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« Progressive Thinking »


Sometimes the first innovative solution that comes to mind is not the best way to go. Sometimes a quick-fix or snappy answer won't work because breakthroughs often reveal themselves in progressive sequences.

This thinking technique was developed by William Gordon of the Arthur D. Little consulting company who calls it « Progressive Revelation ».
A group brainstorming technique, it involves seeing problems or challenges from their larger macro levels, and then working down through a series of planned progressions to their micro levels. Then apply what you learned to provoke breakthroughs in your thinking.

The situation is initially presented to a creative feed-back team in a very theoretical, non-specific form - and then more factual details are progressively made known, in a step-by-step way. The graduated approach avoids premature closure - even if the problem is deemed "easy to solve" - and it helps maintain the excitement and novelty of the group so they don't fall prey to quick-fixes.


The technique assumes that the participants do not already know what the problem is:

  1. Explain what is going to happen &endash; i.e. that you are going to present a problem in a very abstract and theoretical way, because that often makes it easier to think openly about it.
  2. The scope of the problem is presented in a very large, generalised form and then downsized to an actual fit of the real issues.
  3. To generate ideas, participants may use an idea generation tool from our Tool Box.
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 when the idea flow slows down, you can go back to step 2 to provide additional information, repeating this cycle and providing increasingly more information-facts every time, until you have finally presented the whole problem.
  5. Finally once the full scope of the problem is been revealed, the group uses the previously generated ideas as triggers to jump-start finding actual solutions to the original problem.

    Example - A problem about the need for more parking spaces might be presented as follows:


The procedure needs to be explained clearly to the participants as they could feel like their ideas are being manipulated. They should know that the creative process requires a wholistic effort. The idea is to bring ideas from outside of the problem into it.

Try to avoid biasing idea generation and select the most appropriate points at which to reveal more factual information. In the example above once the car-parking problem had been introduced as a storage problem, it is less likely to be seen as a travel problem, as a way of displaying personal wealth or as a security problem, etc. - The exercise focuses on the lack of space.

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