Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘brainstorming’

Want a Productive Brainstorm? Here Are Some Do’s and Don’ts

Posted by Plish on November 24, 2015

Came across a post at USA Today College: “5 tips for a Productive Brainstorming Session.”

I enjoy reading different people’s approaches to brainstorming.   However, this one had me screaming at the computer screen: “NO!”  After which I went to a different page, relaxed, came back the next day and re-read it.

Nope, no difference – still not the best advice.

Actually, to be fair, it’s a mixture of good and bad advice.  (These tips seem more apropos for a design review than for a brainstorming)

Let’s take a look at the 5 tips and look at their value.

1.Create the Right Environment – Actually, this paragraph gives good advice:  “Select a time to meet when you know you and your group members will have enough energy to think creatively … Choose a space conducive to creative thinking: a clean, quiet place with natural light and comfortable seating. Maintain that calm, creative environment by asking all group members to silence their phones and put them away to avoid being distracted by a text or Twitter update. 

2.Establish Structure – “Set a time limit for your meeting depending on how much work needs to get done so that everyone stays on task…Also, be sure to assign one group member the role of moderator…Choose a person who knows well both the purpose of the project and the personalities of everyone in the group.”  This is all pretty good advice. It’s crucially important that the moderator not be someone who is simply looking for confirmation of his/her idea.  This person really has to have the project’s success at heart.

3. Prioritize Your Goals – “Once some order is established, the moderator should outline a general overview of the project to help get everyone’s brains in the right place. After the project is sketched out, the moderator should clearly state the goal of the brainstorming session. Your group’s brainstorming session goal should be SMART—that is: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.  Avoid making overarching goals. For instance, if your project is for an environmental planning course requiring you to design an urban space, don’t simply say your goal is to: “Make the best urban design plan.” Make a SMART goal, like: “Design an urban space that is comfortable, functional, and eco-friendly in one week.””  This is the first tip that really got me going. If you’re giving people background, and the expected goal, as part of the brainstorming session, you’re already too late.  People need to understand the challenge, and they need time to think about it.  I realize this is for a college column, so giving people a long term heads up isn’t always possible.  But give people at least a day! (Give them a week of more if possible.  If you really can’t give a day, give a few hours to think about the challenge)   There’s very little hope of getting good output if your input is hurried and not reflected upon.  (Remember: Garbage in=Garbage out) Also, the brainstorming statement shouldn’t be a project statement.  Making it SMART isn’t a bad thing per se, but it would be much better to say, “In what ways can a comfortable, functional, ecofriendly urban space be designed?”  It would be even better to break it up into subsections, brainstorm on Comfort, Functionality and Ecofriendliness by dedicating time to each trait individually.  Remember, if you’re trying to get across a river, your problem statement shouldn’t say, “In what ways can we build a bridge over the river in a week?”, but instead, “In what ways can we get across the river in a week’s time?”  Or, “In what ways can we get 1000 people from this shore to the other shore?”  Leave some wiggle room.  Too specific and every solution will be a variation of a bridge.

4.  Write it Out – “Bring notepads, sticky notes, and/or a large whiteboard to your meeting. Ensure everyone has the opportunity to write down—or draw—his or her ideas. Jot down or sketch out every idea—not just those that sound best at the time—so that your group can build off others’ ideas as your brainstorming session progresses.”  Good points about drawing and writing!

