Article word count: 482 words - Approximate time to read: 2 minutes
Generating solutions: 20 Possible Ways Method
When making decisions or solving a problem, instead of leaping onto the first solution that comes to mind, why not engage in a structured brainstorm for a most elegant solution, and here’s how.
- Start with the question
Write your question starting with the words, ‘What are 20 possible . . .
– If planning a holiday you might ask, ‘What are 20 possible locations to go on holiday?’
– If it’s New Year, your question might be, ‘What are 20 possible New Year resolutions?’
– In the office for process improvements e.g. ‘What are 20 possible ways to streamline our paperwork?’
– For goal-setting, ‘What are 20 possible goals to achieve this year?’
- Add numbers.
Then write the numbers 1 to 20 vertically down the left hand side of the page. Pre-writing the numbers ensures you keep going till you reach 20.
- List plausible solutions – and don’t stop until you have all 20!
The first ten ideas usually come easily. But some of these early ideas might be just knee-jerk reaction. One of these is your ‘first right answer’.
Somewhere between idea 10 and idea 15 you may experience a lull in the flow. Many people stop at this point because they think they’ve run out of ideas.
But psychologists tell us a mental blank precedes creative breakthrough. So hang in there. Staying with the question until another possible solution comes to you is part of the process.
Asking for 20 ideas forces your creative brain to kick in. And when it does, it’s like a second wind of brainwave after brainwave of other possible solutions.
The more often you use this process you may find you go beyond idea 20 to idea 22 or 23. I’ve sometimes found my best solution was actually idea 23.
- Select the best solution
Once 20 (or more) ideas are generated, review them all and identify your top three solutions by drawing a box around them. Then number them in order of priority and add relevant actions to your to-do list.
When to use
Whenever you are deciding on a course of action, use this method. It’s appropriate for team brainstorms in the workplace as well as for personal decisions.
Often your second right answer is the most elegant.
- For solution generating use the 20 possible ways method.
- Record every idea as it comes to you. Don’t censor ‘silly’ ideas. Record them anyway and then use them to springboard or trigger yet another idea.
- Compare the process of writing freehand on paper vs. typing on a keyboard at a computer. Freehand uses a different part of the brain and may generate a different style of thinking.
- Compare whether the relaxed atmosphere of a coffee shop, away from your desk and interruptions, might be beneficial.
- File your brainstorms for later reference. Sometimes an impractical idea of today is the do-able innovation of tomorrow.