GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler
“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought.” Sun Tzu
As reference I love using Michael Michalko book, Thinkertoys. It’s been on my shelf since first released in the 1991, especially in the most challenging times. This book has gotten me and my businesses through 2 gulf wars, 9/11/01 economic aftermath, 2008/9 deep recession and even good times where innovation felt no need.
In chapter 14, Phoenix, he shares the CIA’s checklist for dissecting and solving critical problems. BUT don’t just use this for tackling a problem, use it to help you design new business models, new revenue models, innovating a new product… the checklist applies to scenario planning and breaking down opportunities into manageable strategies to execute new ideas, processes and products.
It’s a strategy used and touted by experts over and over again and it works: The Phoenix Checklist Strategy. Challenging your own assumptions every minute of the day is not a bad thing right now. Putting a framework around how best to challenge your team and build stronger more reliable assumptions and plans is a great idea. I am sure there are strategies already at play and that too is a great thing. What more could be done today that you are not already doing? Maybe this is a great basis for the first question you want to answer using the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) trusted Phoenix checklist.
Below is the Phoenix Checklist but broken down in the way we at Plazabridge Group use the tool for innovating new ideas and solving critical issues for our clients.
>Start here: Can you imagine the result if you solve the problem?
Get those creative juices flowing.
What do you see?
What’s the first thing you see?
What’s the 2nd thing you see?
I. Define the problem– The first stage is to tackle the checklist.
Below are the Typical questions we ask and may have answers for… but go deeper!
- Why is it necessary to solve the problem?
- What benefits do you get by solving the problem?
- What are the unknown factors?
- Have you encountered this problem before?
- What data do we have to help us dissect the problem down into smaller pieces?
We often fail to go deeper into defining the challenges to be solved or opportunities to create Go deeper questions:
- What are you not yet understanding?
- What information do you have?
- What is not the problem?
- Is the information you have sufficient? Insufficient? Superfluous? Contradictory?
- Can you describe the problem in a chart?
- Where is the limit for the problem?
- Can you distinguish the different parts of the problem? Can you write them down? What are the relationships between the different parts of the problem? What is common to the different problem areas?
Then go even deeper exploration:
- Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form? Do you know a related issue?
- Try to think of a familiar problem with the same or similar unknown factors.
- Suppose you find a problem similar to yours that has already been resolved. Can you use it? Can you use the same method?
- Can you reformulate your problem? How many different ways can you reformulate it? More generally? More specifically? Can the rules change?
- What are the best, worst and most likely outcomes you can imagine?
Designing the plan checklist:
Our team starts here cutting through most challenges or designing new opportunities we want to tackle.
What will solving this problem do for our company? Answer this question daily for two weeks. See what happens. It’s magical really! Define, Write, chart, and visualize every step of the way. Assign roles to each member of the team to tackle component outcomes of the exploration.
- How will you solve the whole problem? Can you break the problem down?
- How much of the unknown can you influence?
- Can you deduce something useful from the information you have?
- Have you used all available information?
- Have you taken into account all the essential factors in the problem?
- Can you identify the steps in the problem-solving process? Can you determine the accuracy of each step?
- Draw these out –
- Then redraw them
- And again
- What creative techniques can you use to generate ideas? How many different techniques?
- After exploring creative techniques go back to the previous bullet point and draw out the steps again.
- Then again
- And yes ONE MORE MAGICAL time
Imagine again the results in the perfect world! What would the results be, look like, feel to everyone in the company, to you and to your customers?
- Can you imagine the result? How many different types of results can imagine?
- How many different ways can you try to solve the problem?
- What have others done?
- Can you intuitively see the solution? Can you check the result?
- What should be done? How should it be done?
- Where, when and by whom should it be done?
- What do you need to do right now?
- Who will be responsible for what?
Now what? Can you do more with the plan?
- Can you use this problem to resolve any other issues?
- What are the unique qualities that make this problem what it is and nothing else?
- Which milestones can best highlight your progress?
- How do you know when you are successful?
This last point is so very important and often left out of processes. There are stages of success. Success doesn’t happen all at once so how will you create your timeline to give any new plan a chance to succeed? Better yet, how will you know if you are not succeeding? The plan was well thought out, a lot of time was invested and possibly a lot of money! Don’t give up but in your scenario planning do know what you are watching for to say, how and where shall we adjust along the way and constantly question how to improve the plan. Give it long enough, give it a fighting chance, put your top minds in the company on these challenges and opportunities.
Create your opportunity team of diverse thinkers! They are your innovators.
Create your action team! They are your executors!
Now you are ready for the next challenge or opportunity. Start at the top and repeat.
Image credits: iStockPhoto (purchased by the author)
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