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Actually, let’s not. Brainstorming, according to Shawn Doyle and Steven Rowell in their book, Jumpstart Your Creativity: 10 Jolts To Get Creative And Stay Creative (Jumpstart Series), has been done so many times and so badly that you are more likely to get a room full of uninspired people who groan when you whip out the white board pens than any good ideas.
“Most people conduct brainstorming or ideation in a way that is not linked to how the brain actually works,” they write. “The processes of brainstorming are often way too linear and that’s why too often they don’t work at all. We pile people into a conference room, pull out a marker and a flip chart and say, ‘Okay people, let’s generate some ideas!’”
Jumpstart Your Creativity is about being better at getting to the ideas.
Doyle and Rowell define creativity as “the process of creating ideas that have value.”
So why can’t you do it?
People think that they are not creative, or that they can’t think creatively because it is easier to stick with what we know how to do especially when we are stressed, busy or overwhelmed. Or we rush into making a decision, leaving no time to review ideas or involve others in the process. For some, it’s about the fear making a mistake or being ridiculed for their ideas. And in many cases, creativity has been educated out of us by the school system. Doyle and Rowell write:
In this information age, we are now desperate for creative thinkers who can digest and synthesize the mountains of data and experiences made instantly available, and apply it to all the problems at hand, creating something anew out of the chaos.
There are not many people who would argue that we don’t need to be creative in business at the moment. We are constantly looking for innovative ways to deliver projects faster, save money, do more with fewer resources and all that. So, accepting that you can tap back into your innate creativity in order to get to those good project-issue-solving ideas, the authors have a 6-step approach to firing up your inner creative engine, nattily called CREATE:
Commit with Confidence and Courage – put your fears aside and go for it
Release expectations – don’t worry about what you might come up with; suspend your judgement of ideas
Embrace Play – get out of your normal workplace environment for the best creative thinking opportunities (they call this the ‘play zone’)
Accept – acknowledge that your ideas and the creativity process might not be perfect, but what you are doing is good enough
Take time – allow enough time for the ideas to arrive; don’t rush it, especially with group work as it might take several sessions to get where you want to be
Engage – commit to taking action, focus on the outcomes and tolerate the discomfort and ambiguity that being creative generates.
Tapping into your creative self
The book is full of ideas for harnessing that creativity that we are all born with. The main point the authors are making is that it’s worth being creative, even if you have to work at it. They ask: “What’s the worst that could happen? What if you do nothing?”
Some are aimed at making yourself more open to ideas, such as:
- Be more observant
- Read, watch videos (like the TED Talks), be open to information coming your way
- Keep an electronic file or notebook or ideas
- Look outside your industry for inspiration
- Revamp your workspace, car and home to clear the clutter and make your environment more conducive to creative thinking.
There are plenty of other ideas as well aimed at making group sessions more productive and the first chapter dives straight in with 12 different techniques for use in facilitated workshop to replace standard brainstorming approach. Here’s one idea I really liked.
The consulting team
Get your project team or group to create a list of celebrities from all walks of public life – sport, literature, art, music, TV and so on. Include celebrities living and dead, then pick a dozen and ask, “How would this situation be handled by…” Get the team to come up with ways that Louis Armstrong, Lady Gaga and Big Bird would approach the problem. Maybe one of those answers is the solution that you’ve been looking for.
There’s another version on this exercises which involves using a list of superheroes instead. The book gives you some names to start from Mush Man, Oil Girl and Silver Sue) but you and the team could come up with others.
Using models for creative thinking
Jumpstart Your Creativity covers 3 models for creative thinking as well as additional process models in Chapter 7. Some you will have heard of, like De Bono’s Six Thinking hats and Ishikawa diagrams, and some you may not have come across before like the OP model and idea webbing. Whichever you use, the authors advocate ‘displayed thinking’ i.e. writing the ideas up where everyone can see them.
They don’t go in much detail about them and they recommend that if you do want to use models that you do some research before using them in a work environment. They also advise that you don’t use them on simple problems as most are designed for more complex issues, and that you don’t stick to just one. Cycle them round rather than relying on your old trusted favourite time and time again.
Whether you use a model or not, once you have your list of ideas Doyle and Rowell recommend putting the list to one side and evaluating the ideas on a different day. Create a list of metrics to evaluate the ideas against, they suggest. This is important because it helps you to avoid doing ideas because they are cool. “Most people in the executive suite don’t want to hear about cool or hip or cutting-edge,” they write. “They want to know directly how an idea is going to impact the metrics of the business.”
You can evaluate ideas with lists of positives/negatives, polling, weighted criteria and so on – the things that you would normally use at the end of a brainstorming session to help assess which solutions should be taken forward.
If you are a consultant or facilitate a lot of meetings, the ideas in this book will be useful for you to help groups come up with more and better ideas. As an individual, you can use the ‘work it’ pages at the end of each chapter to review what you have learned and help establish an action plan to put into practice.
The last chapter is mainly a list of inventive ideas, like the company that sends you a single sock every month as ‘sock insurance’ and there are lots of links, blogs, books etc to further inspire you if you want to invest more time in building your creativity. I would say, though, just get out there and do it. There’s plenty enough in this book to get you to put away your flip charts and markers and start thinking more creatively about your project.