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Q & A with Chris Griffiths: Author of "GRASP The Solution"

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting with Chris Griffiths, CEO of ThinkBuzan, and author of the new book: "GRASP The Solution".

I asked Chris a few questions about his new book, the importance of creative thinking in tough times, and how to turn good ideas into reality. Here are his thoughts:

Chris, how long has the idea for this book been in your mind, and can you briefly outline the focus of the book for us?

You could say that the idea’s been there for decades. I’ve always been interested in brain based thinking theories and processes and in what thought leaders around the world were saying and doing. The idea had been there for a while but the hardest thing was putting into perspective how there are so many fantastic tools out there, what can we do to make those tools even more effective? I felt that many people who were using thinking and creativity tools were missing a vital ingredient - the context in which they used the tool. Someone who’s looking to get fit knows that they need to exercise and so they make the decision to go to the gym and use the equipment (the tools) there. But if they don’t exercise or use the gym equipment in the right way or context, for instance, by training after eating a three-course meal or while wearing a business suit, or by neglecting their diet, they’re not going to achieve the best results!

With this book I wanted to answer the question - how can you make any thinking tool more effective? Well you can do this by ensuring that you’ve set up the right environment and mindset – the context - in which you’re using the tool before you use it.

Is there any specific type of person, or type of job, that the ideas in this book

The book has a definite business focus in that it’s geared at entrepreneurs, managers, coaches and professionals. But the principles and strategies in the book are relevant to anyone who has a challenge to overcome or goal to meet, be it personal or professional. It’s pretty much applicable to anyone who’s interested in making better decisions and solving problems more effectively. Success in work and life is predetermined by whether you make good or bad decisions. You can’t make fantastic decisions all the time but if you can increase your chances of making better, more informed decisions by using a process, such as the four-step process which is part of the GRASP The Solution (GTS) system, then you increase your chances of being successful. Even children can benefit from it! The GRASP material has actually been included in an accredited qualification endorsed by a major UK awarding body to help maximise thinking skills in children. But overall, the book’s slant is very much towards a business audience.

The importance of creativity and creative thinking is something the book focuses heavily on. Why do you think the ability to think creatively is so important now, and why do you think creativity is so often the first thing to suffer when people are busy, or times are hard?

I think that first of all we have to be able to distinguish between creativity and innovation. Creativity is important today in that it’s a fundamental driver for innovation and my definition of innovation is “the marriage of creative thinking and sound logic, which when applied together, create a solution or direction for one to explore and deliver”. My approach doesn’t focus purely on creativity. GRASP The Solution is a very pragmatic book which helps you find a solution to a challenge or a direction to explore. A big part of that process involves being creative and that’s why lots of attention is paid to the idea generation stage and generative thinking strategies are used all the way through. But, just as important are all the other components and stages that people need to work through to reach a congruent solution.

Most people think that creative thinking is about having lots of ideas, and if they’re already sitting on a pile of ideas or they’re strapped for time, it’s not going to be something they prioritise. But being successfully innovative isn’t just about having ideas - it involves a whole lot more. You need to define the challenge, generate ideas, evaluate and analyse those ideas and objectively decide how to take the right ideas forward. At the end of it all, a good idea is still just an idea until you actually do something with it.

Many people will say they are not a ‘creative type’ or that they don’t have a creative brain. What message does the book have for people who think like this and how can it help?

Well, I think the book is for the most part quite prescriptive. Good creative thinking, as with any other task, needs to have a defined system and process behind it to make sure it’s performed in the most logical way. This might sound surprising but logic and creativity are actually very closely related, you can’t do one without the other to any great extent. Lots of people believe they aren’t creative. Some are just plain scared to be creative in their organisation, perhaps because they fear ridicule. Quite often the person we perceive to be the ‘creative type’ is the one who comes out with all the weird and wacky or fluffy ideas. There’s no sound, practical logic behind them in terms of their application in the real world.

