Stage 4.3  Spread Out the Range of Solution Ideas

T-3: "Generating solution ideas" moves you from description and analysis into the formulation of action alternatives. Some of these will be suggested by diagnosis (Stage 2), some others by implications derived from the assembled knowledge base (Step T-2). Still others may be generated by the client, working with the change agent in a brainstorming exercise. Step T-3 should leave you with a range of possible solution ideas in various stages of completeness. Having this range of possibilities puts the client in a better position to make rational and meaningful choices.

 Ideas for solutions can come from a variety of sources. They may come from research findings as discussed above. They may also come from other client systems or from commercial sources. Some solutions will be suggested more­or-less directly by the diagnosis or by the statement of objectives, while others will be suggested by the kind of resources we have available. Where good solutions are readily available from other programs and projects, it is probably wise to use them, but it is also possible and sometimes advantageous for a client system to generate its own solutions. This may not be a matter of "reinventing the wheel," but rather of adapting and combining ideas from various sources to produce something that is appropriate for one's own situation.

Regardless of the sources of these solution ideas, it is important to generate more than one alternative. A range of alternatives gives the client freedom of choice and an opportunity to make rational and meaningful decisions. In assembling this range of alternatives, practicality or feasibility should not be the first consideration. Rather this should be a mind-stretching experience for the clients. They should be led to start thinking of possibilities that may never have occurred to them before.

Foremost in their thinking should be the question, "What would be the ideal solution?" or "What would do the most good?"

In beginning to generate solution ideas, you should not be too concerned for details of how something works, how much it costs, and how hard it is to install and maintain. You are really looking for "awareness" information, i.e., information which will give a rough idea of what the innovation can do or is supposed to do. For this purpose films, live demonstrations, field trips, and even testimonials from other change agents may be appropriate. At the earlier stages of selecting the innovation, alternatives should not be ruled out too quickly even if they seem to come from nonobjective sources.

Two strategies discussed in Stage 2 as a part of diagnosis are particularly relevant in generating solution ideas. One was the emphasis on opportunities in contrast to problems. As noted earlier, a focus on areas of internal strength adds a new and hopeful dimension for many clients. These "opportunities" may suggest solution possibilities already available within the client system but not previously seen as relevant to problem areas. The second strategy recommended as part of diagnosis was the construction of an "ideal model." Members of the ­client system should now be given the chance to think through an "ideal" solution to their problems even i'f they have no immediate prospect of attaining such a solution. The ­exercise is mind-stretching; it opens up new vistas for the clients and gives them the notion that solutions to their particular problems are at least conceivable. This can be a SITUATION AND GENERATING tremendous stimulus to constructive thinking.

Brainstorming is a specific technique for generating solution ideas in a small group. There is probably no faster way of freeing up thinking and creating bright images of potential solutions. Brainstorming involves four steps:

  1. preparing the group with background information;
  2. stage setting;
  3. establishing and maintaining ground rules; and
  4. summarizing and synthesizing.


Those who are to participate should be briefed or stimulated with information about the problem area, including diagnostic data, research derivations, etc. Before starting a brainstorming session, participants should be reasonably well informed, although they do not all have to start from the same information base. laying this groundwork is very important. Even though participants in brainstorming may feel that their ideas are spontaneously generated, in actuality they are almost always based on knowledge they already possessed. Hence, prior acquisition of resources lays the basis for brainstorming.


Stage setting

To be useful, brainstorming sessions should have a specific focus, which is usually the problem or the diagnosis which has been previously determined. However, a mere statement of the problem may not be enough to trigger creative thought processes. The change agent should try to set the stage by suggesting an image of some future time or set of circumstances that releases the participants from the reality constraints of the here-and-now. For example, you might ask them to think of the kind of school they would like to have in the year 2010 or the kind of educational environment they would build if they were suddenly granted several million dollars without strings. Of course, the stage set will vary with the type of problem and should be directly relevant to the problem. The more vivid and imaginative the stage setting by the change agent, the more likely the brainstorming will take hold.


Ground rules

Brainstorming literally shows the power of positive thinking. Brainstorming groups temporarily but deliberately suspend critical or negative thinking about possible solutions. Hence the most important ground rule is "no criticism" of ideas (your own or others) on grounds of feasibility.  The only criterion is relevance to the problem or to the stage set. This kind of free associating to solutions does not come easily; it requires practice and discipline-in-the-service-of-freedom to ward off the natural tendency to slip back into a traditional task set.

Comment on the ideas of others is allowed, but it should be in the form of "piggybacking, i.e., adding to a previous idea or suggesting another variation on the same theme.

It is also important to include a recording function as part of the ground rules. In other words, it is just as important to "get it down" as to "get it out." The organizer may want to appoint a recorder to make sure that at the conclusion of the session, a list has been generated which adequately represents the thinking of the group. This "recorder" function is vital and should not be slighted because the written record will be the principal "product" and the key element in linking "brainstorming" to the overall problem-solving enterprise.


Summarizing and synthesizing

Summarizing and synthesizing are really post-session activities but are necessary in making the brainstorm truly productive. Members of the group should try to put together their various ideas in a series of more-or-Iess coherent solution possibilities. This fourth step is necessary to reduce redundancy and to make the product manageable. Feasibility questions are still out of bounds, however, at this point.

Brainstorming had its earliest applications in the field of advertising, a fact which may have inhibited its use by other groups. Nevertheless, it is a very useful "unfreezing" method which is applicable in all kinds of situations. There is no one method of brainstorming and probably any method will have to be adapted or modified for working with particular types of. clients. This process can be the turning point of a change program and is well worth trying, particularly if you feel reasonably secure in your role and in your relationship with the client.