4 Exercises to Train Your Team to Solve Problems on Their Own

4 Exercises to Train Your Team to Solve Problems on Their Own

No senior staff member wants to hold the hands of his or her team. When team members can solve problems on their own, they can fulfill customer needs on the fly, keep customers happy, and maintain a smooth-running business. To foster creative problem solving and sharpen decision-making skills, you need to heavily invest in employee training. Employees need a strong sense of confidence to call shots without second-guessing themselves. Let your team know you’re on their side by supporting choices they make, no matter what. In addition, train your team using these four exercises to encourage independent problem solving:

1) Playing Card Mix-Up

This exercise requires teams with six to eight participants each and two decks of playing cards for each team. Mix the two decks per team at random. Each group must sort the decks without talking. Let the teams start sorting the decks however they wish. After a few minutes, instruct each team to sort the decks a different way. For example, if a team is sorting by suits, tell them to sort by number instead. The team that sorts the deck the desired way within a certain time frame has to share the methods it used to accomplish the task.

2) Create-Your-Own Activity

This exercise asks participants to design their own problem-solving activity. Instruct the participants to work in teams to design their own original problem-solving activity. Tell them to design an activity that would be appropriate for your organization. The activity cannot be something participants have heard of or done before. Teams have one hour to develop and present their activities, as well as to outline its key benefits. Ask each team how they communicated with one another and how they managed their time. As a bonus, this exercise can give you other ideas for future activities based on what the teams come up with.

3) Build a Balloon Tower

First, divide your employees into teams of three. Provide ten inflated balloons and four three-foot long strips of masking tape to each team. The object of the exercise is to build the tallest freestanding tower they can within ten minutes. Teams can break the balloons if they wish. Teams cannot use any additional materials. The winner can either be the team with the tallest tower or the team who completes the task first. Make this exercise more challenging with instructions such as no talking, each team member is only allowed to use one hand, or one team member who cannot touch materials and can only give directions.

4) The Escape Exercise

Encourage team problem solving and collaboration with this exercise. It requires one rope, one key, a lockable room, and five to 10 puzzles or clues depending on how long you want the game to take. The goal is to work together to escape a locked room within the time limit using the clues to find the hidden key. Hide the key and each clue around the room. This exercise requires everyone to work together to create a strategy, manage their time, and brainstorm what the clues could mean. It’s great for team building as well as creative problem solving.

At Big Squirrel, it’s our goal to help and equip teams to solve problems, think creatively and build consensus quickly. We’ve seen what happens when teams get stuck in the same habits– that’s why exercises like these are important. We hope this resource helps move your team in the direction of innovation and progress!

Download our Field Guide to Innovative Thinking 
to help your team 
think outside the nut!

Inspired Leadership: Four Tips to Increase Team Innovation

Inspired Leadership: Four Tips to Increase Team Innovation

Most people can think of ways to do something better, faster, or in a manner that’s more cost-efficient. When individuals work together as a team to improve products and processes, the results can be impressive. However, too many organizations settle for “good enough.” Is your organization stuck in this rut? Learn what your business can do to create an environment in which creativity flourishes.

1) Start at the Top

When leaders are focused solely on the bottom line, they inadvertently create an environment that discourages creativity. If the boss applies extreme pressure and has little tolerance for mistakes, employees feel constant tension. They focus on completing assigned tasks as quickly as possible without making errors–and that’s all. This fosters a tense company culture and diminishes creativity. Teamwork suffers, morale drops and productivity declines.

Effective leaders know how to nurture each staff member’s abilities so creative juices can flow. They lead by example, with an easygoing attitude and willingness to listen and ask, instead of giving orders. The resulting positive feedback and constructive criticism builds an efficient and dedicated team of employees.

2) Hire Innovators

When people believe in what they do, their job is not just a means to an end: it becomes a personal mission. Identify your company’s current culture and goals, then hire employees who are passionate about issues that relate to your products and services. Look for team members who can articulate your company’s vision because it aligns with their own.

