[reprinted from http://sub.adoimagazine.com]

by Nick Morgan

One of the tools that I’ve found to be most effective is a tool I first came across in Michael Michalko’s excellent book “Cracking Creativity”. The tool in question is something he calls the invitational stem, and it’s one of the first habits I aim to ingrain in my teams, and goes something like this:

From the very beginning the words we choose to describe our challenge have the ability to help, or hinder. Unfortunately, words have a tendency to become very restrictive when combined in a sentence.  As such we rarely explore far from the confines of the sentence, or challenge statement.

The most used illustration of this is the “nine dot” exercise where you are asked to join all nine dots together without taking your pen from the page. You’ve probably seen this puzzle, shown here —

Because of the way the dots are arranged we subconsciously limit ourselves to working within their confines, and hence will never be able to complete task. But if we attempt the task by first rejecting and thinking outside the imaginary confines, we will solve it with relative ease.

It’s much the same way with the words we chose to describe the challenge statement.

By attempting to solve our challenge with the more traditional “how can I…?” stem to formulate a question we are immediately limiting our thinking and the area for unexpected creativity to flourish. “How can I make a great presentation?” “How can I get a neat TV idea to sell XXXX?” “How can I keep my job?”….. and so on.

By replacing the “How can I….” with “In what ways may I…..” we immediately broaden the scope for unique and unexpected concepts and ideas – away from simply focusing on one particular aspect – and this is what is regarded by Michelko as an “invitational stem”. And it’s easy to see why.

Let’s consider again one of the examples mentioned above: “In what ways can I make a great presentation?“ immediately draws your attention away from simply the technology required to compile slides and pictures, and you start to consider all aspects that make a presentation great. You could consider for instance, the environment the presentation will take place, the overall style of the presentation, the effect of interaction between the speaker and the attendees, and even the actual way the information is delivered – why does it have to be the traditional PPT? Would you consider any other conduit, even something more tactile and “touch/feely” to deliver the information and really bring the message of your presentation home?

The same goes especially in the arena of communication and in particular advertising ideas. When presented with a brief if we simply look in the area of TV, we’ll have limited our scope and delivered absolutely nothing of value to our client.

Nick Morgan is an inspiring, award winning ECD. His book, containing the simple tools & techniques proven to help you win a Cannes, will soon be available to buy online. For more information go to www.mustgetideas.com

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