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This chapter is from the book

The Perfect Brainstorm

  • The perfect brainstorm removes the barriers to creativity by letting all ideas come out and be given a chance to breathe without the judgement and criticism that might otherwise kill them. It’s like yoga without the grunting. People, especially grown-up people, are afraid of doing something embarrassing in a group of peers (although that doesn’t quite explain the popularity of reality TV or talent shows). Tim Brown of IDEO talks about a creativity exercise that Robert McKim, founder of Stanford University’s Product Design Program, would often use to prove this to a class of adult students. He would give them each a piece of paper and a pencil and ask them to draw, in just 30 seconds, the person sitting next to them. At the end of the time limit their sketches would, of course, be crap. And then they would invariably apologise to the person they drew. ‘Yes, I know – sorry!’

Ask children to do it and they won’t be embarrassed by their unflattering attempts to capture the looks of their peers. Have they no manners? Or, more likely, have they not learned to be afraid of the opinion of others? For grown-ups who expect rules, establishing some for creativity is important. One being: ‘No idea is a bad idea.’ And, in that vein: ‘Don’t be insulted if I make your nose look big on a sketch I’m asked to draw. I’m not a very good artist. The time I was given wasn’t enough. And, well, it is kind of bulky.’

Both the setting of a brainstorming and how it is structured are important. To get the right brain to do its job, some form of ‘meditative zoning out’ is required so the left brain doesn’t interfere before the ideas have been properly formed. Finding a space without too much formality or rigidity helps. Some wise folk have gone so far as to recreate the feeling of being inside a cloud by putting brainstorm participants inside a chamber made of billowing silk. Just imagine the ideas a formation of parachutists must have as they drift towards the ground under canopies of silk.

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