I feel that one of the key benefits of this book is that it’s very methodical and has a common sense approach. It includes processes and techniques that will allow anyone to be creative. And absolutely everyone has the potential to be creative, without a shadow of a doubt. If somebody says they can’t be creative, usually what they really mean is they’re not being innovative. They aren’t putting new ideas into practice. And there’s a good reason for this. How many individuals do you know who have had a schooling that included ongoing classes and courses on creativity and innovation? It’s extremely rare for people to have been taught how to be creative, so most people just don’t know how to do it. They think all they need to do is run a brainstorming session or idea generation programme. But that’s not being creative. Creative thinking needs to be part of an innovation process. And the innovative process is necessary to help you find a solution to a challenge or overcome some form of sameness.

So, for anyone to say they’re not the creative type is fundamentally wrong – they just don’t know how to be creative and innovative in a systematic way.

Key to the book is the “GRASP” concept, which suggests an awareness of different modes of thinking can help us improve the overall quality of our thinking. Can you give us a taste of what is involved here?

The metaphor of a marathon can help to explain this. If someone sets themselves a goal to run a marathon, they can’t expect to just turn up on the day and complete it successfully. They have to prepare for it long before. They have to know how to train, how to eat, they have to have the right practice schedule and equipment/clothing. Everything has to be set up correctly to surround that one small event which is the marathon. And I use the term ‘small’ because it’s everything that happens before the marathon that allows them to perform the activity to the best of their ability.

Most people don’t realise that they allow external influences to dictate what they can and can’t do. The key to good creativity and innovation programmes is not so much knowing what to do, what idea generating games, tools and tactics to use etc. - it’s knowing what NOT to do. It’s becoming common knowledge that creativity diminishes with age. There are numerous standardised tests worldwide that show a marked decline in creativity as we age and the results of our own ThinkBuzan creativity test which we’ve conducted on over 5000 people can verify this. This decline comes about because the conventions and assumptions which are put on us through educational systems and our early work life restrict our creativity and we develop a fear of failure, of getting things wrong.

But we can all overcome this. First we have to recognise some very simple basics. Without awareness, you stop yourself from being as creative and innovative as you have the potential to be. You could have the best tools, the best processes but if you don’t know what thinking habits to avoid, they won’t do you much good. Knowing what not to do is actually quite difficult – because you don’t know what you don’t know. Yet a lack of realisation will kill countless brilliant ideas that are buried in the back of your mind.

The GRASP concept is really very simple and works on the basis that the mode of thinking you’re in always dictates how you approach a task or decision. GRASP was devised to help you understand at a high altitude level how your mode of thinking can influence your creativity. It’s an acronym of the fives modes of thinking that I’ve found to be most relevant in terms of their influence on creativity and innovation – Generative, Reactive, Analytical, Selective and Proactive. If you’re in a reactive mode of thinking most of the time, and unfortunately most people are, you allow an external event, idea or person to influence your thoughts and decisions. You end up being a ‘follower’ in the big scheme of things, your progress is being led by someone or something else. Being innovative requires strategic planning; it requires proactive thinking and metacognition, the highest form of thinking. This is what allows you to put a strategy around your thinking so you can lead, not follow.

I speak to a lot of audiences around the world and, when I explain GRASP, you can literally see their faces light up because they suddenly realise why their earlier innovation programmes have failed, despite all the time and money invested in them. They failed simply because people didn’t understand the absolute fundamentals of their thinking. You need to get into the right frame of mind and put an end to certain habits and patterns before you can actually get down to the business of being creative and innovative.

Obviously your work on thinking skills is heavily influenced and shaped by your involvement with Tony Buzan and the world of mind mapping. What role has mapping played in shaping the creation and contents of the book?

Tony Buzan is the individual I would consider most responsible for leading me down my own path of exploration into thinking, creativity and innovation. His Mind Mapping technique is easily one of the most powerful creative thinking tools on the planet. Absolutely everyone, every child, every adult should do it as second nature. I don’t believe Mind Mapping should be a separate exercise, something that’s reserved only for specific tasks - it should be done as a matter of course.

Linear note-taking and writing is such a massive inhibitor to creative thinking and progress. It defies logic. If we were set the challenge to create a new note-taking form based on all the information we have from history and science, there’s no doubt that it would have to include images, colour, structure, words and numbers. And this is exactly what the Mind Map does. It pulls in all these resources and that’s what makes it so effective for not only taking down your thoughts and information but also for building on them.

