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Chris Thomason

Ingenious Growth

Managing Director

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Personal development: how to stimulate better business thinking


Your people are talented, smart and have knowledge and expertise that you value – they are your experts in their fields.

Unfortunately this can sometimes stop them from being innovative because, as an expert, you are expected to know the answers to any business questions that arise relating to your domain of skill and knowledge.

Reviewing an issue from a new perspective is essential when you want to do something differently, however, our natural thinking patterns tend to prevent us from becoming an ‘explorer of the new’.

To change from being an expert to being an explorer requires mechanisms that disrupt the normal mode of thinking and direct it into new and potentially valuable areas worth exploring, and here are some techniques to achieve this.

Know your 'killer question'

Start by creating a focus for your thinking in the form of a powerful killer question.

Too often we focus on the answers before we have even agreed the question – and this applies whether the exercise is for a group or just for you. There’s no value in finding a brilliant answer to the wrong question.

Traditional brainstorming encourages out-of-the-box or blue-sky thinking, but unfortunately this doesn’t represent the business environment.

In business there are always constraints and requirements that have to be taken into consideration for an idea to be accepted as a practical solution or opportunity.

Too often we focus on the answers before we have even agreed the question.

To identify big and bold opportunities around an issue, you need to phrase a powerful question which effectively defines the box you want to think into.

A killer question achieves this by being focused and meaningful for the business in that you know that it will be of great value when answered well.

A good killer question is phrased in the form: 'how can we achieve this activity so that this end-result happens?' 

An example could be: 'how do we reduce our 34% membership churn rate to below 10% by clearly demonstrating the benefits of being a longer-term member of our organisation?'

Use thinking templates

As part of our evolution into a highly-developed species, we learned to use our minds more effectively.

To identify big and bold opportunities around an issue, you need to phrase a powerful question which effectively defines the box you want to think into.

We create patterns of behaviour in our mind so that in any given situation we can review the patterns we know and apply the best one. An example is tying your shoelaces.

You don’t have to learn how to tie your laces every time – it’s now automatic due to the remembered pattern you have embedded in you.

This is highly-efficient for us – except when we want to do something differently such as change the way we think about something.

This is when our normal thinking patterns become a liability. We desire to think differently, however, our brains try to assist us by instinctively recalling the thinking patterns we know which results in us recalling the same ideas that we had previously.

To break your normal thinking patterns you need a new map which leads you off the well-trodden path and onto a route less travelled, and thinking templates are an effective way to achieve this and to force different thinking about your issue.

Thinking templates disrupt your usual thinking process through a sequence of innovative tools to guide you in considering your issue from fresh perspectives. The templates also act as a repository for all the ideas you generate.

Imagine that your issue has two key aspects, one of which is black, at one end of a spectrum, while the second is white at the other end of the spectrum.

To help you use the optimal thinking approach, the idea generator offers three distinct templates that can be applied to any issue:

  • Islands of opportunity: helps you efficiently identify opportunities to an issue that is new or hasn’t been tackled before.
  • Divide and conquer: is intended to consider a difficult issue that has been addressed before but that is still unresolved and needs fresh thinking.
  • Boundary riding: Is specifically structured to identify short- to medium-term growth opportunities within, or near to, your current business areas.

These free thinking templates can be downloaded from

Why pen and paper?

The templates are intended to be downloaded and printed out for use, as this is a pen-and-paper approach to thinking that you can use anywhere, anytime for your creative thinking.

You may notice that most designers use a notebook in order to capture their ideas as they occur to them, and this is the primary reason these templates are paper-based and not digital.

It’s much easier to capture a scribble or sketch of an idea on paper than to use a digital device.

Tools that break your thinking patterns

The templates each contain five different tools designed to guide your thinking in a specific direction to prevent your mind following its usual thinking process.

The templates allow you to set up your issue and the five tools then direct your thinking so you interrogate your issue in new ways.

Here are three examples of the 15 tools found in the templates:


This is an acronym that embraces almost every interaction in a business environment.

It stands for a Deliverer performs an Action for the benefit of a Recipient using a Process in an Environment under certain Constraints.

Whenever one person does something for another person, these six elements are usually part of the interaction in some way.

The aim of DARPEC is to force you to look in detail at each of these elements for the activity at the core of your killer question.

Each of the elements of the DARPEC model has a series of questions to be posed that help you interrogate your issue in detail to identify new solutions or opportunities of value.

Black and white thinking

Imagine that your issue has two key aspects, one of which is black, at one end of a spectrum, while the second is white at the other end of the spectrum.

A perfect solution might seem to be the mid-point grey – the effect when you mix black and white.

By default, we tend to view any issue through our own eyes.

Unfortunately, this middle ground often never truly satisfies anybody’s requirements fully.

Rather than mix the two colours to get grey, we need to create an end-result with a chequerboard effect that has black aspects for those that want black and also white aspects for those that want white.

The chequerboard is the better solution – not the grey that we may have originally believed.

This tool helps you to deconstruct your issue into its component elements and then reconstruct a solution that contains clear aspects of each element to design a new solution unlike anything you may have identified before.

Four customer lenses

By default, we tend to view any issue through our own eyes.

This tool puts you into the mindset and persona of a specific customer (either an external or internal customer) and allows you to review the situation from their perspective. Once the customer scenario is established, the tool then helps you consider the issue through four different lenses:

  • What’s the one thing that when stopped will make this better?
  • What’s a small change that will ripple over several areas?
  • What will make this twice as effective?
  • What’s a change that will deliver a quantum-leap benefit?

These four lenses are applied to a number of situations as the customer progresses through their interaction with you.

Finally, remember that in order to shift your mindset you have to be self-aware and prepared to change - so before sleepwalking into a decision, take some time to stop and think - it could make all the difference. 

Interested in this topic? Read Leadership: creating a culture of innovation.

2 Responses

  1. Excellent information on your
    Excellent information on your content, thank you for taking the time to share with us.

Author Profile Picture
Chris Thomason

Managing Director

Read more from Chris Thomason

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