In “How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery,” Kevin Ashton questions the validity of brainstorming for creativity. His main objection stems from the fact that brainstorming doesn’t have a way to turn ideas into reality. For Ashton, having ideas is not being creative; the ideas must be realized in order for creativity to result.
Ashton is not the only creativity author to poke this
particular hole in brainstorming. Edward de Bono also believes that
brainstorming is inefficient and a bad way to come up with ideas. Having more
ideas doesn’t mean having better ideas, and businesses need better ideas.
Another failure of brainstorming is the exclusion of people
who are shy. Even with instructions involving no judgement and participating,
those who are afraid of failure, making mistakes, public speaking, or being
laughed at, may hold their ideas back. Instead, Ashton says the research
suggests that people working alone come up with as many ideas as people working
together, and the ideas will be better. Groups tend to fixate on one idea as
the brainstorming goes on.
Brainstorming was originally used in advertising to come up
with ideas. What makes it work is how you use it and what you do when done.
Brainstorming sessions have their place in creativity, but it needs someone to
guide the ideas from the whiteboard to reality. If you’re using it in a
business, the person implementing must have the power to do so.
Many people think that creativity only involves a
free-for-all, throw-stuff-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks, and it can be that.
Disney uses “Blue Sky” as its terminology for ideas that have no boundaries.
Some organizations call it “Green Field” thinking. A simple brainstorming
session can also encompass this type of idealized creativity. One person alone
or a group of people coming up with ideas about anything and everything.
But that’s not really how most creativity works. Disney might have blue sky sessions that encompass everything from transportation to theme park attractions and TV series to communication break-throughs, but most of the time these sessions are focused on a goal. The goal may still be overwhelmingly large, like a story for the next great Pixar movie, but it is a goal nonetheless. Jackson Pollock doesn’t sit down to write a novel and end up with a painting, and George R.R. Martin doesn’t sit down to write a novel and end up with clay statue.
For some people, the word goal may be too pointed. There
still have to be limitations or a problem that the person is solving before he
or she can really engage the creative juices. The goal, or general direction,
helps people to focus their creative energy and allows the brain to pick up on
the importance of the project or question. Even if no answer is immediately
forthcoming, the problem may be solved during an unrelated activity.
If you’re having trouble firing up your creativity, it may
be because your too thinly spread. Focus on one thing you want to make better
and work on that. One goal I always come back to is “What can we do to make
Tomorrowland more about tomorrow?”
Creativity comes when people aren’t afraid to make connections
or sound dumb. People don’t like to be judged or have their ideas called
stupid, even if they sound out there. Brainstorming sessions attempt to put
people in a safe place where there is no judgement and they can dream as big as
they want to. As an idea generation practice, Brainstorming can provide
hundreds to thousands of ideas, depending on how many people participate and
how long the session is.
Brainstorming sessions should have between 8 and 12 people. The session should last about 45 minutes to an hour though longer sessions can be advantageous if there are appropriate breaks. All brainstorming sessions have rules. At Disney in their blue-sky sessions, imagineers follow these rules according to “The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland”:
There is no such thing as a bad idea.
No talking about why it can’t be done.
Do not stifle ideas with “buts,” “can’ts” and other negative words.
There’s no such thing as a bad idea.
Not everyone agrees that brainstorming is a good idea. Edward de Bono says it’s a waste because so many ideas are discarded and the time to come up with them is wasted thereby. The process is inefficient. However, creativity is inefficient, so the brainstorming session, when the plan begins, should be the most inefficient part of the process.
De Bono also notices that some people try to top others, so the session results in people coming up with the most outlandish ideas. For me, that’s part of the point of brainstorming. Like Disney imagineers, I believe you never know where the best idea is going to come from, and it could come from a connection to an outrageous idea that someone else had.
Others decry the fact that brainstorming sessions have no
follow up step. That’s up to the business to create. Recording the ideas and
having the team follow up is easier if someone has the authority, time and
resources to move forward with new ideas.
If you want to have a lot of ideas to choose from, start
with a brainstorming session.
In his book “Brainstorming: Unleashing Your Creative Self,” Don Hahn says that a lot of creativity books come off sounding like a Stuart Smalley self-help quote: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” Maybe that should be expected. Creativity is the highest expression of a person’s humanity.
Creativity is at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for
self-actualization. Those, who believe in God, also believe that humans are
formed in His image to go forth and do math or procreate, which is an act of core
People are at their best when they’re being creative. They
flow, they sparkle, they embrace their inner child, they play, and they laugh
and find the humor. They love, they forgive, and they ultimately revel in the
happiness that creativity reveals in the sore of their own being.