Someone recently came to me and asked my advice, because, “All of our Brainstorming and Strategic meetings generate lots of discussion, but we seldom really create any concrete action. We use some brainstorming techniques and minutes are often written, but we don’t get full value for the time taken out of the business by our highest paid people!”

A common enough complaint. It may sound strikingly familiar to you.

Certainly many people find their “brainstorming” sessions either become too “free-form” creative (all well and good), but don’t lead to any decisive conclusions or specific actions to take or they become bogged down in minutiae and problems at an operational level, rather than generating opportunities and action plans to bring those opportunities to fruition.

So how can we truly overcome the enigma that we need to think, plan, create new ideas, and at the same time we need to be constantly productive and acting fast every day to keep achieving our productivity goals?!

“I made an international reputation by thinking twice each week”– George Bernard Shaw

The secret lies in the four cornerstones of what I call Generative Thinking.

And the four cornerstones are…

 1. Time.  Set aside the time to think on a regular basis. It’s no good sitting down once a year to “think about ways of improving the business and the way we do things” to find that you stumble. Like any muscle, the Generative Thinking muscle will atrophy with lack of use. Exercised often, it will become strong.

2. Space.  Find an environment which is away from your normal work space. And preferably away from any potential distractions.

3. Topic.  Many people set aside the time and space to think, but then find themselves thinking about low-grade topics, or getting side-tracked into dealing with minor business issues. Choose your topics for Generative Thinking in advance.

4. Toolkit.  Add in some very specific tools to your armoury- Mindmapping and so on can really help. And these don’t have to be works of art… they can be very basic. The Stratagrams (Strategic Diagrams) I have devised and used many times are there to generate thought, harness opportunity, and act as a record for ongoing monitoring and follow-up. And, always think with a pen in your hand.

The object of the exercise is not “to discuss” or “to think about”, but “to decide”. The thinking is simply the vehicle that allows you to take decisions and commit to action. It goes without saying that it’s also a good idea to have some time scheduled afterwards for Immediate Actions – to take the first bold steps to turn your thinking into results.