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Step Two.  "Idea-Finding"
Now starts your brainstorm on Idea-Finding. What are all the possible ways to address whatever is your problem statement?

In a fixed time of 10-15 minutes, list 30-50 possible entries, many silly, many which at first look silly but which on close inspection may be invaluable instead.....Write whatever comes into your mind, even if it seems to have nothing to do with the solution.

"Gravel Gulch" example, Step Two

For example, if it's the whole neighborhood running downhill and your problem statement is, "In what ways may we get this neighborhood spruced back up and kept up?" some of your ideas might be—
  • Shoot a video and show it to all the neighbors.
  • Make it a project of the Rotary Club (Kiwanis, church group, whomever...)
  • Write a humorously exaggerated piece in the newspaper about the neighborhood's decrepitude.
  • Spray black paint all around, then they'd have to fix up!
  • Develop a neighborhood compact of mutual support and aid in fix-ups and consumer bargaining power with repairmen, workmen and building contractors.
  • Lobby City Hall for credits against taxes for upkeep and improvements.
  • Put to work the drunks in city jail and/or the teenagers on probation.
  • Make a big sign: "I've spruced up here. Now it's YOUR turn. (Pass it on!)" Spruce up your own property, plant the sign on the boundary.
  • Hold a block party, turn it into a neighborhood meeting on the problem.
  • Post a big sign: "If my neighbors don't fix their places up by June 1st, I'm painting my house red, white and blue!" (—which is exactly what one citizen in my town of Gaithersburg, Maryland, once did!—in alternating stripes!)
  • Get some organization to sponsor a prize for the most and best fix-up for the least money.
  • Get a price on vinyl (or aluminum) siding for the whole neighborhood.
  • Start a fashion trend for high hedges.
  • Encourage everyone to rent out a room to nice college kids in return for rent or sweat equity in fix-ups.
  • Establish a new traditional fix-up regional/local holiday festival.
  • Anonymously posted rankings of the conditions of the various properties of the neighborhood, week-by-week, placed prominently.
  • ...and so on, 30-40-50 items.
No idea gets critiqued until after your brainstorm, until your list of ideas is complete. Set any judgment aside and simply let fly with more and more ideas....

Spin off other ideas: what are some of the other things which might be done with anonymously posted ratings of various sorts? Could this develop into an active community bulletin board that was actually used, actually read, and which actually addressed community issues and news?

Reach further! Look at a few more possibilities --At a few more than that! --And a few more even than that!.....

The next step is when you get to look through your list and determine which of these many ideas might best be made into a solution to your chosen problem.....


Step Three.   "Solution-Finding"
Which of your many ideas might usefully be combined into a better idea?

Which of your ideas, among those which have some plausibility to them, is most likely to have been thought of by someone else, and therefore with a history you can usefully research and use? Which of these is least likely so, and therefore most fertile for original development?

Expand your best idea or combination of ideas into a 3-4 sentence description (or prescription) showing how that idea or suggested course of action will solve the problem.

Now is the time to consider objections, make those critiques. How readily can you muster and produce or supply what it takes to implement your solution? How much does this action depend on someone else's approval, support, or supply? Perhaps you need to orient toward those solutions which you can implement virtually alone if need be, marking the others for future reference, once your initial successes have made you more persuasive....

Decide on one for now, and write down your indicated solution to the problem. Now proceed...


Step Four. "Action-Planning"
o What are all the goods, services, and supplies needed? List them; circle or underline any for which you need someone else (who?) to supply.

o What are the steps of action needed?

o By whom?

o By when? Make out a time line, by hours, days or weeks, from now to time of completion, with the indicated actions located along it. Which actions must be completed before others can proceed? When does a given action begin, when is it completed, is there an indicator to tell if the schedule is slipping?

o Perhaps the most important question:  Is everyone affected by this solution benefitted by it? Is any legitimate interest harmed by its success? What will it take to prevent harm to any legitimate interest and ensure its benefit from the outcome? (Not necessarily a matter of being altruistic—just practical in that it'll probably be easier to implement your solution if you don't create a dedicated opposition to it.)

o Whose approval or support is needed? (Who are all the individuals and agencies or organizations who could block the success of your solution?) Will any in this list need placating? How? How might you step around or go over the heads of anyone whose interest in the matter is not legitimate? How might you avoid arousing the latter and still get the job done in full honor?
If there are several close choices as to desired solution, you may need to do some "criterion-finding." List the alternative possible solutions down the left column of your paper. Across the top of the page, list such factors as:
  • cost
  • how long the thing would take to implement
  • whether and to what extent the resources needed are already in your hand
  • how valuable the outcome by that solution would be to you
  • how readily you will know if the solution is working or not
  • whatever other such criteria as you find might apply.
Often just scanning such a table will suffice to clarify which solution you want. Or if this is a very detailed table, you might want to weight the vertical columns in some manner as to which are least and which most important to you. Go through each listed solution in turn across the columns, scoring them from 0 to +3 according to how well that solution meets that particular criterion, then add up the weighted scores of each solution, to see which seems best to you.

Don't feel bound by some arbitrary score resulting from such criterion-finding. The main purpose is to develop your awareness in this critical area of the possible solution. Sometimes, though, what you feel to be right, after you've developed your awareness accordingly, does coincide with what scores best on your chart of criteria. If you've no clear feel at this stage, what scores best on your criteria chart may well be the best way to go.

If you do go ahead and implement some particular solution, by what design feature will you know, and how soon, whether that particular solution is in fact "working" or whether it will need to be revised? Can you define a series of action/go-ahead points where you proceed if such-and-such has happened by such-and-such time, or reexamine the matter if it has not? You don't want to lose everything on the first solution that doesn't work for you. On the other hand, you don't want to be stalled by trivial difficulties and prevented from a highly desirable outcome.

Please note: No answer is a solution until it is acted upon.


Comments to
Win Wenger

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