A simple brainstorming technique to get you moving again.

A problem is the fertile soil in which opportunity grows. If your customers didn't have problems, they wouldn't call you. If you didn't have problems, you would grow stagnant - you wouldn't learn anything. You know how to win over a customer for life? Demonstrate how good you are when things go wrong. Show that customer that you will make it right. Problems are wonderful!

Go ahead. Say it out loud, “I LOVE PROBLEMS!”

Sometimes we just get stuck. The problem with a problem is that you don't know what to do to turn it into an opportunity. Then, the problem starts to gnaw at you. A problem can cause you to worry, and worrying is not good for your health.

Recently, I talked on the phone with my friend Steve who shared a good, juicy problem. His bonus program is a stinker. Nobody really understands it. It takes about 20 hours a month to administer. And sales per plumber at his company have not gone up at all since starting the program. I suggested that he sit down with his plumbers, service manager and bookkeeper, and brainstorm ideas for a new bonus program.

He called me with an update a couple of days later.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“Pretty good, I guess,” Steve responded. “Well, as expected, anyway. There were a couple of whiners who complained a lot about how bad the current system is. The quiet guys didn't participate at all. Our bookkeeper just said that whatever we worked out, she'd do what was needed to track it and pay it. So, I did most of the talking and gave them my ideas for revamping the program.”

Ugh! Steve, that meeting was about as productive as a teenager with a Game Boy. That's not how to brainstorm! Not surprising. It is yet another vital skill generally not taught in school. I have a procedure for him - and you - that will help discover creative ways to bonus over-goal performance. And this procedure can be used with any problem.


Right now, you may be stuck in indecision. You need a simple, basic tool for getting unstuck. Dear reader, I am happy to share with you the simple and powerful brainstorming exercise I advised Steve: Super-thinking! This procedure will help you solve problems, get focused, banish worry, discover opportunity and move forward.

Super-thinking is based on the classic work of Dale Carnegie. In his wonderful book, “How To Stop Worrying and Start Living,” he writes, “Experience has proved to me, time after time, the enormous value of arriving at a decision. I found that 50 percent of my worries vanish once I arrive at a clear, definite decision; and another 40 percent vanish once I start to carry out that decision. So I banish 90 percent of worry by taking these four steps:

    “1. Writing down precisely what I am worrying about.
    “2. Writing down what I can do about it.
    “3. Deciding what to do.
    “4. Starting immediately to carry out that decision.”
My Super-thinking version goes like this:
    1. Write down precisely what the problem or challenge is.
    2. Write down what might be done about it. (Be sure to write down at least 20 ideas.)
    3. Decide what to do.
    4. Start immediately to carry out that decision.
Carnegie keyed into a powerful component of this process: To solve the problem and banish the worry, you must write it out. The “overwhelm” goes away once we expose thoughts to paper.

The most important element of this Super-thinking version is the 20 ideas. Not only is there a solution to your problem, you have lots of options. The really creative ideas are going to be numbers 14 through 20.

Then, decide - and start immediately to carry out that decision.

Super-Thinking Exercise

The Super-thinking exercise can be done by an individual, or used to gather the collective creativity of a group.

I use Super-thinking whenever I find myself “spinning my wheels.” By disciplining myself to write down at least 20 ideas, I connect with the universal creative mind - and always get unstuck. Even if I don't solve the problem I am struggling with, I will move closer to the solution by my decision and action.

Do you have an employee or co-worker who tries to hand you his or her problems for you to solve? Insist that he does the Super-thinking exercise before he asks for your help.

Let's take a look at how Super-thinking with a group would work to help solve Steve's problem. Prior to the meeting, Steve should:

  • Let the team members know the time, date and place of the Super-thinking session, and tell them the topic will be “Creating a simple, win-win-win bonus program for the service plumbers.”

  • Meet with his service manager and bookkeeper to review the existing employee compensation program, and spend some time reviewing the budget and the actual financial data.

  • At the Super-thinking meeting, Steve should start by letting his team know that he appreciates them. He intends to make sure that as the company grows, they are justly rewarded. The meeting is all about getting their ideas for handling this challenge.

    He should acknowledge that it will be his responsibility to ultimately decide what the program will be. He's the owner and that's his job. However, right now he is stuck and he is certain that the team can help him figure out a better plan than the one that is not working now.

  • Then, he should direct his team through the steps of the Super-thinking exercise. He should insist that they write down 20 ideas. This is how he can get input from the quiet employees. Then, he will write all the ideas down on a flip chart or dry erase board at the front of the room.

    All ideas are welcome. Steve can skip writing down duplicate ideas if two employees have the same idea. However, even a little variation on an idea should count as a new idea.

  • Next, Steve should have each team member vote on his or her top three favorite ideas. Steve may find that the winning ideas are just the right elements he needs to create a simple, win-win-win bonus program. His team expects Steve to make the decision. They will be pleased that he sought their input. And, Steve will be well served to let their opinions impact his decision. That will make it easier for team members to “buy in” on the bonus program.

  • Steve should end the meeting with a warm expression of thanks and a promise to alert them of his decision by a certain date.

  • After the meeting, Steve should review the ideas. He should consider the financial impact of the bonus program. Steve could share his thoughts with his service manager, or lead plumber and bookkeeper, and ask them to critique his plan. They could work together to update the budget as needed. Then, Steve should decide and act.

    When he unveils the bonus program, he should let his team know that they will “test drive” it for 60 days. That way, the team can measure performance and financial data and see if the bonus program is working. If it needs to be changed, Steve and his team can Super-think the solution.

    This is just one example. Super-thinking is a simple, structured technique for brainstorming. Super-thinking will help you make sure you keep moving in the direction of your mission and your goals. It's all about getting you unstuck; it's about getting you moving again.

    I checked in with Steve after his Super-thinking session. He and his crew came up with a terrific compensation plan. I'll share his ideas - and a few others - in next month's column.