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Brainstorming

Photo of a parking lot
Photo courtesy of alex92287

I was at a party not long ago when the topic of brainstorming came up and I said how much I loved the exercise, to which one guy responded with a dismissive wave of the hand.

“Brainstorming,” he intoned, “is a waste of time.”

His contention was that most of the time devoted to brainstorming was wasted because people so often digressed from the topic at hand and few “good” ideas came out of the process. He even had a method for closing down off-topic discussions: The Parking Lot.

The Parking Lot was the section of the white board where you wrote down the ideas you wanted to “park” for later discussion.

The later discussion, of course, never arrived.

What he was really saying to participants of his brainstorm was here’s where I’m going to put your shitty little idea and shut the !*#@& up, you idiot.

Is it any wonder, then, that his brainstorming session produced nothing at all? Who, after all, is going to risk their ideas getting beaten down, in front of their peers, by Dr. No?

It doesn’t have to be the leader of a brainstorm who is crushing creativity nor does anyone have to say a thing; body language speaks volumes and people hear it loud and clear. If you want to get the most out of your brainstorming sessions, the attitude you take to the brainstorm is as equally important as the ideas you throw on the table.

Innovation At The Speed Of Laughter

I recently finished reading John Sweney‘s book Innovation At the Speed of Laughter. Sweeney is the owner of The Brave New Workshop. Over the years, he and the Workshop have developed a methodology for creating ideas that eventually results in theater productions. It is this methodology that he discusses in the book.

The paramount point of the book is that you must commit to saying yes to ideas first, without reservation, even to those ideas you think are profoundly stupid.

The point is not that every idea is gold or that there aren’t stupid ideas but that any idea can spark another idea or can be combined with another unrelated idea to create a brilliant one. Discouraging people from throwing out as many ideas as they can deprives you of the opportunity to create strokes of genius.

It is that very dynamic that I love so much about brainstorming, tossing ideas around, having one idea spark another, or combining one idea with an absolutely unrelated idea to come up with a creative and unique third idea.

I used to believe that creativity can’t be taught. Now, I only believe that when it comes to artistic genius. But I do believe creative thinking can be taught and Sweeney’s book is as good an approach as any I’ve read.

Now I think you can enhance or deepen your capacity for creative thought by learning as much as you can. The more you learn, the more resources you’ll have to draw upon to come up with creative ideas. The more knowledge you have, the more ideas you can cross pollinate.

And practice makes perfect. The more you think creatively, more creative you’ll get in your thinking simply through practice and building those neuro-pathways.

Most importantly, though: Play with joy. Have fun and the ideas will come.

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About David Erickson

David Erickson is principal of e-Strategy Media, a digital marketing consultancy based in Minnesota. David has extensive experience in digital marketing and is often used as an expert source by media and asked to speak on the topic before organizations and to sit on panel discussions.

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