5. Ask QuestionsWhen it comes to brainstorming, cooperation and collaboration go hand in hand. But if during a brainstorming session no one challenges any ideas, innovation is unlikely to occur. Agreeing on some things is good, but in general, it’s important to avoid group complacency—called groupthink—with every idea that is presented during a brainstorming session.  Avoid groupthink by assigning one group member the role of devil’s advocate. It’s this person’s job to raise at least one counterargument to every idea the group agrees on. These counterarguments shouldn’t be attacks, but should raise important questions about idea feasibility, integrity, and relevance that help move your brainstorming forward in a positive direction.” NOOOO! (The red highlight is mine – it means WT? )This one REALLY got me going.  Yes, innovation can occur in response to questioning, but the brainstorming is not the place for it.  You want free-flow of ideas, not critiquing.  If you give people time to understand the challenge and give them time to prepare and to brainstorm in private before the brainstorming session, you’ll get ideas that are somewhat baked.  You may not get the best idea until everyone has bounced their ideas off of each other, but you’ll do much better if you DON’T have a devil’s advocate.  Leave that for an after brainstorming tactical meeting: discussing the who, how, what, when, how much, etc’s, of implementing the best ideas.   If every idea is picked apart as part of the brainstorming meeting, I guarantee people will start self-censoring themselves during the brainstorm, and that’s the last thing you want happening.  As for Groupthink- read about the solutions here.  Again, if people can brainstorm on their own before the actual meeting, and people are encouraged to share during the meeting, groupthink is less likely to occur. It’s the moderator’s job to keep everyone involved and keep judgment to a minimum.  Worry about groupthink when you are in your post brainstorming tactical meeting,  THEN question.

So, what rules should be followed?

Here are the 7 rules that I post on the wall every time I lead a brainstorm:

  1. Every person has equal worth
  2. Withhold judgment of ideas (This includes your own!)
  3. Go for quantity
  4. Go for wild ideas
  5. Build on the ideas of others
  6. One conversation at a time
  7. Be visual, draw and prototype

If you’d like a Poster Size PDF of the above rules, click here .

As I’ve alluded to above, Brainstorming shouldn’t be just a one time event, it should be a three part process of Preparation, Brainstorming, and Follow-Up.  (Incidentally, all three of the phases usually include some type of brainstorming :) )

Do you have any rules that you follow when brainstorming?





Posted in Best Practices, brainstorming, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Creative Dialogues With the Past Can Inform Design – Lessons Inspired by Kabuki

Posted by Plish on October 29, 2015

Great piece on the value of creative traditions over at Lateral Action – about how understanding them can lead to greater creative output.  Mark McGuinness talks about the 400+ year old, Japanese form of theater known as, Kabuki, how it’s a vital part of the Arts’ tradition, and how tradition and innovation can indeed go hand in hand.

Fascinating read. In addition, Mark has some wonderful advice for learning from a creative tradition.  It’s also a great summary of things to look at when designing new products.  When I prepare a group for a brainstorm I have them look at these very topics, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the parallels.  He summarizes beautifully:

Every creative tradition is a treasure-trove of inspiration and knowledge. Unless you know what past masters have done — and why and how they did it — you are limiting the palette of creative options available to you. So if you are serious about your creative discipline, you need to learn about its history and traditions.

Run through the following list and make a note of how well you know each category within your creative field:

  • Classic works
  • Contemporary works
  • The avant-garde
  • Works from your own country
  • Works from other countries
  • Critical reviews and studies

The list is great summary of what to look at when you need inspiration for solving a problem.

  1. Classic works >>how did people solve this problem in the past?
  2. Contemporary works >> How are people solving this problem now?  (These are the mainstream soluitions)
  3. The avant-garde >> What are people on the cutting edge doing to solve this problem?
  4. Works from this country and others >> People deal with problems in different ways in different parts of the world, or even in the same parts of the world!  Look for examples of Positive Deviance.
  5. Critical Reviews and Studies – Look in the literature.  This also includes patents.  I would also include Nature here.  Does anything in Nature resemble or shed light upon your current problem?

More great advice:

Do not avoid works or artists you don’t like. You don’t have to like everything, but if you want to be more than a keen amateur, you need some knowledge of every aspect of your field. Even if you only confirm your negative judgment, it’s better to do this from an informed position than dismissing things without getting to know them. And you might even surprise yourself by finding some diamonds in the rough.

Pay attention to those products that you don’t like as well as those you do.   How did they solve a problem?  Are they trying to solve the same problem you are?  Look for the method behind the madness.

When looking at the past,people tend to think that we’re going backwards.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Use those older designs and ideas as springboards for new ideas!

