Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘idea generation’

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 »

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 »

Censoring the Censor – The Key to Increasing Creativity

Posted by Plish on May 12, 2012

Inside your brain there’s a creativity censor.  With finger poised above the ‘Bleep’ button, he’s constantly protecting you from ideas that he deems useless, or worse: foolish.  He knows what every boss wants, what every friend thinks of you, what strangers see when they look at you.  He knows what’s best for you and the best way to get it.

On more than one occasion I’ve seen this censor, singlehandedly, dull brilliance and turn a symphony into an energy sapping drone.

Why would the censor do this?  Because he’s protecting you!  Give him a free rein and you will comfortably reside in the Status Quo.  You won’t look like a fool, you won’t push the envelope, you won’t feel uncomfortable.

Your creativity and the potential for great ideas will also come to a screeching halt.

Ideas build upon ideas – yours and others.  They are stepping-stones.  Remove one and things might be okay…might.  Remove two or three and you’re constrained to walking on one plane.

So, what can you do?

You need to teach yourself to not listen to the censor, but instead to listen to the ideas. When you hear the “BLEEP!” you need to ignore it.  Instead, write the idea down and play with it. See where it leads.  Nowhere?  That’s okay!  But, the very act of acknowledging that idea has now given you a stepping stone to another idea, and another, and….

Don’t get me wrong.  There is still a time and place to listen to the censor.  But, when you’re trying to come up with ideas, looking for new possibilities, exploring the unknown, your imagination is your friend, your light.  Work together with your ideas!

This is exemplified beautifully in this blog post over at Thoughts on Theater.  I’m going to end this piece with  a quote directly from her post, as it’s a wonderful read (as is her entire blog).  It’s about Academy Award winning screenwriter, Robert Pirosh.  He was a copywriter that wanted to become a Hollywood screenwriter. Here’s how he finally landed his dream job:

(Pirosh) sent the following note to all of the major studios, received a slew of interview requests, and finally accepted an offer as a junior writer at MGM. From there he went on to win an Academy Award and write for some of the best and brightest (including the Marx Brothers). Just another testament to the fact that you should not water yourself down in order to obtain the dream job. Do not censor the you that just might land you the gig.

Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.

I have just returned and I still like words.

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh

385 Madison Avenue, Room 610

New York Eldorado 5-6024


Posted in Authenticity, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | 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 »

The Fragile Muse and Respect for Creativity

Posted by Plish on February 18, 2012

Over at the Looper’s Delight group we were discussing what to do with ideas that don’t grow the way we expected, or wanted them to.  Richard Sales of Glasswing Studios and Good Nature Farms (A farm/Creative sanctuary) then said the following:

We have a policy at our house that, when someone is in the creative moment, we tiptoe, we close doors quietly, we are very respectful of the presence of the Muse – that lightning fast butterfly. When we accidentally barge in, we dont’ make conversation and apologize etc. Everyone is trained.

This is such a great practice to follow!

Everyone puts such a great emphasis on collaboration nowadays, we assume that the best results will only occur when everyone is open to everyone else.   Businesses try and force collaboration through architecture, work flows, etc.

Yet, how often do businesses respect the need for people to seriously engage their muses; to afford people the silence to hear the silent whispers of inspiration within?  How often to we tread lightly when approaching people who are immersed in their creative moments?

How can businesses and people structure the environment, or create rules, so that individual creative moments are free to blossom?

Beautiful, amazing, new, hybrid plants are possible through botanical cooperation – the collaboration of multiple flowers.

But before this can occur, each flower needs to bloom on its own…

Posted in Architectural Design, Authenticity, Creative Environments, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Honing Creative Skills with Six Impossible Things – An Interview with the Captain of the Titanic

Posted by Plish on December 14, 2011

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  -Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

I sat down for breakfast tea with Edward Smith.  A jovial, white-haired seadog, he walked with a bounce in his step since he learned he’d be Captain of the Titanic.

“Sarah,” he called to his wife in the kitchen, “I’ll be having tea with Michael in the study.”

“Yes, dear!” she said as Smith smiled and showed me my seat.

He sat down across from me and without hesitating asked, “So my good friend,” as he leaned towards me, “You are always reading something,  What have you been reading lately?”

“Lewis Carroll’s works, ” I said,  his white eyebrows raised and he leaned back in his chair. “I find them quite stimulating, even if at times they are somewhat cryptic.”