This doesn’t mean that all hires must think and act the same. Think of diversity beyond gender and ethnicity. Focus on all the factors that inform a fresh perspective. Things like age, veteran status, educational background and hobbies. When your team is comprised of individuals with a wide range of experience and multiple points of view – who are all passionate about what your company offers – you create an environment ripe for innovation to flourish.

To get a sense of the distinct perspectives potential employees can bring to the table, be willing to ask creative questions during the interview phase. Here are some examples:

  • Which major societal challenge would you like to see improved? If you were in charge, how would you go about tackling it?
  • In three minutes, explain to me a complicated issue that you know well.
  • If you had $25,000 to build your own business, what would you do? Where would you start?
  • Tried-and-true solutions sometimes fail. Describe a time when the go-to solution didn’t work. How were you able to solve the problem?

Check out our Field Guide to Innovative Thinking
to help your team 
think outside the nut!

3) Use Innovation Sprints

People often settle into workplace habits and behavior patterns because it seems like the path of least resistance. Employees are busy answering emails, making phone calls, attending meetings and completing their job tasks. There’s no time to think creatively.

Work sprints are based on an agile methodology that accomplishes tasks in a series of stages. Teams identify a problem to solve, break it down and assign responsibilities, then set a very limited time frame to accomplish a specific goal. At the end of the time frame, team members gather to present their solutions. All stakeholders evaluate progress, suggest refinement, and develop the next goal.

Sprints are the antidote to workplace apathy. They carve out time for focused, intense spurts of innovation. In his book, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, author Jake Knapp outlines a detailed process for developing creative solutions in limited periods of time. This structured forward momentum allows your business to cover ground quickly, co-create solutions, and make effective changes.

4) Encourage Positivity

When your team members put more effort into creativity, they open themselves up to judgment from peers and superiors. It’s a vulnerable position. This resultant pressure can become overwhelming and frustrating if teammates respond with negativity. But since creative problem solving necessitates open debate, navigating this landscape can get tricky.

Encourage brainstorming by employing a “no criticism” directive. Provide guidelines for phrasing feedback in a positive manner. When your staff feels supported and respected for their contributions, the pressure they feel can yield positive results.

Big Squirrel helps brands ask the right questions, articulate roadmaps for how to think differently, and ultimately instill confidence to activate ideas. Contact us to “get cracking!”

Brand Research v. Competitive Intelligence: How Well Do You Know Your Own Brand?

Brand Research v. Competitive Intelligence: How Well Do You Know Your Own Brand?

Intelligence is always far more valuable than assumptions. There’s a line between brand research and competitor intelligence, and it’s not a very thin one. Let’s take a look at the difference between brand research (also known as market research) and competitor research (also known as competitive intelligence) and how insights from these valuable sources can help your company advance.

What is Market Research?

Market research is information your company acquires in hopes of beating your competition. Research data helps you learn the behaviors and attitudes of your customers. Past behaviors are analyzed to predict how customers will behave in the future. Once a solid prediction is made of how customers will behave, you can draft a marketing plan to entice customers to make a purchase.

There are multiple measurement tools that you can use. Some of these include:

  • Discriminant analysis
  • Cluster analysis
  • Conjoint analysis
  • Factor analysis
  • Multidimensional scaling


The Importance of Deeper Research

When it comes to research, deeper is always better. In-depth research clarifies the picture of how your business should operate in the future. Utilizing the above measurement tools to inform your market research is a good starting place, but you’re wise to take it further. A detailed, actionable plan based on your research helps limit casualties and gives your company an edge over other industry competitors. That’s where competitive intelligence comes in.

What is Competitive Intelligence?

While market research is tactical, competitive intelligence takes “tactical” to a whole new level. Highly strategic in nature, competitive intelligence assembles information in a fashion that provides in-depth insight regarding your firm’s stakeholders and influencers. Competitive intelligence research studies draw on supplier performance, financial data, investment plans, expansion documents and plans, and more. These insights help you develop tailor-made competitor profiles that you can use to create effective operational strategies for winning customers and increasing revenue.

