Creativity tools are tried and tested ways of exploring different perspectives and coming up with new solutions for an issue or problem.

If you want to think innovatively, you need to observe what is going on around you. We are used to viewing situations from our own personal perspectives. However, by developing the skill of looking at things in a variety of different ways, using a ‘fresh pair of eyes,’ you can see a whole new way of doing things that you hadn’t thought of before.

Techniques for stimulating resourceful thinking typically involve three mental processes:

  • Focusing attention on something that you don’t normally focus on
  • Escaping the way you traditionally think, commonly called ‘thinking outside the box’
  • Suspending judgement and allowing your imagination to explore different possibilities.

A range of tools are designed to help us do this…


Brainstorming is a process for developing creative solutions to a problem. It works by coming up with as many solutions as possible to solve the problem.

A facilitator introduces the session, keeps an eye on the time and makes sure rules are obeyed. This person ensures that participants feel comfortable and join in. They are also responsible for restarting the process if it slows down.

First the purpose and subject of the session is established. Define the problem or the opportunity. Write up a statement describing this, but be careful that it doesn’t suggest a solution as this will hinder idea generation.

Everyone in the group then calls out their ideas spontaneously and these are written down to be evaluated at a later time.

The rules of brainstorming

  • All ideas are acceptable – there is to be no criticism of ideas during the session.
  • Unusual ideas are to be encouraged – you are looking for new ways of thinking about the problem.
  • Quantity is wanted – the greater number of ideas, the greater the chance of finding a solution.
  • Every person and every idea has equal worth
  • Combine and build on the ideas put forward by others.

In the session:

  • Be prepared: get flip charts ready, use post-its so people can stick their ideas on the flip chart (good for new or more reserved colleagues) and have plenty of pens.
  • Have a brief warm-up on an unrelated, fun topic. This will help establish a less restrictive mood. Only start the main topic when the right mood is established.
  • You can give a period of individual time for people to think of contributions before moving into group mode.
  • Post up the rules of brainstorming as a reference for all.
  • Encourage people to move around rather than stay seated.
  • Use nonlinear note-taking methods, such as post-its.
  • Aim for 20-30 ideas in 5-7 minutes.
  • Seek 100% participation – don’t use a scribe.
  • Remember that giving people permission to be creative doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the learned skill to do so.
  • 12 is a good group size, but more or less can be present.

At the end of the session

Allow time at the end of the session to go through the ideas generated. You need to agree what to do with the ideas generated. It’s best to agree how you are going to do this. Approaches might include Dotmocracy.

If you have several solutions and you want to do is to decide which one to use, a prioritisation matrix is useful.

Prioritisation Matrix

A Prioritisation Matrix is useful for applying a systematic approach to weighting/prioritising criteria.

The use of these matrices helps teams focus and come to a consensus on key items. A Prioritisation Matrix can help to you to decide what improvements to implement first.

You should consider using a matrix if:

  • You can’t do all the improvements at once.
  • You are uncertain about the best use of resources or energy.
  • You are looking towards specific improvement goals.

Affinity Diagrams

Sometimes a brainstorming session can generate so many ideas that it can take a long time for the facilitator to order and analyse them. Affinity diagrams build the grouping and analysis process into the brainstorming session.

The use of affinity diagrams encourages people to think inventively and make non traditional connections of ideas. The process promotes greater ownership of results, allowing breakthroughs to emerge naturally.

When should it be used?

You can use an affinity diagram at any stage of an improvement project, particularly if you anticipate a large volume of ideas. The silent approach to brainstorming is also useful if there are very noisy and or very quiet members of a group.

How do I do it?

  • Firstly, phrase the issue under discussion in a full sentence, such as “Why are patients waiting so long for test results?”
  • People then silently record their views on post-it notes. As a minimum, use a noun and a verb, ideally there should be four to seven words on each statement.
  • Randomly display the post-its. Without discussion, the group sorts the post-its into five to ten groupings. If someone disagrees with a grouping, the post-it can be moved, but without discussion.
  • Next, create a summary or header card for each grouping to encapsulate the main theme through a rapid team consensus. Avoid one-word headers.
  • Draw and record the finished diagram by connecting all the heading cards with their groupings
  • Finally, review the result with the team and other key people (stakeholders).

Tips for using the process

  • Aim to reach a consensus on the choice of words. Neutral, positive or negative statements can all work well in addition to solution orientated questions.
  • A typical affinity diagram would have 40-60 items, but could have 100-200 ideas depending on the complexity of the problem.
  • Large groups of post-its may need to be divided into sub-groups.
  • You may find it helpful to move headers and groups into a logical sequence.

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats

Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is based on a principle of parallel thinking: everyone thinking in the same direction, from the same perspective, at the same time. It helps people step outside the confines of fixed positions and one way of thinking. Western thinking style is based on adversarial debate: people thinking and interacting from differing perspectives and positions. This tool enables us to look at things in a collaborative way, beyond our normal perspective to see new opportunities.

When does it work best?

To achieve the service improvements, you will have to change the way you do things. This means thinking up and considering new ideas. If you evaluate the change from a number of perspectives, you and your team will have a more rounded outlook on the ideas. This tool helps you do this.

The hats have natural pairings: yellow is positive whilst black is more negative; red is emotion driven whilst white is data driven. In general, if you use one hat, you should also use its partner for balance.

Neutral, objective thinking, concerned with facts
Emotional, intuitive thinking
Gloomy, negative, critical thinking
Sunny, positive, optimistic thinking
Creative, innovative thinking
Cool, organised, summarised thinking