Monday, May 12, 2014

Overcoming Information Bombardment with Creative Problem Solving

Between the 24-7 news cycle and updates from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media, do you ever feel “bombarded” by information?

According to McMaster University professor Dr. Nick Bontis, whom Senior Management Staff from each of Niagara’s Towns and Cities heard last week, we experience “information bombardment” every day.

“By the 1930’s, the world’s cumulative information base doubled every 30 years. By the 1970’s, this rate shrunk to 7 years. Nowadays, the information base of the world doubles every 11 hours,” said Dr. Bontis.

So, what can one do to overcome information bombardment?

I was reminded of a sensible approach as I was re-reading a Dale Carnegie book over the weekend. Mr. Carnegie wrote in 1948 that “…knowledge isn’t power until it is applied. …The purpose of this book is to remind you of what you already know and to kick you in the shins and inspire you to do something about applying it.”

What do we do in Pelham to apply knowledge?

After examining several programs and opportunities to stimulate innovation over the summer of 2012, the Town began using the Creative Problem Solving process as taught by another McMaster professor, Dr. Min Basadur.

Eighteen staff and three members of Council undertook the initial training which consisted of three, five day sessions in the fall of 2012. Later, Dr. Basadur taught the process to all of Council and to the remaining staff.

After seeing the positive results, the Town imbedded the Creative Problems Solving (CPS) process throughout the organization. We use it to assist in resolving problems of individuals and groups within the community and share it with regional organizations and boards.

Problems are now viewed as opportunities – or "golden eggs" – and staff members are encouraged to seek out and solve problems using the CPS process. This winter, Public Works staff used CPS to develop a way to thaw water lines without digging up the road, saving thousands in repair costs. Council also uses the process to resolve important issues – from developing an environment protection bylaw, to recommending a location for the new Skatepark, to making Pelham Street more walkable and safe, to providing appropriate library service in Fenwick.

Over the last three years the Town budgeted $266,324 for all professional development ($70,512 in 2012, $111,222 in 2013, and $84,590 in 2014). From 2012 to March 2014 the Town only spent 38% of this training budget ($100,222.23) on the CPS process; this included training, facilitation, and strategic planning for all staff and Council.

By overcoming “information bombardment” with the CPS process, Pelham applies knowledge and yields positive and tangible results.