Tony Buzan’s work has touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. If I can go partway to doing the same with the GRASP The Solution (GTS) system then I’ll be doing my bit to help people think and work better. Mind Mapping plays a significant role in the book simply because it works! There are Mind Map summaries throughout the book and instructions and templates are given on how to use Mind Mapping for all the different activities, from defining your challenge, to generating ideas, to evaluating those ideas using whole brain thinking and ultimately setting your goals and action plans. So Mind Mapping is the practical device that you use to record and build on your ideas as you work through the creative process. It’s an important tool and the GTS system provides the context and process for using that tool in an even more effective way. If you enjoy Mind Mapping but you’re not using it much because you’re not sure how to use it or you’re a bit stuck in what you’re doing with it, then hopefully the GTS system will help to open your options and give you another perspective on your application of it. It can really take your Mind Mapping to another level.

The book not only focuses on how to help people create new/better ideas, but also helps them to put ideas into action using the ‘Solution Finder’ approach. We have all experienced situations where good discussions and ideas go no further than the meeting room, so how can the Solution Finder help?

In a nutshell, the Solution Finder helps because it puts a practical system and process behind the act of creativity. My experience is that people are getting fed up of hyped up creativity schemes and programmes. They’re just too fluffy. People are demanding clear, pragmatic systems and processes for innovation that they can apply in the real world. A good innovation process makes sure that you have all the right ingredients and tools to generate original ideas, to determine the right answer to your particular challenge and to actively take it to fruition. This is what the Solution Finder is. It’s a very simple but well-developed process. There are only four steps but each step is scientifically backed by the latest research in neuroscience and management psychology and by my own extensive research and observations over the years. The steps are there to help you deliver ‘practical creativity’. This is something that many managers and professionals struggle with.

The Boston Consulting Group conducted a survey in 2008 which showed that two-thirds of senior executives placed innovation as one of their top three strategic priorities. But when these executives were questioned on which initiatives they were most happy with in terms of return on investment, innovation didn’t even factor! While it was one of their top priorities, they couldn’t seem to deliver on it. I think this is because most executives only use partial strategies. For instance, they might have their favourite brainstorming techniques and certain analytical tools that they’re comfortable using but they don’t cover the ‘whole’. There isn’t a system or process in place to structure their entire innovation approach. Unless you have complete balance at every stage, you’re going to have less chance of taking your ideas forward and making them a success.

The benefit of the Solution Finder is that it sets out all the steps and all the tools you need to help you find the right idea to overcome your challenge. And what you’ll find is that you can be much more confident about carrying the idea forward because you’ll have performed everything correctly to get there. Each step of the Solution Finder guides you into the most appropriate mode of thinking for the activity you’re working on and so in the end you can be certain that you’re heading in the right direction. Have you ever noticed that when you rush into making a decision, eventually you start feeling really unsure about it? It’s difficult to believe in an idea wholeheartedly when you’ve rushed into picking it without exploring the situation thoroughly. What usually happens is that you end up second guessing it for the next six months. You never get behind it 100 per cent.

Finally, what impact would you most like the book to have on people who read it?

Firstly, I’d like people to understand how thinking about their thinking can dramatically change their effectiveness and productivity. For the majority of people, thinking is just something that happens – they react from one event to another, or they’re selective with the information they see and hear. If you want to be innovative, you have to have a ‘grasp’ of how the mind works and this is the purpose of the GRASP concept. Once you’re aware that being in the wrong thinking mode can hinder your ability to be creative, it becomes very easy to take control and generate new ideas.

The second thing I’d like people to take away from this book is that the creative process is essentially logical. You can have a set of processes which make it tangible and pragmatic. I recently had a conversation with Stephen Shapiro, a leading innovation author and consultant, and we both agreed that one of the most important steps in the creative process is to define the problem. Yet this is the step that most people skip! Missing out any step of the process reduces your chances of making the best decisions, and more so with this one because it’s the step that sets the principal direction for your thinking.

So together, the main impact of the book would be to help people understand how they can put a strategy around their thinking very simply using GRASP and the Solution Finder whenever they have to make a decision or overcome a challenge. By working through all the stages and switching fluently between the right modes of thinking, people will be a million times more empowered to be innovative and confident in their final direction.

GRASP The Solution is available in both paperback and electronic form and can be viewed/purchased here.

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Barney is Community Manager at Biggerplate and shares user stories, mind mapping tips, and other news and updates from our global member community!
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