Don’t worry that your work will seem derivative or unoriginal. Treat these dialogues with the past as experiments, to be discarded if you don’t like the results.

Newer materials and manufacturing methods are constantly stretching the boundaries of what can be accomplished.  Very often past solutions can be given new life by changing the materials and manufacturing methods.  Adidas did this by utilizing 3D printing  in  the time honored running shoe.

Next time you’re confronted with a problem that needs to be creatively solved, spend some time dancing with the past and present.  Your future will contain innovative and creative solutions!

Posted in Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Making Lightning – The Creative Spark in All of Us

Posted by Plish on August 7, 2015

The sky went from sunset blue to thick blackness that the windshield wipers swiped at with futility.  The rain pounded the the car and an uneasy, queasy feeling filled the air as a tornado warning was issued.

I drove the rest of the way home and parked.  To the west the worst was already breaking and salmon patches of sunset backlit clouds.   To the north the blackness churned and lightning crackled from cloud to cloud as the thunder rumbled without pause.

(Mouse over and Click the play arrow and continue reading on the other side)



It’s in you!

That same power.

You’ve experienced those shocks that startle when you touch a doorknob on a dry day.

This is bigger and can change the world.

Lightning bridges gaps – tremendous expanses of space.  It’s possible because of the difference in charge, a difference in potential.   Lightning finds its way.

But you need to provide the stuff for creativity to happen.

Observe, read, smell, taste, listen, touch, dream!  Understand the challenges you want to solve and then look at them from a different perspective, and then another, and then another!

Allow those differing perspectives to mix  together and the clouds will rumble, the sky will flash, creativity will happen.

It’s in you.



Posted in Authenticity, brainstorming, Creative Environments, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Nature of Creativity, observation, problem solving, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Do You Want to Be More Creative? Please Help Me Help You With Your Creative Problem Solving and Creative Thinking

Posted by Plish on April 25, 2015

Hi, it’s me!

I’ve always been fascinated with how things work: machines, products, nature, the universe, and yes, even people. (It’s the scientist in me).

At the same time, I’ve always enjoyed making things: products, games, art, music, food and more! (I’m inspired by the muses :) )

Most of my professional career I’ve been designing medical products for everything from family owned companies, to Fortune 500 companies, and I’ve done it well. These products are helping countless people live better lives, and their healthcare providers do their jobs more effectively.

I’m party to over 20 patents in the US and Internationally, and have been awarded multiple corporate awards for products that have made these companies millions in profits.  And, all the while, I was devising and refining my own methods of idea generation and product creation.

Working in the Corporate world was a great experience, but I wanted to grow and share my journey in creativity. So, in 2008 I ventured out on my own and formed ZenStorming™ LLC.

It’s science meeting muse.

I help companies come up with ideas for new products as well as share my methods for creative thinking and problem solving. I have an extensive network of talented designers, engineers and manufacturers that help me bring ideas from conception to reality. And I’m loving every minute of this creative ride!

I also develop tools (and often share those right here) to help people in their creative endeavors. I’m also developing some premium tools.  But, rather than assume I know what you need, I want to hear it from you.

I want to know what it is that you struggle with.

I want to know what could help you be more creative and grow as creative person.

Please take this uber-quick survey.  Your email address isn’t needed, but if you share it (It’s safe and secure and will be kept in confidence – I promise!) I may very well contact you to chat some more, and you’ll definitely be the first to know when these premium tools roll out, so you’ll get special deals!

Thank you so much for your time!!

Wishing you fruitful growth in your creative endeavors~

Plish a.k.a. Mike, Michael, Mickey, Plishka, Dude, Mickeyplish, Mikey, Misha, Myxash,

Posted in 3D Printing, Brain Stimulation Tools, brainstorming, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Swimming in Wonderful Robin Williams Streams of Consciousness

Posted by Plish on August 21, 2014

When I conduct brainstormings (and even when I’m looking for ideas) I find that one of the biggest enemies is the internal censor that each of us has.  I’m sure you’ve succumbed to that voice.

