Tag Archives: green light thinking


“Here’s the list,” Dalton announced. “We met last Friday, and here is the list. Some good ideas, some stupid ideas, some smart-ass ideas, we wrote them all down. Including this one idea that everyone thought was the best idea.”

“Problem solved?” I asked.

“You would think so,” Dalton replied. “We started with three problems that caused us to get behind schedule. Our materials were late, a machine broke down and Fred called in sick without actually calling in. We started work on the first problem, that our materials were late.”

“And, now, you have an idea how to resolve your materials problem?” I wanted to know.

“Yes, but,” Dalton started. “You see the original batch of materials arrived on time, but the whole batch turned out to be defective. We didn’t notice until we started the production run. Our first-part inspection failed, so we stopped the run. We found the defective material, checked the batch, all were defective. It was an easy fix for our supplier, but it took two days to get a replacement batch.”

“So, what was your team’s idea to fix?” I asked.

“That’s the problem. The team suggested a receiving inspection. You see, the defective batch was sitting in-house for two weeks before the production run. If we had checked the batch when we got it, we would have known about the problem with plenty of time to fix.”

“And, so?”

“But we don’t do receiving inspections. We don’t have the manpower, we don’t have the visibility on the schedule. Someone from purchasing just checks that we received the box, matches the packing slip, and that’s it. Even if they opened the box, they wouldn’t know what to check anyway.”

“Sounds like your inner critic is whispering in your ear again. And, if you listen to the whisper, that critic voice will get louder.”

Colors of Thinking

“Generating alternatives? Green light thinking?” Dalton asked.

“Yes, the traffic light analogy. Green light thinking. How many alternatives do you want to generate?” I asked.

“As many as possible,” Dalton replied.

“Even if the alternative is silly, not feasible?”

Dalton nodded, “Yes, even if it’s a stupid idea.”

“In solving your team’s productivity problem, why would you entertain a stupid idea?” I pressed.

“You don’t know my team,” Dalton observed. “If my team comes up with an idea and I say it’s stupid, that will be the last idea they contribute. Not very productive if I want as many ideas as possible.”

“And, even a stupid idea may contain the spark that generates the idea that saves the day.”

Mother of Invention

The point is to determine the best alternative. Not the best alternative that you can imagine, but the best alternative that is possible. Step one requires temporarily suspending judgement, to consider alternatives outside of your own experience or imagination. Without suspending judgement, outside ideas get filtered.

But, why waste time on outside ideas that are likely nonsense?

See, you already filtered those outside ideas as nonsense.

Suspending judgement is difficult, because it requires you might have to admit you were wrong in your assumptions.

Suspending judgement, temporarily requires that you consider ridiculous alternatives. And if you consider ridiculous alternatives, it frees your mind to generate more ridiculous alternatives in a chain of ideas containing many elements, one of which may actually save the day. Idea fluency.

You may never get to the idea that saves the day without the meanderings of ridiculous alternatives. When we temporarily suspend judgement, it gives us permission to consider things run backward, the front end of one idea connected to the back end of another idea, the ridiculous context of one idea as the crucible for the right idea.