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No more bright ideas?

I WAS STUMPED. I KNEW I HAD TO GET the report out soon, but I had no idea how to start. I knew the information, but my problem was how to put it in a report.

No The budget was due soon. I knew what I wanted to implement, but I didn't think I'd get it approved. I was going to have to come up with good reasons to convince the executive board why these projects were needed. What was the right approach? I'd thought of several ways, but they all seemed hokey. Why couldn't we just go back to the good old days when my boss simply listened and approved whatever I wanted?

The event was approaching quickly. Lots of people offered to help, but when it came time to do it they all disappeared. Why didn't they understand what needed to be done and just do it?

If any of the above scenarios sound familiar, you could use brainstorming to help.

What is brainstorming? Basically, it is a technique used to collect a group of potential solutions to a problem and then consolidate them into the best approach. Whenever you get a great idea, you are most likely seeing the results of a subconscious brainstorming session. On the subconscious level, it happens over a longer period of time, sometimes even years. When you say, "Let me think about it, and I'll get back to you," you are beginning a subconscious brainstorming session.

Why does someone use brainstorming-consciously or subconsciously? Because it helps focus on the cost-benefit relationships relative to actions. I don't mean the cost-benefit in monetary terms but in personal penalties and rewards.

The main thrust of this article is to describe the brainstorming process, so that if someone is using this technique in only the subconscious mode, he or she can now start to use it in the conscious mode, too. To start, here are three new terms-divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and recursive thinking.

In the context of this article, divergent means unassociated, which implies that the solutions presented do not have to be reasonable, rational, or serious, just applicable toward achieving the end result. The rules for divergent thinking are as follows:

* There are no dumb ideas.

* No filtering should be done at this stage.

* No evaluation should be done at this stage.

* Crazy ideas are okay; they may turn into something not so crazy.

Convergent means coming together. By looking at the solutions versus the objectives, convergent thinking weeds out unreasonable solutions. Listing the reward or penalty of implementing the solution leaves a set of solutions that could actually be implemented. The rules for convergent thinking are as follows:

* Identify which objectives are at least partially satisfied by achieving the solution.

* Document the rewards and penalties that will be felt if the solution is implemented.

* List rewards and penalties by priority.

* Eliminate the solutions with a high penalty.

Recursive means occurring again. As you look into an issue, new twists arise. Sometimes one solution doesn't work, but a twist of it will. New objectives may need to be generated based on the penalties or rewards identified during the convergent thinking process. Maybe something triggers one of the participants to suggest a revolutionary approach to the problem. The rules for recursive thinking are as follows:

* Look at the penalties and rewards and try to identify new objectives that must be met.

* Look at the eliminated solutions to see if an approach was missed.

* Look at the end result and see if other solutions or objectives have been missed.

THE FIRST STEP IN THE ACTUAL BRAINstorming process is to identify the end result. For instance, in the first scenario, the end result would be a completed report, in the second a budget package, and in the third a coordinated approach by all the committee members preparing for the event. Decide whether you are going to brainstorm by yourself or with others, and then find a place with minimal interruptions to work. A black or white board or a flip chart is useful, because being able to survey the data is important to the process.

Write down the desired end result to focus your efforts. Next, identify the objectives associated with the end result. Be sure to include any limitations as part of the objectives. For example, in the second scenario assume you know the upper limit of your budget. An objective would be to identify the programs you want in order of priority so the total cost does not exceed your limit. Another objective would be to identify your reasons for wanting to implement the projects.

Now look at the end result and start throwing out ideas for accomplishing it. In scenario 3, the potential solutions could include having one person do everything, hiring an outside group to handle the event, dividing the tasks among the participants, assigning a coordinator to divide the tasks among the others, canceling the event, or talking some other group into holding the event.

Look at your solutions versus the objectives you have identified. Which ones satisfy the most objectives? Do you see other solutions that now present themselves as a result of reviewing the objectives? If so, write them down! Identify the rewards and penalties that will be realized if the solution is implemented. Are there more objectives or solutions that appear? Eliminate the solutions that have too great a penalty. Repeat this process until you feel good about the emerging plan.

Let's take scenario 2 through the entire process, noting that doing so is severely restricted for the purpose of this article.

Assumptions. The person is a security manager, and the budget is for the security department.

End result. Prepare budget for approval.


