to generate ideas that are separate from the provocation.

You extract value from the provocation by taking one of those ideas, and turning it into a viable solution to your problem.


Your initial problem was to come up with ideas that would add revenue to your department. And, you came up with a few possible solutions once you used the moment-by-moment technique.

You could give employees days off from their regular work to pursue some creative ideas within the department. They might come up with some innovative products or processes that would add revenue.

Another out-of-the-box solution might be to make full use of your team’s creativity. For instance, you could encourage your team to create some art and donate to a team “art sale” for the rest of the company. The profits from each sale would go in a department fund used for holiday parties.

Provocation in Groups

Provocation is also a useful technique for encouraging team creativity  .

When using the provocation technique with someone else, or with a group, de Bono suggests using the word “Po.” This stands for “Provocative Operation.” The term is also a partial root of other words such as “possible”, “hypothesis”, “suppose” and “poetry” which, according to de Bono, all indicate forward movement, which is the purpose of the provocation technique.

De Bono suggests that when we make a provocative statement in public we label it as such with “Po” (for instance, “Po: the earth is flat”). “Po” acts as a signal, alerting everyone that the statement is a provocation and not one to be seriously considered. However, this does rely on all members of your audience knowing about provocation!


As with other lateral thinking techniques, provocation doesn’t always produce good or relevant ideas. However, sometimes it does, because it forces you to think in different and original ways. Ideas generated using provocation are often fresh, creative, and original.

Key Points

Provocation is a useful lateral thinking technique that can help you generate original starting points for creative thinking.

To use provocation, make a deliberately outrageous comment relating to the problem you’re thinking about. Then suspend judgment, and use the statement as the starting point for generating ideas. You can then move forward using the moment-by-moment technique, imagining how it would play out in the real world.

Last, you extract value from picking the ideas that might be feasible, and by developing them further.

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence

Perfecting the Call to Act

Be inspiring!

Is persuasion a gift? Are some people born with the ability to speak well and “sell” their ideas successfully?

It sure seems that way when you’re wowed by a motivational speaker, or galvanized into action by a thought-provoking presentation.

In your role, do you ever need to motivate, inspire, or persuade others?

Whether you’re a senior executive giving a presentation to the Board, a manager giving a morale-boosting speech to your team, or a production manager giving a presentation on safety standards, at some point, you’ll probably have to move people to action.

While there are certainly those who seem to inspire and deliver memorable speeches effortlessly, the rest of us can learn how to give effective presentations too. Key factors include putting together a strong message and delivering it in the right sequence.

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence: The Five Steps

Alan H. Monroe, a Purdue University professor, used the psychology of persuasion to develop an outline for making speeches that will deliver results. It’s now known as Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

This is a well-used and time-proven method to organize presentations for maximum impact. You can use it for a variety of situations to create and arrange the components of any message. The steps are explained below.

Step One: Get Attention

Get the attention of your audience. Use storytelling  , humor, a shocking statistic, or a rhetorical question – anything that will get the audience to sit up and take notice.


This step doesn’t replace your introduction – it’s part of your introduction. In your opening, you should also establish your credibility , state your purpose, and let the audience know what to expect.

Let’s use the example of a half-day seminar on safety in the workplace. Your attention step might be as follows.

Attention Workplace safety is being ignored!
Shocking Statistic Despite detailed safety standards and regulations, surveys show that 7 out of 10 workers regularly ignore safe practices because of ease, comfort, and efficiency. Some of these people get hurt as a result. I wonder how comfortable they are in their hospital beds… or coffins?

Step Two: Establish the Need

Convince your audience there’s a problem. This set of statements must help the audience realize that what’s happening right now isn’t good enough – and it needs to change.

  • Use statistics to back up your statements.
  • Talk about the consequences of maintaining the status quo and not making changes.
  • Show your audience how the problem directly affects them.

Remember, you’re not at the “I have a solution” stage. Here, you want to make the audience uncomfortable and restless, and ready to do the “something” that you recommend.

