Thursday, July 17, 2008

Book Review, Think Better: An Innovator's Guide to Productive Thinking. Prepared by: S. Walczak, CRS 625, Current Issues Class, Summer 2008

Hurson, T. (2008). Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Tim Hurson is a faculty member and Trustee of the Creative Education Foundation (CEF) and was first indoctrinated into Creative Problem Solving around 15 years ago as an attendee of CPSI. As he states in the Preface of his book, Think Better, over time he “developed a kind of love-hate relationship with CPS”. Through working with the process, he felt there was too much focus on generating ideas and not enough on the rigorous evaluation of them. As a practitioner of CPS and a business professional, Hurson began exploring a number of other pathways and methods, gradually testing approaches and incorporating successful activities and ideas into his facilitated sessions. This became the basis for the development of his own evolution of the Osborn-Parnes CPS process into a model that he has coined The Productive Thinking Model. The Productive Thinking Model combines the situation analyses and ideation strengths of the CPS framework with the success criteria and project mapping techniques of NASA's iDEF methodology.

Structure of the Book
Hurson is clear to state upfront that Think Better is not an academic study or report. It is a user-friendly, practical guide to his model presented in three parts. Part One provides a context for “productive thinking” drawing on a number of anecdotes and analogies similar to those we were exposed to with Roger Firestien in CRS 559. These introduce some of the flaws in our current approaches to thinking (as well as some insights into human nature). Part Two establishes the principles and goals of the Productive Thinking Model and, finally, Part Three delves in step-by-step to walk readers through the stages of his process, familiarizing them with a number of the tools used within each stage to facilitate a group through productive thinking. He concludes with a re-cap of each stage in his model and then a discussion about the importance of letting this thinking approach become a part of the way you live – not just periodically “doing it” but rather “being it”. It took me back to some of our enlightening discussions with Dr. Puccio about not just doing creativity, but rather, striving to “live creatively”.

Relevance to Creativity
This book captured my attention as I was very interested to see how a “student” of CPS had adapted the process, marrying it with some other approaches to create this new framework. The Productive Thinking Model is broken down into six stages as follows:

  • Step 1: What's Going On?
  • Step 2: What's Success?
  • Step 3: What's the Question?
  • Step4: Generate Answers
  • Step 5: Forge the Solution
  • Step 6: Align Resources

The key principle underlying the development of this approach is Hurson’s belief that success is less what we know than how we think. He also espouses the same foundational elements upon which CPS is built:
· Thinking is most effective when separated into creative thinking (diverging) and critical thinking (converging)
· It is important to try to stay in the question – do not rush to answers, rather it is useful to hang back, keep asking questions, be comfortable with ambiguity
· You’ll have a greater chance of getting to a brilliant idea or solution if you get all the way to the “third third”, than if you stop at the first ‘right’ idea that you encounter.

In fact, the differences between Hurson’s framework for the Productive Thinking Model and Puccio, Mudock and Mance’s framework for CPS: The Thinking Skills Model (2006) are very subtle. The differences manifest themselves more in the tools and language that Hurson introduces as he gets into the details and specifics of his model.

So…What’s New and Distinctive About The Productive Thinking Model?
In recognition of the fact that “vocabulary is important when fostering change”, Hurson has placed a high level of importance on creating a language around the Productive Thinking Model (including a number of acronyms….we all know how much the corporate world embraces acronyms!) that is precise and clear and helps to avoid some of the ambiguity around familiar terms that are used by people today to mean different things. It also provides the reader with new ways of talking about his or her situation which can be a strong catalyst in changing how one thinks about those things (e.g. Itches, Imagined Futures).

Hand in hand with this vocabulary are a number of new productive thinking tools Hurson has introduced that I found very useful and memorable (ahhhh…the power of mnemonics and acronyms). Some represent a mere re-branding of the tools we are very familiar with from the CPS framework (I3 for example stands for Influence, Imagination and Importance – the convergent tool used to evaluate whether a problem is appropriate for a group to address). Some, however, are new tools that I am excited to personally test out in some of my future facilitations. For example DRIVE is a tool for helping a group to establish success criteria, using a simple table with five columns labeled:
Do (what do you want to do/what must be accomplished?)
Restrictions (what changes or impacts must you avoid?)
Investment (what resources are you prepared to allocate?)
Values (what values will you live by as you tackle this challenge?)
Essential Outcomes (what specific targets much absolutely be achieved/what is non-negotiable?).

Overall, Think Better will appeal to individuals both inside and outside of organizations who are trying to strengthen their own ability to come up with creative ideas and solutions to problems. It is also useful for those of us who are versed in Creative Problem Solving to explore an alternate framework that incorporates a few different approaches – particularly for those, who like Tim Hurson, would like a more rigorous approach to setting success criteria and evaluating ideas/formulating solutions. It is a practical, logical guide with interesting anecdotes and an approachable style that brings the core elements of CPS to an even broader audience who may not be as comfortable with some of the more academic literature addressing the CPS process.

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