Today I want to share a very effective problem solving technique I recently discovered. This technique will help you generate ideas, come up with solutions to business and life challenges, and generally gain insight into anything you’re currently trying to work through.
The technique is called “Sentence Stems,” which I was introduced to through Rich Schefren’s “One Step Ahead” newsletter. It’s easy and even fun to do, and takes just 10 minutes per day, though you can spend as much time as you like on it.
Here’s how it works:
Start with a sentence stem that’s based on a challenge you’re trying to work through, a goal you want to achieve, a problem you want to solve or anything else you want to gain insight into. The sentence stem itself will contain the solution to the problem you want to solve or outcome you want to achieve.
“I could start earning more money each month right now if I . . . .”
“It would be easier to get referrals for my business if I . . .”
“I could get 2 new clients in the next 30 days if I . . .”
• Then every day for a week (or for maximum results, two weeks), write out 6-10 endings to the sentence stem.
• Each day (ideally first thing in the morning, when you’re fresh and full of energy!), write out your sentence endings without looking at the previous day’s answers — you don’t want your previous day’s answers to guide your new answers.
• Write your endings as quickly as possible without second guessing yourself, worrying about perfect grammar or spelling, or stopping to “decide” if this idea will work or not. Just write. The idea here is to bypass your conscious mind and tap into the powerful awareness of your subconscious mind.
• Try not to use the same ending more than once.
• Now, at the end of your 7 days or 14 days or however long you decided to do this, review everything you’ve written, strike out any repetitions, and consolidate what’s left. Some of the ideas you wrote down will give you new ideas; write these down as well.
• Then review your list again, decide which ideas are best, and prioritize the ones that are immediately actionable, and begin taking action on them.
Now, your sentence stems don’t have to be business related of course. Your stems will be about whatever particular challenge you’re currently facing.
Maybe you want to get healthier, so your sentence stems could look like this:
“It would be easier to exercise 3-4 days per week if I . . .”
“It would be easier to eat a healthy diet daily if I . . . “
And so on. You get the idea.
Let me tell you, this technique works. I used the sentence stem “I could increase my monthly income immediately if I . . .” and after just 4 days of doing the exercise, I have 28 ideas, and the week’s not over yet. What’s more, I’ve already taken action on one of these ideas, which is going to net me an extra $1100 in income next month. And I still have 27 more ideas to explore – wheeeee! ; )
The idea I took action on is something that wouldn’t necessarily have crossed my mind had I not done this exercise. Although it isn’t an ideal solution to a consistent increase in my monthly income year round, it doesn’t matter, because what I was after was a solution to more income right now, within the next 30 days, and that’s what I got.
I even wrote down my next half dozen sentence stems to work on when I’m finished with the current one.
One of the other benefits of doing this exercise is it will get you thinking of solutions and answers even when you’re not actively completing your sentence stems each morning. I’ve come up with ideas lying in bed, while in the shower, while in (boring) meetings, driving around, and in the market.
Now YOU try it, you genius you! ; )
And next blog post, I’m going to take you through some ideas I generated when I applied this exercise to a friend’s dilemma of getting more customers into her bakery/cupcake shop. Stay tuned!