Just as routine exercise improves overall health, routine creativity adds to a healthy lifestyle as well.
In some brainstorming sessions, the climate is calm with people thoughtfully building on each others ideas. In other brainstorming sessions, the climate is more competitive with people trying to outdo each others ideas. Over time I’ve realized the calm room is usually filled with people who brainstorm consistently, while the competitive room is usually filled with people who brainstorm sporadically. With this hypothesis, I began thinking about the parallels between exercise and creativity and how a sedentary lifestyle (either physically or creatively) can be bad for your health.
In 1916, Einstein published the general theory of relativity. More than 50 years later, NASA confirmed Einstein’s predictions. How is it that some people can seemingly predict the future? I believe it comes down to the ability to sense gaps and to imagine possibilities. At the end of the day, predicting the future may be nothing more than tapping into divergent and convergent thinking skills.
For example, on my last day of work from one of my very first jobs, I wrote down a half dozen predictions about the future of the company I was leaving. I then sealed my predictions in envelopes and gave them to a colleague with instructions to open each one on the date indicated. As my colleague opened each envelope, she was surprised by the accuracy of what I had predicted. In the end, nearly all had come true.
When I was a kid, we used to play a game called Rock-Paper-Scissors. The game is also known as Stone-Paper-Scissors in the UK, or kauwi-bauwi-bo in Korean. Turns out, it is a universal game. To play, opponents say, “Rock-Paper-Scissors, shoot.” Upon saying shoot, each player uses his hand to imitate the shape of a rock (clenched fist), paper (open hand), or scissors (two fingers extended in a cutting motion). The object of the game is to select a gesture that beats your opponent – rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper and paper beats rock.
Rock-Paper-Scissors is popular with elementary school kids. In fact, my boys were so excited by Rock-Paper-Scissors they couldn’t wait to show my husband and I. One day while eating dinner, the boys decided to teach us how to play. They began, “Rock-Paper-Scissors, shoot.” One said, “rock” while clenching his fist. My other son said, “paper” while holding his hand open like a stop sign. Then, my husband jumped into the fun helped turn Rock-Paper-Scissors into a game of divergent thinking. Rock-paper-scissors became:
I’ve worked in advertising and marketing for the last (gulp!) 18 years. In that time I’ve seen lots of good ideas die. In thinking through why, I’ve narrowed the reasons into three main themes:
- Ideas were not connected to a strategy
- Ideas were not thought through
- There were just too many ideas
Ideas were not connected to a strategy – In the ideal world leaders would set clear visions. Then, objectives, strategies and programs would all fall in line. Wouldn’t that be nice? (Pause) Well, unfortunately we do not live in the ideal world. With the frantic pace of change, it can be hard enough staying afloat, let alone, setting a vision. Because of the lack of vision, those of us involved in creating ideas are left to guess at what would make leaders happy. In this scenario, ideas drive visions rather than what should happen…visions drive ideas. The danger in having ideas as the driver is that the fate of programs, and sometimes organizations, lies in the subjectivity of an idea.
For example, in advertising, ideas take the form of creative concepts. In essence, colors, font choices, headlines and photography substitute for a clearly articulated business strategy. When ideas substitute for strategy, good ideas sometimes die a senseless death. How can we avoid this? By setting tangible goals upfront. Goals are actionable, measurable, and have clear time frames. Notice I recommended setting goals rather than a vision. Why? First, goals are more understandable. Second, if folks are uncomfortable setting visions, you’re only asking for trouble if you ask for one.
Ideas were not thought through – Have you ever been in a brainstorming or ideation session with people who love to ideate? What tends to happen in these types of brainstorms is that lots of ideas are thrown on the table, but none are fully thought through. One of the reasons for this is folks who are good at thinking through ideas are either not invited to participate in the session, or are drowned out by idea-types. When ideas are not thought through, they eventually die. I suppose some tenacious ideas do make it. But they live on the nail biting backs of folks who conquer huge obstacles – those who would have thought the idea through had they been active participants. You get the picture. Teamwork amongst idea-folks and implementer-folks helps good ideas see the light of day.
There were just too many ideas – And, sometimes good ideas die because there are just too many of them. There are only so many things a person or team can accomplish. Ideas do need to die from time to time. It is a natural cycle. What to do in this case? Reduce the number of ideas you decide to implement and recycle ideas for another time.
For more on ideas, see Is there a Right Way to Brainstorm?
Earlier today I received a call from a former colleague asking for pointers in conducting a brainstorm. In chatting with him, I began to ask myself, “Is there a right way to brainstorm?” My short answer is “yes!”
I’ve sat in my share of poorly run brainstorming sessions and you probably have too. You know, the type of brainstorming where… one person dominates the conversation, or folks are so anxious to get their ideas out they don’t listen to one another, or ideas don’t connect to a unified problem, or worse yet, the brainstorming doesn’t lead to an actionable outcome.
So, what’s the right way to brainstorm? Here are some tips: