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Global Experience, Locally Available

Making Space Consulting

Problem Solving and Decision Making Sessions

There are as many ways to solve problems as there are problems to solve. But one pattern that seems to emerge over and over is the open - narrow - close patter.


First, we open up the possibilities through a form of brainstorming. This can be one or a combination of several of the following:

  • Classic brainstorming
  • Silent brainstorming
  • Round Robin
  • Slip writing
  • Open space

or several others. This opens up the solution space.


The results of opening are explored for common themes, feasibility, and advisability. The result is the narrowing of dozens or hundreds of ideas down to a dozen or fewer possibilities.


The possibilities that come out of the narrowing phase are evaluated through pros and cons, force field, multivoting, nominal group, pairwise ranking, or other techniques to come up with the one, two, or a few ideas that will be pursued actively - the ideas to go on the action plan.


It is common to get a group of people together for "a brainstorming session" and think you have the problem solved, the action plan created. Well, you do a good opening brainstorm in about a half an hour. But narrowing takes 2 to 5 times as long as opening. And closing is the real killer - it takes up to 10 times as long as narrowing. Any real problem solving or serious decisions making takes one to five days of hard work by the problem team.

Organic Grouping

Organic Grouping is a way to combine Opening and Narrowing in one exercise that takes less than an hour. It combines silent brainstorming to develop answers and action items with affinity analysis to let the team generate groups of ideas that hang together, or have affinity for one another.

Often teams come up with ideas but don't know where they fit. The problem is that they used rational analysis to come up with categories before they saw the ideas. The affinity analysis of silent brainstorming allows the ideas to fall into natural, organic groups. These groups of ideas can then be prioritized to be addressed later, or handed off to subteams to investigate and develop.