1. Identify specific programs needed.

2. Present the information in priority order and in a well-defined manner so the budget will be approved.

3. Let management know I'm a professional.

4. Identify the costs of implementation within 5 percent of the upper limit.

5. Allow me more flexibility in daily decisions.

6. Reduce my work hours to 50 hours per week.

Divergent solutions.

a. Use my staff to identify security requirements.

b. Talk to other managers to see how security can help their effectiveness.

c. Calculate known losses from all security-related events.

d. Use my staff to prepare this budget.

e. Use the same format as last year.

f. Find out what approach has worked well in the past.

g. Assume that since management works here it will understand security's needs.

h. Develop a cost and operational justification for each program.

i. Request approval of an overall plan for security with authorization to make more on-the-spot decisions.

j. Have a security survey done to determine the needs, and have an outside group develop the cost estimate.

k. Make my boss prepare the budget.

Convergent solutions (comparing the divergent solutions and the objectives, and identifying the results of implementation).

* Solution a and objective I result in additional input, spreading effort, promoting teamwork, and staff not thinking I know it all.

* Solution b and objective I increase my exposure with other departments, may generate political requirements, make me appear to be company oriented, and get departments to buy into my security approach.

* Solution c and objectives 1, 2, and 3 provide needed information.

* Solution d and objectives 2, 3, and 6 produce the same result as the first combination.

* Solution e and objective 6 may result in unresolved budget problems.

* Solution f and objectives 2 and 3 may give me a better chance of approval.

* Solution g and objectives I and 6 may affect my professional image.

* Solution h and objectives 1, 2, 3, and 4 address the budget limitations.

*n Solution i and objectives 2, 3, and 5 let me be more in control.

Solution and objectives 1, 2, 3, and 6 may require outside experts to gain approval.

*n Solution k and objective 6 may eliminate my job.

Recursive solutions. Solution k is probably not the right one. Solution h and j satisfy the most objectives-however, h is not a solution by itself and sufficient time to accomplish j does not exist.

Under Objectives, list 7. Prepare the budget on time. " If h is to be implemented then a, b, c, d, and f will also have to be used. Meetings with the staff and the managers from the other departments would bring out the requirements more easily. This is a twist to the solutions above that also responds to the new objective 7. Being able to implement solution i would be the best scenario. The next step is to

* hold meetings with managers from other departments to determine what their security concerns are and the impact of various programs on their operations,

* include the security staff in these meetings and use them to help coordinate security programs and the cost justifications for them,

* research which method of presentation has worked best with the executive decision makers in the past, and

* present the programs as an overall plan and request permission to implement them in a priority order throughout the year with the budget pre-approved.

WHEN BRAINSTORMING IS DONE INDIvidually, it usually takes place in the subconscious mode. However, adding participants to the process can help shorten the time it takes to achieve the desired result. Others look at a given situation differently than you might. They also have different objectives, which opens the process to new solution possibilities. However, be aware of the following cautions regarding a brainstorming group:

* Limit it to no more than 10 people. Four is better.

* Designate one person as a recorder just to write whatever comes up without filtering it.

* Designate a facilitator to keep the information flowing and keep the group from going off on a tangent.

* Make sure you are willing to accept the input from the others. You must be able to trust the group for valid feedback and not suspect hidden agendas.

* Make sure you are not looking for a preconceived result. If you are, you will end up frustrated.

* Make sure you are willing to accept the result of the session. If you are not, you will lose your credibility with the group and destroy the camaraderie that comes out of a team effort.

If you brainstorm by yourself, remember

* you are limiting the field of choices to only those you can identify through your experiences-others contribute different approaches and provide valuable input;

* it will take longer to find an innovative solution; and

* you will be your own facilitator, recorder, and brainstormer-make sure you are organized and dispassionate or you will continue to be frustrated.

Is this process really useful? Yes. You can use it at work to improve your efficiency and team effort or at home to help focus family activities. If others know and understand your goals and you know and understand theirs, your communications will improve dramatically.

When you aren't clear on how to proceed on a project, ask someone nearby to be your sounding board. Use him or her to help you brainstorm the subject. Describe the problems you are having and identify the objectives that would eliminate the problems. State the desired result to your sounding board.

When you have too many choices to make and they all seem good, or you really don't care which one is done, use this brainstorming process to identify the objectives. Then evaluate the pros and cons of the various solutions. Maybe one of the solutions is better for someone else who would be affected by the decision, even though it won't affect you.

About the Author . . . Lorna L. Chandler, CPP, is a principal of Asset Protection Consultants, Inc., an independent security consulting firm in Walnut Creek, CA. Chandler is the ASIS Vice President for Region II.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:brainstorming for problem solving
Author:Chandler, Lorna L.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Previous Article:The security manager's apprentice.
Next Article:Psst! The latest on PSQs.

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