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Solve Problems With “Crazy Concept” Ideation

Everyone, regardless of role or pay, is expected to solve problems for their organization.

Thankfully, the human mind is capable of solving the most complex problems. The challenge is getting our minds to engage in creative problem-solving when we need them to. The mind is a wonderfully efficient machine. It simplifies tasks to save energy. One way it saves energy is by relying almost exclusively on historical data saved within our memory banks to solve problems.

That is adequate if the problems we face are always the same and the solutions we previously used still work. Unfortunately, many of us face novel challenges on a regular basis. Those problems require new solutions.

Therefore, to solve new problems, we must train ourselves to push our minds beyond our limited memory banks. One way to force yourself to think creatively is through crazy concept ideation. Start by removing yourself from the situation. If not physically, at least mentally. Then, think of some outrageous ideas to fix the problem and write them down quickly without any analysis.

For the purposes of this exercise, the crazier the concept, the more valuable it is. Not that you are going to implement the craziest idea you come up with but the exercise will serve to remove unhelpful mental constraints while brainstorming.

Once you have thought of an outrageously crazy idea, carefully think of ways you can implement it. If it’s absolutely impossible to implement due to financial, time or other constraints, then look for ways to implement part of it.

If no part of the idea can be implemented, think of other potential solutions that you haven’t tried before or at least not recently. If no one solution seems viable, consider combining past and/or current processes to arrive at a solution.

For example, suppose that you lead an office dedicated to providing disaster-relief loans. Your city is in the midst of an epidemic caused by a “superbug” virus. Loan applications have skyrocketed recently. Applicants submit documents to your office on paper and, once the loan closes, clerks scan the documents for archiving.

You fear an outbreak of the virus in your office but you cannot stop processing loans because the need is so dire. You decide to remove yourself from the situation for a couple of hours so you may think creatively about a solution to your dilemma.

During your drive to a coffee shop a few miles away, you notice traffic is unusually light. When you arrive, there are no customers clamoring for coffee despite it being morning rush hour. You ask the barista “Where’s everybody?” and she answers “Most likely telecommuting.” As you sip your hot coffee, you consider having all your loan officers telecommute while the virus is active in your city. Perhaps, the loan officers can come to the office once a week to drop off loan applications they closed and pick up new ones.

You then remember that the virus may be spread during paper exchanges, so you think of a crazy idea to prevent that. You imagine loan officers driving up to the side of your office building, like in a fast-food drive-through lane, while other employees dressed up in bright yellow hazmat suits load and unload documents to/from their vehicles. Unfortunately, your office doesn’t have authority to hire hazmat experts or to fund a mobile decontamination unit.

However, you recall that your office does have the authority to hire additional clerks on a temporary basis and it already owns or rents multiple high-volume scanners. Next, you consider current processes that may be modified. You decide that scanning the loan documents should be done upfront instead of after the closing.

By the end of your ideation exercise, you determine the most viable solution is to bring in temporary clerks to scan loan applications upfront. The loan officers, working from their homes full-time, will then access the loan documents through the organization’s SharePoint site.

As a result, your office will continue to process critically-needed loans, and the chances of a virus outbreak will be minimized.

This is an example of using crazy concept ideation along with current process modifications to implement a viable solution to a thorny problem.

Michael Folkray is developing the next generation of world-changing leaders. After a decade in private industry, he chose to dedicate the rest of his career to public service, spending the first 7 years of his government career with the United States Department of Justice. Since 2003, Michael has served in various leadership positions within the United States Department of Homeland Security. He is the founder and leader of a leadership book club for his office’s management team. Michael earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a graduate of the Federal Executive Institute. You can read his posts here and follow him on the following platforms: LinkedInTwitterInstagram.

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Profile Photo Kaitlyn Baker

Great post Michael! Reminds me of a brainstorming workshop I went to a couple years ago. They broke the process into 3 steps: Frame (defining what exactly the challenge/problem is), Open (throwing any and all ideas out there regardless of limitations or judgment), and Close (critiquing, assessing, and decision-making). Breaking it up really helps to lead more structured and creative brainstorms, especially when people often preface ideas with “This might not work” or “I don’t know if we can actually do this”. Thanks for sharing!