This post is for students and teachers.
In my office, I have a few youngsters who join fresh after graduation or join after a couple of years of experience. One of the challenges I face is how to “train” this young team to deliver the kind of work we do.
My company is engaged with strategic consulting in environmental management. Generally, each assignment we do is quite different. There is no “templating”. That makes “training” of the team rather challenging.
One of the impediments I realized was the absence of or a weakness in “creative and analytical” thinking. The approach to “problem understanding and solving” was mainly based on what could be found on Google. There was no attempt to think independently. Google search was the “bias”.
I decided to hold “Saturday Sessions” for my team to introduce “creative and analytical” thinking. The idea was to give exercises and less of lectures. This blog describes some of the exercises that have the elements of both learning as well as having fun. The Saturday sessions are held one in 15 days and last over 6 hours.
Creative thinking means looking at something differently. Thinking outside the box is the idea. Some call creative thinking as lateral thinking.
Mind map is a great idea to start “unlocking” your thoughts. It is a diagram for representing tasks, words, concepts, or items linked to and arranged around a central concept or subject using a non-linear graphical layout that allows the user to build an intuitive framework around a central concept. A mind map can turn a long list of monotonous information into a colorful, memorable and highly organized diagram that works in line with your brain’s natural way of doing things.
There are several software tools such as MindView. Mindview is a professional mind mapping software that allows you to visually brainstorm, organize and present ideas. I suggest that you watch a video provided by MacGrercy Consultants on mind mapping.
As a warmup, I generally ask the students to create mind map for “mundane” topics such as Coffee, Shirt, Pencil etc. and the students get into an experience of creative and lateral thinking. This exercise is to be done individually, and at the end everyone is amazed to see the wild range of imagination around so called mundane topics.
Next, I show the students a mind map on “solving Global Warming”. This mind map shown below makes the student understand a “quality mind map” representation where graffiti such as icons is used, and lines are drawn with different thicknesses.
It is worth spending some time on the structure of this mind map. I do this by opening a discussion, asking each team member to make a comment or observation or ideas that can make this mind map even better.
Once all understand how to create a mind-map, it is the best time to commence a group work. For my team size of 12, I generally form three groups. Each group is given a task to create a mind-map for topics such as the following
- Solving the menace of Plastic Waste
- Solving the problem of air pollution in Delhi
- Solving the problem of water shortage in cities
The Groups work over 30 minutes and create interesting mind-maps. A discussion on these mind-maps greatly helps in building the skills on “problem understanding and solving”.
Mind-map is quite a free-thinking idea and while it seeds the elements of a “system”, the interrelationships in the form of causation are not clearly brought out. The next exercise is therefore to create cause effect diagrams. To understand the basic construct and “rules” I show a video on developing Causal Loop Diagrams.
This video helps to understand the importance of visualizing causation, feedbacks and delays in understanding the system. It is a good idea now to show a Causal Loop diagram on climate change as it somewhat links to the Mind-map earlier shown on Global Warming.
The students see a difference between a mind map and causal loop representation of the same problem. Drawing causal loop diagrams is extremely important as some may know that it lays the foundation of the subject of “system dynamics”. The idea of System Dynamics was born at MIT Sloan in the 1950s and developed by Prof. Emeritus Jay W. Forrester.
My next exercise is to develop causal loop diagrams for the following “whys?”.
- Why is the State of Maharashtra in a dire situation of droughts and extreme floods?
- Why are we not able to achieve 100% compliance on environmental norms with the industries?
- Why are we not able to achieve sustainable lifestyles?
These questions are not easy and the causal loop diagrams are perhaps difficult to construct. The students take nearly an hour to come up with a reasonable diagram that attempts to provide the reasons and also about what should be done. More importantly, the students understand link between a mind map and a causal loop diagram as they gradually transit to analytical thinking from creative thinking.
After a short break, I move to explaining Analytical thinking
Analytical thinking is a methodical step-by-step approach to thinking that allows you to break down complex problems into single and manageable components.
I begin with an exercise of asking the students to make a flow chart to guide an office assistant on how to pick up a foreigner from the Mumbai international Airport and bring this person to office.
This task is given as a group assignment.
Initially, the exercise appears easy, but actually it often turns out to be difficult! The flow chart requires to reflect alternatives, possibilities and decision making. What if the flight gets diverted? What if there is a flash strike of taxis? What happens if the office assistants’ mobile phone is unreachable? What if the foreigner’s luggage does not arrive? Clearly, numerous scenarios exist while one is accomplishing the stated objective i.e. picking up a foreigner.
I recall one of my friends during his internship days in a Bank was asked the same question by the CEO. This friend produced a 32-page detailed flow chart to describe his plan for picking up. The CEO told him he could clearly see “in him” a “MD” (Managing Director) material. And he actually rose to become a MD!
In drawing the flow chart, apart from alternatives and scenarios, the students learn about the terms normal, abnormal and emergent situations. I explain the relevance of these in environmental management where we need to speculate them upfront and be prepared to come up with rounded and robust solutions. Such a thinking often leads to emergency preparedness plans.
I end the session now with an exercise on addressing Issues and Opportunities to draw an action plan. Thinking simultaneously on Issues and Opportunities is very important. The tasks assigned to each group are as follows
- Recognize the underlying issues or problems or opportunities
- Identify and organize information related to the above
- Integrate all the pieces to draw conclusions
- Say what should be done after analyzing the alternatives and various scenarios
- By whom?
- How? and
- How do I monitor and report on actions taken?
The topics I typically give are
- Litter on streets
- Indoor Air
- Drinking Water
- Food Security
In answering these questions, a structured report gets generated. I see that the students use the ideas of mind-mapping, causal loop diagrams and flow charts that address alternatives and scenarios. Creative thinking thus gels with Analytical thinking. In another 2 hours, the teams are able to develop a note that answers the questions raised on each topic
I told about my Saturday sessions to my Professor Friend. He puffed his cigar and said “Dr Modak, good effort. I will drop in next Saturday and start a session on Writing Skills as Writing follows creative and analytical thinking”. I quite liked his idea.
“But then Dr Modak, why are your restricting your Saturday sessions to the team in your office. You should keep the session open to all”. Professor had a point. Perhaps he was right.
I now plan to hold such fortnightly Saturday sessions in Mumbai and keep them open to all.
Interested? Write to me and stay tuned.
My next post will be on how to develop the Writing Skills.
Cover image sourced from https://www.udemy.com/creative-thinking-techniques/
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