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McKim draws on creative strategies (which he likens to tools) in FUNCTION


visual thinking to solve problems. He recommends applying these Defining

‘tools’ in a logical order summarised as ‘Express, Test, Cycle’, so Gathering


that a conscious choice of ideas can be made from a fully perceived Grouping

range of alternatives. Screening



Like physical tools, these visual thinking strategies must be actively Full process
and repeatedly used if you want to expand your repertoire of ways RESOURCES
1(–2) people

to solve problems. McKim (1980) describes a staged approach to Large group

problem solving, selecting and using such strategies. A key principle Brief


in the sequence (Express/Test/Cycle) is the separation of idea Facilitation skills

expression from the judgmental testing of these ideas, and the Special setting


subsequent choice to cycle to an altogether different thinking PROBLEM

strategy. This basic sequence can be elaborated and choices made at Personal

Multiple issues

several junctures in the process. Stakeholders

New product

The first choice in this approach to problem solving is to use the Futures/plans

Relax/Clear strategy. Since a state of relaxed attention is conducive ANALYTIC MODE

to thinking generally, you should use this strategy frequently (not Causality

just at the start of problem solving). Here, the conscious mind is Checklist/table


cleared of the problem, diverted from it, perhaps by resting or Mapping

doing an unrelated activity; this can allow the relaxed mind to more Numerical


readily recognise sub-conscious insights. You need a mind clear of Reframing


the problem detail to make a decision whether to continue thinking Scenarios/views

about the issue in the same or a new way (if at all). Then you can Surveys, etc.

Uses experts

choose whether to stop solving the problem, persist in your current Voting

strategy or cycle your thinking into a new strategy. INTUITIVE MODE


You may choose to stop because the problem isn’t valid, or because Distortion


you cannot bring yourself to engage whole-heartedly with it. If you Hitch-hiking

choose to accept the problem, determination, hard work and Imagery

perseverance with the strategy you have been trying so far may pay Listening
off – especially when it comes to planning implementation. Or you Relaxation
may be better off switching to a new strategy, one that uncovers Role-play/empathy
fresh information or viewpoints and prompts alternative ideas; this Values

flexibility may be especially valuable in the exploratory, divergent Verbal


phases of problem solving. Creativity calls for a balance of SOCIAL MODE

perseverance and flexibility. Ad hoc/covert
Anything goes!
The next choice in the strategic sequence concerns the balance Debate/dialogue
between the mental modes represented by the left or right Interactive events
Moving about
hemisphere of the brain. Both kinds of strategy have their place in Networking
problem solving. Right-brained, visual thinking encourages thinking Nominal
Starter’s kit
operations not readily performed in verbal mode (and vice versa).
McKim categorises visual thinking into six basic strategies: Abstract,
Source: J. Martin, R. Bell, E. Farmer and J. Henry, (2010) Technique Library, Milton Keynes, UK: Open University,
B822 Technique Library ISBN 9781 8987 3541 5 Copyright © 2009 The Open University
Concretize, Modify, Manipulate, Timescan, Transform – which can each be applied when
seeing, imagining or drawing.
To make the choice of strategies easier, and provide guidance, McKim refers us next to

a Strategy Index, which describes (in brief) each strategy. Elsewhere, McKim’s book

explains the underlying principles and describes experiences to exemplify the various
strategies. Guiding principles for strategy choice are: (1) Contrast – try something
different, (2) Function – seek a strategy to perform a necessary function, (3) Intuition –
choose the one that feels right when you are in a relaxed, clear state of mind.

Having chosen a strategy, you Express it, and Test whether to accept the solution, or
Cycle with more problem solving.

McKim, R.H. (1980) Experiences in Visual Thinking, Connecticut, Stanford University

Source: J. Martin, R. Bell, E. Farmer and J. Henry, (2010) Technique Library, Milton Keynes, UK: Open University,
B822 Technique Library ISBN 9781 8987 3541 5 McKim’s method