Need Apathy/lack of interest is the problem.
Examples and Illustrations Safety harnesses sit on the floor when the worker is 25 feet above ground. Ventilation masks are used more to hold spare change than to keep people safe from dangerous fumes.
Consequences Ignoring safety rules caused 162 worker deaths in our province/state last year. I’m here to make sure that you aren’t part of next year’s statistic.

Step Three: Satisfy the Need

Introduce your solution. How will you solve the problem that your audience is ready to address? This is the main part of your presentation. It will vary significantly, depending on your purpose.

  • Discuss the facts.
  • Elaborate and give details to make sure the audience understands your position and solution.
  • Clearly state what you want the audience to do or believe.
  • Summarize your information from time to time as you speak.
  • Use examples, testimonials, and statistics to prove the effectiveness of your solution.
  • Prepare counterarguments to anticipated objections.
Satisfaction Everyone needs to be responsible and accountable for everyone else’s safety.
Background Habits form over time. They are passed on from worker to worker until the culture accepts looser safety standards.
Facts Introduce more statistics on workplace accidents relevant to your organization.
Position Statement When workers are responsible and accountable for one another, safety compliance increases.
Examples Present one or more case studies.
Counterarguments Safer workplaces are more productive, even in the short term – so workers aren’t more efficient when they don’t take the time to follow safety rules.

Step Four: Visualize the Future

Describe what the situation will look like if the audience does nothing. The more realistic and detailed the vision, the better it will create the desire to do what you recommend. Your goal is to motivate the audience to agree with you and adopt similar behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. Help them see what the results could be if they act the way you want them to. Make sure your vision is believable and realistic.

You can use three methods to help the audience share your vision:

  1. Positive method – Describe what the situation will look like if your ideas are adopted. Emphasize the positive aspects.
  2. Negative method – Describe what the situation will look like if your ideas are rejected. Focus on the dangers and difficulties caused by not acting.
  3. Contrast method – Develop the negative picture first, and then reveal what could happen if your ideas are accepted.
Visualization Picture a safe and healthy workplace for everyone.
Contrast Method/
Negative Method
Continue the status quo (keep doing the same thing), and someone will be seriously injured. Picture yourself at a colleague’s funeral. You were right beside him when he decided not to wear his safety harness. How do you face his wife when you know you were right there and didn’t say anything?
Positive Method Consider the opposite. Imagine seeing your co-worker receive an award for 25 years of service. Feel the pride when you teach safety standards to new workers. Share the joy of your team’s rewards for an outstanding safety record.

Step Five: Action/Actualization

Your final job is to leave your audience with specific things they can do to solve the problem. You want them to take action now. Don’t overwhelm them with too much information or too many expectations, and be sure to give them options to increase their sense of ownership of the solution. This can be as simple as inviting them to have some refreshments as you walk around and answer questions. For very complex problems, the action step might be getting together again to review plans.

Action/Actualization Review your safety procedures immediately.
Invitation I’ve arranged a factory tour after lunch. Everyone is invited to join us. Your insights will really help us identify areas that need immediate attention. If you’re unable to attend this afternoon, I’ve left some pamphlets and business cards. Feel free to call me with questions, concerns, and ideas.

Key Points

For some of us, persuasive arguments and motivational speaking come naturally. The rest of us may try to avoid speeches and presentations, fearing that our message won’t be well received. Using Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, you can improve your persuasive skills and your confidence.

Get the attention of your audience, create a convincing need, define your solution, describe a detailed picture of success (or failure), and ask the audience to do something right away: It’s a straightforward formula for success that’s been used time and again. Try it for your next presentation, and you’ll no doubt be impressed with the results!

Concept Fan

When trying to think of new ideas and solutions to problems it is very tempting to go with your first ideas. However, first ideas are not always the best. Edward de Bono developed the ‘Concept Fan’ technique for taking a step back to get a broader perspective and thereby a new view of the subject, what you want to achieve and new ways of solving the problem.

Concept Fan:

1. To start a Concept Fan, draw a circle on a large piece of paper (A3 paper or White Board), just right of centre. Write the problem you are trying to solve into it. To the right of it radiate lines representing possible solutions to the problem. As shown in Figure 1 below.

