Whenever we are thinking, either as an individual or as a group it is vital that we have a direction or focus for our thinking effort or it is unlikely to achieve a desired outcome. Our thinking direction can either be on an extremely narrow front or an incredibly broad (or even vague) one.
I refer to this as the focal spectrum.
On one end of the spectrum the focus is extremely tight, very specific and highly influenced. On the other end of the spectrum the focus is very wide, non specific and with little to no influence which opens up our thinking to a large number of potential avenues.
Where our thinking direction is on the focal spectrum really does not matter providing it is appropriate for the task at hand and serves our purpose.
An alternative way to imagine this is as a thinking ‘funnel’. The top of the funnel is broad and offers a wide freedom of thought which can include a number of thinking areas and as we go down the funnel these thinking areas become fewer. The bottom of the funnel is clearly very narrow and therefore considerably more focused, restricting the breadth of thinking freedom to just one specific focus.
An example of a very tight direction for our thinking might be “We need ideas on promoting product ‘x’ into market ‘y’ given the presence of competitor ‘a’ and the following strengths and weaknesses of their offering”. The ideas that will be forthcoming here should be very specific and address the explicit direction laid down.
Whereas an example of where the direction is wide could include “We need ideas on customers”. The thinking here is barely influenced other than the focus being on customers but the ideas that are forthcoming could include just about anything on the subject. Improving service, delivery, retention, product offering, growing, reducing, shifting the mix, new, existing, markets or absolutely anything that is related to customers.
The most important thing is that when we are going to make the effort to generate ideas and be creative that the focus is clear. In a group thinking situation this is all the more important so that the thinking collateral is relevant to the task and the needs of the session. It is the role of the facilitator to ensure that direction or focus is clear and understood before the participants engage their brains.
The beauty of having a focus is that you can switch direction as easily as ‘clicking your fingers’ if that is what is required. During a thinking session one or some of the ideas may make it apparently clear and obvious that it would be beneficial to go down an alternative route or seek options or alternatives on a particular idea that has been generated. You can simply stop the session, set up your new focus and start the session again.
This can be particularly useful if you have an established creative culture and the needs of the business change over time. You can switch the thinking focus of the entire organisation overnight, ensuring that you are maximising the creative output of the organisation in line with its current needs.