“Ha! I always enjoy our conversations Michael, you find amusement in the strangest of areas.”

His wife placed warm. steaming crumpets in front of us and began pouring tea.

“What one tidbit of Carroll catches your fancy this morning?” said Smith as he buttered a crumpet.

“Six impossible things.”

“Which six?”

I took a bite of a crumpet, the steam carrying the aroma into my nose, “These are delicious, Sarah!”

A voice returned, “There are plenty more, eat hearty!”

“Which six impossible things has Mr. Carroll written about?” continued the Captain, clearly captivated by my introduction.

“Six impossible things before breakfast.  Any six. Simply believe six impossible things to be possible – it is at once challenge and folly.”

The Captain smiled, “And therein lies the allure – much like a man’s love for the sea.” He smiled broadly, crumpet crumbs falling from the white, brushy mustache.

“I’ve taken it as a personal challenge, Captain, to believe six impossible things before breakfast.  I do believe it’s motivating me to make the impossible, possible.  It stimulates my creativity and broadens my horizons!”

Captain Smith nodded, “It is the motivation of the likes of Magellan, to constantly reach for the horizon, where the impossible waits…” His view became distant and he paused.  No doubt for effect as well as to ponder the deeper truth.

“Six impossible things,” he continued. “Let’s take the challenge together this morning.  What is impossible so that we may believe it?”

He began looking around the room, stopping at the radio.

“There!” He said pointing. “Wouldn’t it be grand if, while I listened to the radio, I could see the people talking? -That’s impossible isn’t it?”

“Well done, Captain!” I laughed and watched as his eyes went to his telescope.

He slapped his thighs and wiped the last bit of crumb from his mustache and beard and pointed at the scope, “The moon.  One day men will walk upon that cold, grey orb.”

“Are you quite sure that’s impossible?”

“Are you telling me it’s possible?”

“It’s perhaps as possible as your cigar box containing all the letters you’ve ever written, all your charts, and all Sarah’s recipes with room for more!”

The Captain laughed, “My dear Michael, you are not helping your case.  What you claim is quite impossible, even if all were written with tiny letters.”  He paused.  “But, I will believe it to be possible.  There, that’s three:  A box that can hold an ocean’s worth of information.”

“Three,” I  sipped some more tea. “You have a heart for this, Captain.”

“I find this enjoyable.”  He paused, chuckling. “My heart!”  He paused and his eyes widened. What if it could be replaced by a machine, or, or perhaps another person’s heart?!” His eyes were sparkling and childlike now.  He was beginning to understand why I liked this discipline.

“Four,” I said. “What is number five?”

He narrowed his eyes and again they wandered about the room. First to my tea-cup, then to his.  He began stroking his beard and his gaze landed on a rifle on the wall.

“Number five is a weapon…one round sufficient to annihilate entire cities the size of London.”

“Number five!” I poured myself another cup of tea and continued, “You’ve gotten the hang of this! Remember to start each day aboard the Titanic with this exercise.  You’ll find your mind invigorated!”

The corners of the Captain’s mouth fell, his gaze distant.  He looked down and shook his head, “Michael, you Cretan, you’ve told me all Cretan’s are liars and I am bound by your truth.”

I wasn’t offended, but it was clear the Captain was not complimenting me.

“People say,” the Captain said, his voice becoming softer and gaze more distant, ” that the Titanic is impossible to sink…”


Posted in Brain Stimulation Tools, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, idea generation, imagination, innovation, Innovation Tools | 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 »

Want More Creative Solutions? Solve Problems for Someone Else.

Posted by Plish on March 2, 2011

Researchers have known for a while that one way to come up with creative solutions is to create some distance from a problem (I blogged on it here).  In other words, if you frame the problem so it’s distant in some way, geographically, temporally, etc, the solutions you come up with tend to be more creative than if you are solving a problem that’s located in the here and now.

Well, now researchers have demonstrated that you can be creative solving problems in the here and now, just solve the problems for someone else.  In other words, people tend to be more creative when solving problems for others than they are when solving them for themselves.

This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. If a social species, like humanity, is to survive, it makes sense that its members are at their best when solving problems for their fellow humans.  It creates a support structure that helps increase survival odds when focused on the other.

What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Posted in Authenticity, Behavioral Science, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, idea generation, Innovation Tools, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Research, Social Innovation, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


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