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  • Writer's pictureMalcolm De Leo

Facilitation: Spectruming Your Ideas

Have you ever been faced with creating options for a difficult solution? All of us in our business or ever personal lives run into challenges that require us to develop choices that enable a positive outcome. What happens when these options require alignment from a group of people? The number of opinions will climb as do the options to solve the problem. This "force multiplier" can slow down decision making that needs to happen quickly and easily devolves into a the worst possible thing; brainstorming.

The trick is finding quick and easy ways to scope out choices/options that do the following:

  1. Can be developed quickly

  2. Is a simple/repeatable process

  3. Moves the argument/debate away from happening between people

  4. Are easy to grasp and align on by the group making the decisions

In an ongoing series of simple tools for facilitating innovation, I propose one of the most effective and easiest methods for getting a group of people to quickly align on potential paths forward to any issue at hand.

The method is the simple technique of "spectruming" your ideas.

What is spectruming?

Spectruming is what is sounds like, but I find rarely used in a situation where quick decisions and options need to be created. Simply put it requires physically putting your potential solutions on a spectrum. The steps for this are below

Step 1: Draw a two headed arrow.

Step 2: Write the most extreme idea on the right side of the arrow.

Step 3: Write an equal and opposite extreme idea on the left side of the arrow.

Step 4: Starting on the left side add additional elements to your left side extreme idea with each idea going across looking more and more like your right side idea until it does.

Below is an illustration of this concept as a picture.

That's sort of it. By creating two equal and opposite ideas as bookends and then building the ideas that lie between them, you can create a simple and easy series of ideas to debate, discuss, choose from or even reject as you make decisions.

What would a simple example look like?

The buy/sell your company example is a perfect way to demonstrate spectruming.

Step 1: Draw a two headed arrow. Well that was easy

Step 2: Write one extreme on the right side of the arrow. Keep 100%/Don't Sell it.

Step 3: Write the other extreme idea on the left side of the arrow. Sell 100%/Sell it all

Step 4: Fill what lies between. Buy/Sell Different fractions between 0% and 100%

While this is a very rudimentary way to show how to "spectrum" an idea, it does illustrate the simple elegance of choosing extremes and then building the bridge between them. Of course when working in varying scenarios the ideas/concepts could have many more elements and details that need fleshing out, but by using this technique you can easily compare each option as you build the bridge.

When should spectruming be used to "net down" on your options?

Because the system yields a bounded spectrum with two sides, it is probably a good idea to brainstorm the ends before you build the incremental that lie between those two ideas. That being said, finding two equal and opposite extremes should be a reasonably easy process, particularly when you are going to build the bridge between them. That is what makes spectruming so powerful; the ends you create can either allow you to build a simple bridge or one that requires alot of discussion because the ends are so disparate.

Why is spectruming an important part of the innovation facilitation toolbox?

Reason 1: It is definitive! We can all create ideas, but picking two bookends and building a bridge between those ideas is a great way to narrow your options and create compromises that the group can easily discuss.

Reason 2: It reduces complexity! Creating a series of incremental ideas based on two extremes is a great way to create additional ideas that are bounded. In a brainstorming (which is a great and important thing to do), people are allowed to come up with options of any type. This process often leads to a whirlwind of divergence that increases solution complexity not decreases. By allowing for what I might call "bounded brainstorm" when you fill in the ideas that lie between, you are still giving freedom to create but limiting it by making sure the group heads towards convergence in a timely manner.

Reason 3: It reduces personal debates that waste time! Innovation facilitation is a process that is meant to allow people to diverge but also limit this divergence so that really big ideas can be created as well as executed on. By using paper to spectrum a series of ideas you are physically putting the options on an inanimate object which forces people to debate while looking at the wall, paper, whiteboard or where ever you stick your spectrum of ideas. It seems a bit silly, but when people are debating face to face and doing so while looking somewhere else, the debate becomes less personal and more functional. Spectruming represents a manner of facilitation that depersonalizes debate and is thus more effective in general.

Putting it into practice

The next time you are faced with the need to tackle a sudden problem, grab your paper and draw the spectruming arrow. It really is as simple as that. I use this technique all the time by myself because it is so fast, easy and simple. The key element of putting spectruming into practice is just that PRACTICE it. Over time you will see yourself doing it automatically without having to write things down. And when this happens you will be able to work with others to align with them more quickly so that time isn't wasted and energy is spent solving problems rather than second guessing each other.

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