Friday, 30 May 2014

The Fuzzy Front End

Ok, so this title conjures up some thoughts of one standing, naked, in front of the mirror, but, no, there is another context in which we, as educators, can use to maximise our learning episodes and experiences.


While working with Steve Mouldy today I suddenly remembered a piece of gold that I discovered a couple of years ago called ‘The Fuzzy Front End’.  The students were all working away trying to identify an issue or a problem that could affect our local community at some point in the future.  The task was to identify an issue and design a solution which would lead to them generating a product or service.

As I listened to the students I began to hear discussion that is often heard when initiating this kind of process.  Students often jump to a solution and then work the planning process backwards.  While this is not ideal I will admit in the past that I have allowed students to deliver assessments and work using this process in reverse.  Today, to counteract this issue, I made it quite clear to the students that they were not looking for solutions, but they were looking for a solid problem to resolve.  I also reinforced this by telling them that if they wrote, designed, spoke about or even hinted at a solution then the solution would be eliminated as a viable outcome for them to use with this situation.  In effect their idea would be stolen from them.  From that point there was no talk about solutions and the focus was directed at finding problems and issues to resolve.

Then I began to hear another common type of discussion that often occurs with this type of process.  As the students began to brainstorm their ideas in groups, there was a reluctance to write down most of the ideas and students struggled and argued, rejecting most.  This was mainly because the students, either didn’t like their own, they didn’t like other’s ideas, they didn’t think the ideas were valuable enough or that their ideas didn’t  relate well enough to the task.  After several minutes the result of this lack of confidence was that there were very few ideas and issues were being generated.



Enter the ‘Fuzzy Front End’.  “OK...everyone stop what you are doing.  I am a little concerned ....actually a lot....that there is a reluctance to get some ideas down”.  I went on to explain the ‘Fuzzy Front End’ process.  Inspired by business, this process, is a process that is used to develop new products (NPD).  From memory I think it was initially designed and used by ‘Polaroid’ but it is now widely used.  I have ‘hacked’ it quite a bit.  To encourage students to be confident about their thinking and ideas I believe that this part of the process should be highly tolerant.  This is where any idea is viable, safe and acceptable and should be recorded.  For example, today. one group were brainstorming our community’s readiness for a catastrophic event or natural disaster.  Their list of events began with ‘Alien invasion, Zombie Apocalypse and a Super-Hero-generated Meteor storm.  The temptation for any teacher would be to instruct the students to focus properly on the task, get serious and to be a lot more realistic.  I have taken this ‘kill it’ approach in the past and it is a very rare group of students that can recover from such a teacher interaction and end up producing some great thinking, in fact the most common response is for the students to shut down completely.




The ‘Fuzzy Front End’ is a very tolerant brainstorming stage.  By accepting all thinking, the students, at the very least are beginning a thinking process and that usually leads to some quality outcomes.  Another by-product of this tolerance is the things that would normally be rejected can often end up being the most valuable components, concepts and considerations and they can lead to better outcomes.  It is a bit of a cheeky ‘Hack’ but if we can get over our urge to focus the students and instead inspire them to dream, then I believe  we can be teachers who inspire creativity and innovation.  The focussing and refining can come later in the process.




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