Effective competitive intelligence provides an elaborate landscape of the competition, enabling your organization to look ahead to determine which marketing rollouts will be most effective at winning over customers. All of this translates into the ability to create an accurate prediction of the future market in which your company will operate.

How to Draft a Useful Competitive Landscape

Generating a competitive landscape overview can be daunting, and it does require a lot of work. However, applying a disciplined methodology to your work will pay off by enabling you to compare apples-to-apples offerings in products, pricing and brand communications. Here’s how to get started:

  • Study the websites of your competitors
  • Follow competitors on their social media profiles
  • Subscribe to the mailing lists of your competitors
  • Conduct keyword searches on relevant industry keywords
  • Distribute online surveys
  • Use Google Alerts
  • Obtain regular reports from the sales force
  • Purchase competitive products
  • Discuss business challenges with distribution partners

When you have assembled the information, begin dividing it into silos based on theme or findings. A picture will soon begin to emerge: who is selling what to whom–and how your business can move into the white space.

Where to Start?

Your first step should be to form a strategy team to implement competitive intelligence research, which should include senior executives. This team will identify the business and financial aspects of industry competitors, including what they are investing in and what their margins are. These processes can help decision-makers better understand their operations and reflect on changes that support a more competitive position in the marketplace.

At a product level, a competitive intelligence team will use research findings within product development operations and product testing. On a market level, your research will deliver relevant insight relating to the price, product, placement, and promotion of the products/services your firm is selling.

Not comfortable conducting market research or competitive intelligence on your own?
Big Squirrel can help you gain an edge.
We’re experts in obtaining relevant, targeted insights by studying people and competitorsexamining your brand and exploring  culture.

Turn the Ketchup Bottle Upside Down: Astonishingly Simple Solutions to Complex Problems

Turn the Ketchup Bottle Upside Down: Astonishingly Simple Solutions to Complex Problems

Remember the agony of waiting for the ketchup to inch its way down toward the mouth of the bottle? The awkward small talk with the elevator operator while waiting to reach our floor? How about frantically digging through the car’s center console to produce exact change for an impatient toll booth worker?

These are distant memories, but it’s surprising how long we operated under these daily inconveniences. What’s more surprising is how these annoyances were solved by rather simple solutions (store your ketchup bottle upside down, install an automatic elevator switch, and calculate your monthly toll booth usage with an electronic transmitter.) These advancements share a common thread: by applying a little creativity, someone discovered a simple solution to a complex problem.

But if these answers were so simple, why were they so hard to come by? Why did it take us all so long to turn that ketchup bottle upside down?

Every day we talk with Chief Marketing Officers, Brand Managers and Senior VPs of Global Insights who share their desire to get to know their brands more intimately. But the challenge of working within a brand for many years leads to the proverbial “can’t see the forest for the trees” conundrum. Those with the power to make the biggest difference in the trajectory of a brand are often too close to the issue to examine it creatively.

We help companies take a different approach. Through deep conversations, unique ethnographic tools and deliberate methodologies, Big Squirrel collaborates with brands to uncover core truths directly from consumers. We surface individual customer insights that sometimes reveal unexpected–and sometimes astonishingly simple–results. These insights lead to radical solutions to even the most complex problems.

So how do you apply creative thinking to your own brand? How do you break through to reveal new insights to long-established business challenges?

Check out our Field Guide to Innovative Thinking
to help your team 
think outside the nut!

Get On the Other Side of Your Problem

You may have experienced this phenomenon in your personal or professional life: after days of racking your brain, you’ve finally given up on solving a problem–only to have a stranger point out a brilliant solution within seconds. Sure, you know your brand inside and out. Yet innovation in branding thrives on un-knowing. The willingness to change your perception. The skill of suspending your deeply held beliefs to gain unexpected results.

