I was asked recently by a prospective client how to judge if a person is creative or not. I have one criteria. How prolific are they at generating ideas, either good or bad? In other words, can they generate a lot of ideas?
The client nodded, but said, “I’d agree, but if they generate only good ideas.”
Only generate good ideas? That’s not a person, that’s a Greek god. It’s also not the only time I’ve heard that type of comment. I had a colleague once who told me I needed to facilitate the brainstorm better because all the good ideas seemed to come at the end of the brainstorm. I should be more efficient, and help the participants create the good ideas at the beginning of the meeting. Two words: as if.
In reality, a good brainstormer – someone who can create a lot of ideas – understands they want a lot of ideas, as many alternatives, solutions and options as possible. By creating volume, they satisfy the intractable rule of creativity called the 90-10 Rule.
Think of a brainstorm: recent, typical and good.* Isn’t it true that 90 percent of the ideas were bad, wrong, improbable, immoral, criminal, inane, ho-hum, been-there-done-that, or senseless? They wouldn’t help you achieve your goal. However, 10 percent of the ideas were worthy of more discussion and thought. That’s the 90-10 Rule in action. To leverage the principle, that’s why you want as many ideas as possible – both good and bad – because volume of both kinds exponentially increases the 10% of good ideas.
Logic dictates that it’s impossible for the brain to create the 10% of the good ideas at the beginning of a brainstorm. The more practical thought is to ensure a brainstorm creates mass. Some additional thoughts.
- Brainstorms rarely create volume in one sitting. Have multiple and shorter brainstorms.
- Write ideas on flip-charts, and keep them posted on the wall. Someone may have an idea an hour or so later, and you want to people to be able to continue to add their ideas whenever they think of ideas.
- People brainstorm better at different times of day. That’s why multiple brainstorms are good. You can have the “morning people” go to a.m. brainstorms, and “afternoon people” to go p.m. brainstorms.
- Use less people in brainstorms. Two or three people is fine. With less people, you can schedule more brainstorms.
- Keep the focus tight. And, use the best solutions from the last brainstorm to spur the next one. That way, if you have to return to specific people, the brainstorm always seems “fresh.”
- Stand up! The brain works more efficiently when the body is active.
How else have you helped improve your brainstorms by encouraging more ideas than less?
* Don’t include bad brainstorms in this definition. There’s too many other issues to deal with in bad brainstorms – a bad agenda, lifeless participants, vague objectives, annoying environment – which need to be dealt with before the 90-10 rule begins to work.