2. It may be that the first ideas generated are impractical, unremarkable, or do not really solve the problem. If this is the case, take a ‘step back’ for a broader view of the problem. Do this by drawing a circle to the left of the first circle, and write the broader definition into this new circle. Link it with an arrow to show that it comes from the first circle as  in Figure 2.
3. Use this as the starting point to radiate out new ideas as in Figure 3.
4. If this does not give you the idea you are looking for then repeat the process and take another step back as in Figure 4.

The Simplex Process

A Robust Creative Problem-Solving Process

To-Do Lists
Work through the cycle.

© iStockphoto/centyr

When you’re solving business problems, it’s all-too-easy easy to skip over important steps in the problem-solving process, meaning that you can miss good solutions, or, worse still, fail to identify the problem correctly in the first place.

One way to prevent this happening is by using the Simplex Process. This powerful step-by-step tool helps you identify and solve problems creatively and effectively. It guides you through each stage of the problem-solving process, from finding the problem to implementing a solution. This helps you ensure that your solutions are creative, robust and well considered.

In this article, we’ll look at each step of the Simplex Process. We’ll also review some of the tools and resources that will help at each stage.

About the Tool

The Simplex Process was created by Min Basadur, and was popularized in his book, “The Power of Innovation.”

It is suitable for problems and projects of any scale. It uses the eight stages shown in Figure 1, below:

Figure 1: The Simplex Process

Rather than seeing problem-solving as a single straight-line process, Simplex is represented as a continuous cycle.

This means that problem-solving should not stop once a solution has been implemented. Rather, completion and implementation of one cycle of improvement should lead straight into the next.

We’ll now look at each step in more detail.

1. Problem Finding

Often, finding the right problem to solve is the most difficult part of the creative process.

So, the first step in using Simplex is to start doing this. When problems exist, you have opportunities for change and improvement. This makes problem finding a valuable skill!

Problems may be obvious. If they’re not, they can often be identified using trigger questions like the ones below:

  • What would our customers want us to improve? What are they complaining  about?
  • What could they be doing better if we could help them?
  • Who else could we help by using our core competences  ?
  • What small problems do we have which could grow into bigger ones? And where could failures   arise in our business process?
  • What slows our work or makes it more difficult? What do we often fail to achieve? Where do we have bottlenecks  ?
  • How can we improve quality?
  • What are our competitors doing that we could do?
  • What is frustrating and irritating to our team?

These questions deal with problems that exist now. It’s also useful to try to look into the future. Think about how you expect markets and customers to change over the next few years; the problems you may experience as your organization expands; and social, political and legal changes that may affect it. (Tools such as  PEST Analysis  will help you to do this.) It’s also worth exploring possible problems from the perspective of the different “actors” in the situation – this is where techniques such as CATWOE   can be useful.

At this stage you may not have enough information to define your problem precisely. Don’t worry about this until you reach step 3!

2. Fact Finding

The next stage is to research the problem as fully as possible. This is where you:

  • Understand fully how different people perceive the situation.
  • Analyze data to see if the problem really exists.
  • Explore the best ideas that your competitors have had.
  • Understand customers’ needs in more detail.
  • Know what has already been tried.
  • Understand fully any processes, components, services, or technologies that you may want to use.
  • Ensure that the benefits of solving the problem will be worth the effort that you’ll put into solving it.

With effective fact-finding, you can confirm your view of the situation, and ensure that all future problem-solving is based on an accurate view of reality.

3. Problem Definition

By the time you reach this stage, you should know roughly what the problem is, and you should have a good understanding of the facts relating to it.

From here you need to identify the exact problem or problems that you want to solve.

It’s important to solve a problem at the right level. If you ask questions that are too broad, then you’ll never have enough resources to answer them effectively. If you ask questions that are too narrow, you may end up fixing the symptoms of a problem, rather than the problem itself.

Min Basadur, who created the Simplex process, suggests saying “Why?” to broaden a question, and “What’s stopping you?” to narrow a question.

For example, if your problem is one of trees dying, ask “Why do I want to keep trees healthy?” This might broaden the question to “How can I maintain the quality of our environment?”