You come up with an idea and before you’ve even spent time examining it, you’ve jettisoned the thought:

“That’s stupid!”

“That’ll never work!”

“How could I have thought that?”

“That thought came out of me? No one can ever know I thought THAT!”

One of the amazing gifts that Robin Williams had was his ability to turn off the censor.  He trusted himself, and even when riffing with others, he allowed himself to follow the promptings of lesser ideas knowing that greater ideas were coming. The results were nothing short of astounding and amazingly hilarious.  While Williams’ verbal stream didn’t seem to even afford him time to breathe, his audience couldn’t breathe because they were laughing so hard.

In the world of comedy, following the stream of consciousness is considered acceptable because, well, it’s comedy.  However, in the corporate world, such thinking is considered out of place, too bold, not politically correct – perhaps even offensive.

Unfortunately, when the censor kicks in, creativity, and perhaps the next seed of a groundbreaking innovation, gets kicked out.

People have a tendency to think that those ideas judged as ‘bad’ or ‘improper’ should just be jettisoned and forgotten.  Yes, not all ideas are ready for prime time; however these ideas are essential to the creative process – a process that builds upon that which came before.  Ignore what comes before and there’s nothing to build upon.

Robin Williams lived this brilliantly.  Not everything that Robin said was earth-shatteringly funny, but just around the corner, rest assured, mirth was imminent.

Creative thought in the corporate world follows the same process.  Not every idea is worthy of patent or should be invested in.  But, if the ideas are built upon, eventually, things will come together in a wonderful way.

So, how do we train ourselves to be creative in this way?


Listen to all ideas as they bubble up!  Things pop up for a reason!!  Write everything down. Sketch!  Play with the ideas!

The idea that seems totally unusable may provide the seed that enables you, or someone else, to make a connection to an even better idea!    In my own experience, some great ideas have surfaced after someone had the courage to share a half-baked idea.  This simple and profound act of sharing provided the building blocks for others.  If the internal censor would’ve won out, these breakthrough ideas would never have been born. 

Remember this next time you’re coming up with ideas, alone or with others. Better yet, even if you’re not coming up with ideas, examine your thoughts as they are percolating to the surface. Learn to get comfortable with the flow; the more at ease you feel with the stream’s current, the less likely you’ll be to throw out ideas as they bubble up.

I love the following Robin Williams interview with Craig Ferguson.   The two of them highlight the above process – they both just grab an idea, follow it to the next, and continue the process with wonderfully entertaining results.    Notice how certain ideas become seeds for the next.  This is improvisation at its finest.  

In closing, I’d just like to thank you, Robin Williams, for creating so many wonderful, bubbling streams of consciousness, and for being a part of the Stream of which we all swim.  Tragic circumstances helped push you into different waters.  May you find the New Waters fine.  While ours are impoverished by your passing, they are also forever enriched!

Posted in Creative Environments, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, Great Creative Minds, idea generation, innovation, Nature of Creativity, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Brainstorming Using Google Docs

Posted by Plish on August 6, 2014

I’ve never been a big fan of Google Docs.  Mostly because the majority of my clients don’t like having stuff in Google’s Cloud.  Nevertheless, I do see the value in having a common, online portal for collaboration.

So, when I saw this post at CrossWebIdeas on using Google Docs as a brainstorming hub, I was intrigued and excited.  It reminded me of days of yore when I used Posterous (remember Posterous?)  in a similar way.

It’s a pretty simple process actually: Upload a core document/drawing that functions as a seed to start the brainstorm and have people join in whenever they want to add or modify the document.

That’s pretty much it!

Check out how Google Docs was used for the ‘Novel In A Day’ Project.

One of the main things I want to look at is anonymity.  Some people are intimidated by other people’s personalities and/or status.  They are more likely to share their thoughts in low visibility situations.  Granted, there is some distance afforded via a web interface, but it’s still not perfect.  If Person A intimidates Person B, and Person A already has expressed an opinion in the forum, Person B may not write anything at all if it seems to contradict Person A.

