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BREAK OUT OF YOUR RUT!

: CREATIVE THINKING IN TQM


Terry Ehresman
TQM Consultant and Trainer

Spectrum, Inc.
Wichita, KS 67212-6302

KEY WORDS
problem solving, process improvement, training

INTRODUCTION
The production line is down again, because of the same faulty switch that shut you down two days ago. The customer service department reports 12 more products have been returned this week by dissatisfied customers. The annual customer satisfaction survey identifies slow response time by your service representatives as a serious problem. The competition is preparing to introduce a product that makes yours obsolete. What are you going to do? We have all experienced situations similar to those listed at one time or another. While few people consider themselves to be creative, almost everyone agrees creativity is necessary to succeed in today's highly competitive marketplace. Identifying problem root causes, generating lists of possible solutions, identifying process improvements, generating process redesign ideas, setting goals, and developing new strategies are just some of the situations in which creative thinking is beneficial. This session uses activities to demonstrate how current methods of thinking are limiting and how specific, easy-to-follow techniques can be applied to overcome these limitations and generate new ideas.

OVERVIEW
The primary aim of applying creative thinking techniques- is the generation of new ideas-the more the better. The free-flow generation of ideas often causes participants to mention ideas they had not previously thought of. This concept is the key behind brainstorming, a common idea generation technique. But, as many have experienced, even brainstorming efforts can run dry. This session demonstrates, through interactive individual and small group activities, the need for creative thinking in today's organizations. Once the need has been established, two easy-to-follow techniques are introduced as practical ways to apply creative thinking on the job. The Need for Creative Thinking Creative thinking techniques help those interested in quality improvement in four key areas: escape from patterns, provide a means for restructuring, challenge assumptions, and generate alternatives.

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Escape from Patterns. We all tend to get into ruts and have difficulty thinking of new ideas and/ solutions to problems. This limitation exists because our minds are pattern making systems, meaning they create and look for patterns. Knowing the way our minds work, you need to do something different to break out of your mold. Two activities demonstrate that patterns do exist in our minds and how they can limit our thinking. Provide a Means for Restructuring. The patterns our minds make are strongly influenced by the sequence in which events occur. As our minds absorb information, the pieces are placed and the pattern is created. This initial pattern is seldom the best sequence, meaning the information needs to be restructured to create a better and more effective pattern. The activity confirms how a whole new world of possibilities are available once the situation is restructured. Challenge Assumptions. One of the biggest ailments in today's organizations is "we've always done it that way" thinking. This type of thinking may have sufficed so far, but not any longer. Assumptions are ideas taken for granted-they are, in other words, patterns that remain unchallenged. As has already been pointed out, all patterns need to be challenged and analyzed for their usefulness. The activities illustrate the restricting effect assumptions have on our creative abilities. Generate Alternatives. The first idea thought of or mentioned is seldom the best possible choice. A key element of any creative thinking activity is the generation of alternatives. Activities are performed to demonstrate: (1) the folly of accepting the frrst idea mentioned, and (2) the surprising number of solutions that can be generated after you may have thought all of the possibilities have been exhausted.

Techniques
Some say creativity cannot be taught. This statement may be true, but techniques that can be applied to generate creative ideas most certainly can be taught. Two techniques are presented in this session: reversals and characteristic changing..
Reversals. It is possible to become so familiar with a problem that identifying creative solutions can be difficult. Using the reversal technique is especially beneficial in times like this. Changing the way you look at a situation frequently provides a new perspective resulting in new ideas.

The first step in applying the reversal technique is to review the subject to clarify the problem for which you are searching for ideas. Next, write a reversal statement. There are two ways to create a revers~l statement. One method is to substitute a key element with a word that has the opposite meaning (change improve to degrade, never to always, etc.). The other method is to change the direction of the action described in the statement (change "our customers never call us" to "we never call our customers," or "the students do not listen to the teacher" to "the teacher does not listen to the students"). The statements written may seem ridiculous, but don't worry. Remember, the purpose of this type of activity is to generate new ideas. These absurd statements can often help you look at the situation from a different point of view. The third step is to identify the causes of or solutions to the problem presented in the reversal statement. If the reversal statement is: "we never call our customers," list the possible reasons (causes) why you would never call your customers (too busy, don't have their phone number, always get put on hold). The final step is to analyze each of the causes for or solutions to tht "reversed" problem to identify actions you could take for the real problem. If you have identified

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"not having their phone number" as a reversal cause, consider that your customers may have difficulty finding your phone number as a possible cause to your problem.
Characteristic Changing. Just because a task has always been performed one way does not mean that one way is the best. The characteristic changing technique is especially helpful for challenging assumptions. It can be easy to continue to do things the way they have always been done, but is this process being performed in the most efficient manner or are the product or service features the best for your customers? Why does the package need to be rectangular? Why does the cover have to be black? Why do the buttons need to be so small?

The characteristic changing technique starts with an identification of the parts that make-up a key element of the problem. The parts are then further divided into the characteristics that . describe the parts. The characteristics are the sales features and differentiators for the parts. For example, the characteristics of a computer monitor would include its size, color options, resolution, and range c:i ergonomic adjustments. Once the characteristics are identified, think of ways to change them to help with the problem. Challenge the current options selected for each characteristic.

CONCLUSION
Most of us are only tapping a small portion of our creative abilities and, as such, are limiting our capacity to generate the new, break-through ideas needed in today's organizations. This interactive session provides attendees a chance to participate and observe others in learning and applying techniques they can use immediately in their jobs. The limitations of current methods of thinking are highlighted and practical steps to follow for applying two creative thinking techniques are provided. Upon completion of this seminar, attendees: Are able to repeat the activities demonstrated here in their organizations as a fun and effective way of demonstrating the need for applying creative thinking techniques. Know how to apply two creative thinking techniques that result in the generation of new, break-through ideas. Are able to apply these techniques themselves, as well as instruct others in their application.