Defining Problems and Opportunities


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Greetings. Looking for a quick way to test the creativity of your colleagues and your organization? If so, here’s a simple and energizing three-minute “exercise” that will provide some interesting insight.

1. Begin by dividing everyone into groups of five to eight people.

2. Then tell them that you are going to do a quick assessment of their creative and collaborative abilities.

3. Next, give each group a set of 50 paper or plastic plates and a set of 50 paper or plastic cups.

4. Now tell everyone that they will have three minutes to complete an assignment that has no right or wrong answers.

5. Finally, give everyone the following instructions and a signal to start:

Use the cups and plates to build the tallest tower possible.”

Then let their energy and creativity rise to the challenge…and, after two minutes, give them an enthusiastic one-minute “warning” to spark their competitive juices and create a sense of compelling urgency.

At the end of three minutes you can blow a whistle, sound a horn or simply say:


Which means it’s time to measure each group’s tower and ask for insight on the process each group went through in trying to build the tallest tower. In doing this basic “debrief” you will likely notice that several groups were diligent in using just the cups and plates to build their towers. So diligent, in fact, that they interpreted the instructions to say:

Use only the cups and plates to build the tallest tower possible.”

And their towers are likely to reflect this limitation. Because it isn’t easy to build a tall tower out of paper or plastic plates and cups. Though they probably used great creativity in coming up with the design for their relatively short tower.

You will also likely notice that one or more of the other groups decided to use more than the plates and cups to build their towers. They might have used a chair, their tallest group member or some other readily available item–in addition to the cups and plates–as an aid in achieving greater height. And their towers are likely to be taller and less susceptible to the wind. These groups interpreted the instructions to say:

Use the cups and plates and anything else you can find or imagine (or try out of desperation) to build the tallest tower possible.”

For them, the result was the key and they were willing to stretch the bounds of the instructions in order to get the most remarkable outcome possible. Their only real constraints were the time limit and the power of their imaginations.

As it turns out, we need both types of groups in our companies and organizations. But we really need the second type at the start of efforts to solve pressing problems or create meaningful new opportunities. Yet all too often we limit our potential by narrowly defining the challenges we face at the outset. Even when the behaviors we require are teachable!


We win in business and in life when we push the boundaries of rules in a positive way to create more powerful possibilities.


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Alan Gregerman
Alan Gregerman is an award-winning author, consultant and keynote speaker who has been called "one of the most original thinkers in business today" and "the Robin Williams of business consulting." His work focuses on helping companies and organizations to unlock the genius in all of their people in order to deliver the most compelling value to their customers.


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