A “What’s stopping you?” question here could give the answer “I don’t know how to control the disease that is killing the tree.”

Big problems are normally made up of many smaller ones. This is the stage at which you can use a technique like Drill Down   to break the problem down to its component parts. You can also use the 5 Whys Technique  Cause and Effect Analysis   and Root Cause Analysis   to help get to the root of a problem.


A common difficulty during this stage is negative thinking – you or your team might start using phrases such as “We can’t…” or “We don’t,” or “This costs too much.” To overcome this, address objections with the phrase “How might we…?” This shifts the focus to creating a solution.

4. Idea Finding

The next stage is to generate as many problem-solving ideas as possible.

Ways of doing this range from asking other people for their opinions, throughprogrammed creativity   tools and lateral thinking techniques, to Brainstorming  . You should also try to look at the problem from other perspectives. A technique likeThe Reframing Matrix   can help with this.

Don’t evaluate or criticize ideas during this stage. Instead, just concentrate ongenerating ideas  . Remember, impractical ideas can often trigger good ones! You can also use the Random Input   technique to help you think of some new ideas.

5. Selection and Evaluation

Once you have a number of possible solutions to your problem, it’s time to select the best one.

The best solution may be obvious. If it’s not, then it’s important to think through the criteria that you’ll use to select the best idea. Our Decision Making Techniquessection lays out a number of good methods for this. Particularly useful techniques include Decision Tree Analysis  Paired Comparison Analysis  , and Decision Matrix Analysis  .

Once you’ve selected an idea, develop it as far as possible. It’s then essential to evaluate it to see if it’s good enough to be considered worth using. Here, it’s important not to let your ego get in the way of your common sense.

If your idea doesn’t offer a big enough benefit, then either see if you can generate more ideas, or restart the whole process. (You can waste years of your life developing creative ideas that no-one wants!)

Techniques to help you to do this include:

  • Risk Analysis  , which helps you explore where things could go wrong.
  • Impact Analysis  , which gives you a framework for exploring the full consequences of your decision.
  • Force Field Analysis  , which helps you explore the pressures for and against change.
  • Six Thinking Hats  , which helps you explore your decision using a range of valid decision-making styles.
  • Use of NPVs and IRRs  , which help you ensure that your project is worth running from a financial perspective.

6. Planning

Once you’ve selected an idea, and are confident that your idea is worthwhile, then it’s time to plan its implementation.

Action Plans   help you manage simple projects – these lay out the who, what, when, where, why and how of delivering the work.

For larger projects, it’s worth using formal project management techniques. By using these, you’ll be able to deliver your implementation project efficiently, successfully, and within a sensible time frame.

Where your implementation has an impact on several people or groups of people, it’s also worth thinking about change management  . Having an appreciation of this will help you assure that people support your project, rather than opposing it or cancelling it.

7. Sell Idea

Up to this stage you may have done all this work on your own or with a small team. Now you’ll have to sell   the idea to the people who must support it. These may include your boss, investors, or other stakeholders involved with the project.

In selling the project you’ll have to address not only its practicalities, but also things such internal politics, hidden fear of change, and so on.


You can learn more about how to get support for your ideas with our Bite-Sized Training Session, Sell Your Idea.

8. Action

Finally, after all the creativity and preparation comes action!

This is where all the careful work and planning pays off. Again, if you’re implementing a large-scale change or project, you might want to brush up on your change management skills   to help ensure that the process is implemented smoothly.

Once the action is firmly under way, return to stage 1, Problem Finding, to continue improving your idea. You can also use the principles of Kaizen   to work on continuous improvement.

Key Points

Simplex is a powerful approach to creative problem-solving. It is suitable for projects and organizations of almost any scale.

The process follows an eight-stage cycle. Upon completion of the eight stages you start it again to find and solve another problem. This helps to ensure continuous improvement.

Stages in the process are:

  • Problem finding.
  • Fact finding.
  • Problem definition.
  • Idea finding.
  • Selection and evaluation.
  • Planning.
  • Selling of the idea.
  • Action.

By moving through these stages you ensure that you solve the most significant problems with the best solutions available to you. As such, this process can help you to be intensely creative.


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