I also prefer the power of drawing to text, so Google Drawings could be used instead of Google Docs, but, entering text on a laptop is much easier than creating a picture, so that’s the price paid for smoother collaboration.

Bottom Line: Using Google Docs in this way is fresh and innovative, and with the right group, I’ll give it a try.

What do you think?  Is this something you’ll do or have done?  If so, please share your thoughts!!

Thanks again to Don McLeman and Triberr for bringing this to my attention!

Posted in Co-Creation, Creative Environments, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Like to Read More about Creativity, Brands, Retail and Design?

Posted by Plish on September 10, 2013

Occasionally I get asked if I write at other blogs.

The short answer is ‘yes.’

The longer answer is this blog post.

Below you’ll find two other sites that I blog at (and one resource site).  Most of the posts are different content from what I write here.  The below blogs are amazing resources and I frequent them often.

The Next Big Design

This blog is about marketing, branding, design, creativity and culture.  Some great articles.  This is also a portal for FUSE (which incidentally is a mindblowing conference!)



This blog is about retail, understanding, and taking action on research of consumer behavior. It is the main blog for the Shopper Insights in Action Conference which I covered this year.



Feel free to check out the presentations I’ve put there.  Here’s my most recent, a series of concept maps I drew up ‘on the fly’ during the above mentioned Shopper Insights in Action Conference.  If you’ve got questions, please let me know!


In addition to the above locations, you can always visit the links in the right info bar under “My Other Sites”.  You can also just Google me. :)

If there’s anything else you’d like to see more of here, or any of the other sites, please let me know.  I’d love to hear about your creativity and innovation challenges – I love ideas, empowering others to come up with ideas, and making ideas reality.

Let’s keep in touch!



Posted in Brands, creativity, Customer Focus, Design, design thinking, Research, Trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Not to Brainstorm – Lessons from Suburgatory

Posted by Plish on April 20, 2012

If you ever find yourselves in brainstorms like this one, drop me a line…

Posted in culture of innovation, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Traditional Brainstorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Not to Run a Brainstorming (And, How to Be True to Your Brand)

Posted by Plish on November 29, 2011

I was driving to a client today, and an ad for Duluth Trading Company came on the radio.  Duluth Trading prides itself on creating ingenious solutions for the working person while having a sense of humor advertising those products.  Some of those solutions include jeans that enable men to crouch without singing soprano, firehose cotton pants and shirts that fix plumber’s butt.  The latter is the focus of the below ad that spoofs a brainstorming session intent on solving the scourge of plumbers butt.  It’s an entertaining exercise in being true to your brand.

It’s also an example of how not to have a brainstorming.

What’s wrong with it?

Before you give it a listen, here are the rules I use for brainstorming sessions:

  1. Don’t judge. Every idea is equal.
  2. “Yes, and…” Build on the ideas of others (If you violate #1, this won’t happen)
  3. Encourage wild ideas (If you violate #1, this also won’t happen)
  4. Go for quantity of ideas
  5. Respect each person who’s speaking. One person speaks at a time – no interruptions. Each person is equal.
  6. Don’t just talk about ideas, sketch them up.  Articulating ideas by drawing (or building/prototyping!) helps concretize thoughts.  This also helps document the session and facilitates #2.
  7. Prepare for the brainstorming and then ideate before and after the team session.
  8. Stay on topic (the answer to “why are we brainstorming?”) but allow for #3 and if something seems too off track, invoke #2.

So give it a listen, and tell me what you think is wrong with this brainstorming:


Posted in Authenticity, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, idea generation, innovation, Nature of Creativity, Play, problem solving, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity, ZenStorming | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Looking for the Secret to Successful Problem Solving? Banish the “…but…”

Posted by Plish on August 27, 2011

Try this concept when problem solving, in brainstormings, in your personal life. 

It’ll work wonders.

Posted in Behavioral Science, Best Practices, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, idea generation, innovation, problem solving, Tactics, Traditional Brainstorming, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


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