When you promote a company culture of innovation and open-mindedness, you gain the ability to discover creative solutions that propel your brand forward. From this foundation, Big Squirrel can help you launch micro studies and ethnographic studies that create space for consumers to talk about your brand freely, connect with your products organically, and open up about the truths of their feelings and experiences.

If you think innovation is hard, remember that although their ketchup hit shelves around 1870, Heinz didn’t create the upside-down bottle until 2002 – 132 years later. The answer was staring them in the face; it just took a while to get there. Why did it take so long? Heinz didn’t have Big Squirrel.

We’re kidding – kind of.

Learn more about how Big Squirrel has helped other big brands turn their thinking upside down.

Sing In The Shower: Developing Patterns For Creative Problem Solving

Sing In The Shower: Developing Patterns For Creative Problem Solving

When Monday morning rolls around, your creative juices may be running low. Sure, last week may have been one of your best creative weeks yet, but you have to keep the juice flowing to ensure your team is living up to their utmost potential. Let’s take a look at six ways for you and your team to develop patterns for creative problem-solving.

1) Quit restricting yourself

This might sound simple. ‘Just let yourself go,’ right? Well, it’s not as simple as it seems. Yes, it might be simple to limit external restrictions, but loosening up internal restrictions on yourself is a whole lot harder. You have to get to a point in which you follow a path that flows with the least mental resistance. Overcoming your self-imposed limitations and restrictions can go a long way in boosting creativity and forcing you to work outside of your comfort zone. So, the question is how do you free yourself up? Well, it starts with not being so hard on yourself. Realize you are human and you are going to make mistakes.


2) Sing in the shower

Do you like singing in the shower? Whether you have a good voice or not, it’s time you start belting it out. Did you know singing in the shower can relieve stress? It can also help fight depression and even reduce your risk of heart disease. What is it about singing in the shower that brings these benefits? Well, for starters, when you sing in the shower you exercise your lungs and increase the oxygen to your brain; this leads to better mental clarity and increased creative thinking. According to an article published by Time magazine, singing in the shower boosts creative thinking and decreases depression by acting as a tranquilizer. When you sing, you release endorphins, which create a positive emotional response. Next time you’re in the shower, turn on your favorite song and make sure you sing along.


3) Change your habits

“We first make our habits. Then our habits make us.” 17th century poet John Dryden said that, and he’s got Sir Walter Scott and W. H. Auden in his corner. So, about habits – what time do you wake up? Do you do the same workout all the time? Do you get your news from the same source every day? All of these habits are pretty big ones. Try this one: If you usually salt your food first, try adding pepper first instead. By making even small changes in your daily routine, you become more awake to your mundane thoughts, and how many things you are doing by force of habit. Recognition of this, in practice with consciously altering those habits, increases creativity and helps you think outside of the box.


4) Start journaling

One of the best ways to get your team to be more creative is by having them keep a journal. Keeping a journal increases emotional intelligence, because it helps you process emotions and it boosts your self-awareness. Journaling also increases your memory and comprehension capabilities; this means you will become better at solving problems and your cognitive recall ability will be enhanced.


5) Keep the noise going

Many people think that silence is the best way to focus. What they fail to realize is, studies show ambient noise levels actually increase creative thinking rather than hinder it. Sure, silence is good for sharpening focus, but ambient noise levels boost creative thinking and promote a broader level of cognitive function, which allows you to come up with new ideas.


6) Start traveling more

Whether it’s a 10-hour road trip or a 20-minute walk to the local park, traveling and getting out of the home and office is an excellent way to increase your creative thinking. Some of the best places to travel to that can boost creative thinking include museums, parks, breweries (make sure to sip on your favorite beer for an even greater level of creative thinking), and festivals. Grab your co-workers, pile into the car and go sightseeing for an even greater level of creative thinking.


The takeaway

It all starts with small changes. If you are wanting your team to be more creative, you first have to start with yourself. It’s time for you to be a good leader and set a good example, so make sure you suggest the tips listed above to your coworkers at your next business meeting.

We’re ready to help you make these small changes.
Get cracking with Big Squirrel!