5 Tools to Explore Opportunities [Yes! And Blog 155]

 “Using a metaphor in front of a man as unimaginative as Ridcully was like a red flag to a bu…was like putting something very annoying in front of someone annoyed by it.”

Terry Pratchett. Author. Lords and Ladies.


Tools for exploring opportunities


If you want to explore a problem or opportunity well, here are five  tools.

Imagine that you are sitting in an exam hall with an MBA examination paper in front of you; the subject is Creativity, Innovation and Change. The examiner asks you to turn over your paper, you look at the first question and your mind goes completely blank. You cannot think how to tackle the question.

An examination question is a problem to solve or an opportunity to show what you know. It is comparable to exploring a problem or opportunity in work. What are some ways you might structure your exploration?

Some of you will know that until recently, I ran an exam study day for students on the Open University, “Creativity, Innovation and Change” course with my friend and associate, Elvin Box. We ran the last ever one in October 2012 (sadly this brilliant course has finished after twenty years) and so that they did not fall victim to the blank mind syndrome, we encouraged the students to structure how they might answer the question. To do this we suggested a number of generic tools that are easy to recall and use.

As I travelled home from the study day, I thought those tools might be useful for Creative Gorillas. As a bonus, you can use them for evaluation too.

5 Ws and H

Who? What? Why? Where? When? How? I’ve written about it before and it’s still a great model to start with. Imagine your boss or a client presents you with a problem and asks for your advice.

Rather than present a solution to them, you use these six words as the basis for questioning. Who is involved? What is the situation? How does the problem impact on you? Why is it a problem? Etc. Etc. The great advantage about this tool is its versatility. It’s good though to have a few more tools in your box….

4 Ps

For the marketing people amongst you, this is not Product, Price, Place and Promotion, although if it were a marketing problem it could be useful. In our world, the 4 Ps for exploration are People, Product, Process and Place.

Consider using these with an opportunity to improve the motivation of a team. People leads you to consider the different stakeholders – the team members, their clients, their suppliers, their managers and peers. Product may lead you to consider aspects of the output of the team and the impact the lack of motivation is having. Process might be how the team works together or their communication. Finally, place considers the environment in which they work. This tool provides a slightly different angle to 5Ws and H.


Sometimes called the Disney Technique (known as Critic, Realist, Dreamer), PRO is simply Pessimist, Realist and Optimist. Imagine your opportunity is to turn around falling sales in a market. Taking the pessimistic view might lead you to consider the risks involved in staying in the market. Taking the optimistic view will allow you to look (for example) for all the positive factors that could help you turn the situation around. What’s working well? How might you build on it? The realist takes a balanced view weighing the pros and cons (which is another tool…)

Six Thinking Hats

Devised by Edward de Bono, this tool is an extension of PRO:

White – neutral and objective, seek data

Red – explore subjective, intuitive, emotive aspects

Black – give constructive criticism

Yellow – seek positives

Green – generate ideas to overcome issues found in your exploration

Blue – cool, manage the process

Use it as a checklist to ensure all perspectives are covered. Ask people to adopt each style (with sensitivity).

Six Hat questions might be:

  • What are the facts in this matter?
  • How do you feel about this?
  • What risks do we face?
  • How can we make this work?
  • Where does this take me?
  • Where do we start? Can we stick to idea generation?

Using the technique in groups, you can put on a Hat at any time, ask someone else to put on a Hat or ask everybody to put on the same Hat.

Three Metaphors

Describe the situation in metaphor, e.g. the rudderless ship; the losing team; our sales are bombing. List the characteristics of the metaphor, e.g. a rudderless ship is a frightening place to be in rough waters. Now relate these characteristics back to work, e.g. staff may be concerned for their jobs. This tool pushes you away from the real life situation and opens your mind to new possibilities. Having done that, think of two other metaphors that relate to this situation. Carry out the same process. These will provide different perspectives.

Multiple Redefinition

This is a tool, devised by Tudor Rickards that allows you to explore an opportunity in many ways. Complete the following sentences for your situation:

  • You could also define this opportunity as…
  • …but the key aspect of the problem is…
  • What I would really like to do is…
  • If I could be totally unrealistic (go against physical / social norms) I would solve it by…
  • The problem put in another way is…
  • Another, even stranger way of looking at it might be…

This tool involves a number of different ways of thinking, for example reframing, narrowing down, dreaming, metaphor….

Small Action

Choose one tool from the list you have never used, apply it to your problem or opportunity and see what happens.

To Close

As you may notice, the tools all overlap in some way. A little like using different metaphor, they will provide you with different perspectives if you use more than one… whatever Terry Pratchett says.

By having a set of simple tools you position yourself to use the right tool for the right situation.

Trust that is helpful. Have a great week.


John Brooker I Yes! And. Think Innovatively.

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