Are you or your team stuck on a problem? Is a project struggling to gain momentum? Is a new initiative stalled? Are your ideas not getting the traction you hoped for from others in the organization? Is your messaging not conveying the energy you hoped it might?

The following questions are from the design work I use with leaders and organizations. Throw these inquiries at your challenge and see if the process or your answers help you overcome the roadblock. Some of these questions might seem obvious, and you might already be asking them, but it’s possible that in the paralysis of your challenge, you’ve overlooked a necessary step.

 What are others doing? What can I learn from them?

By asking, “what’s already happening?” you’re prompting your observation, data collection, and research skills. It’s quite possible that someone somewhere is already doing some version of your idea. Fortunately, this gives you the opportunity to learn from their experience. Explore the landscape and learn from others.

 What do I really want to happen?

Another way to ask this question: is your vision clear? Do you know what your goal really is?  You’ve been dreaming up your big idea for quite some time, and now that you have a sense of the landscape, it’s time to clarify and define exactly what you’re hoping to make happen. This is a future-oriented, big picture question.  Clarity here ensures you’re solving the right problem and using the best perspective.

 How might I develop an excessive, diverse set of ideas to eventually find the right solution to the problem I’m facing?

Divergent Thinking is an aspect of brainstorming that fires-up our imagination. Divergent Thinking is a powerful way to discover the break through idea you need instead of waiting around for that lightning bolt inspiration. And for people that believe they’re not creative, this is the tool that will illuminate your inherent creative ability. Our brains are wired to overcome problems. With this process we engage our creative energy on command. Set a time limit, avoid criticism, and come up with as many ideas as possible.

Which ideas might work best?

After brainstorming a large quantity of ideas folks ask, “okay, what’s the point? What do we do now?” The whole concept of brainstorming has been put under question at times. Indeed, you just generated a lot of ideas. Some of them are quite outlandish, so you might put those aside, but do they have anything to teach you?  Other ideas are far-fetched, but they just might work with a little adjustment. Something feels right about those ideas and your gut tells you to hold on to them. Several ideas offer definite viable possibilities and they go into the “most likely” category.  And then quite a few ideas are common, boring, and unimaginative.  Perfect.  Your process of evaluating your ideas has begun.

Is context impacting my work?

This is actually the moment when so many great visions, solutions, and strategies fall short. In fact, it might be why you’re going through this worksheet. Context is everything, and this is the time to consider it. Who is assisting you with implementation? Is someone missing from the team? Is someone on the team possibly causing a problem? Is it you? Who else is resisting you? What roadblocks have been created? Is there an aspect of your organization that simply isn’t ready for the new initiative?

          Example: Opening a vegan restaurant with locally sourced food in Fort Collins, CO is likely different than opening the same restaurant in Dodge City. KS. Opening a restaurant in either city is not impossible, not by any means.  But the challenges in each context are different. So are the opportunities.

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What’s next?

The likelihood is that as soon as our original idea came to us, way back before we asked any of these questions, we jumped to developing strategy and implementation. We go straight to the “to do.” I do this often.  Far too many solutions are uninformed, poorly considered, and put together in the haste of creative inspiration. This might be why your challenge arose.

If going through these five questions has brought about a new idea for a solution, an insight about your context, or clarity about your vision, now is the time to take that all into consideration and work through your strategy again with a bit more information and insight.