This post is one in a series from a presentation on Creative Slip-Ups: The 11 Most Common Mistakes in Brainstorming. The Introduction to the series is here.
The slip-up: We too often listen to our negative inner voice.
I’ve written many times about how negativity is the most potent reason why brainstorms fail.
A combustible mix of emotions and behaviors, negativity stops imaginative thinking in four ways, through …
- Pessimism – e.g., “That won’t work.”
- Adversarial – e.g., “Let me play devil’s advocate.”
- Dismissal – e.g., “We’ve already tried that.”
- Disdain – e.g., “That’s a stupid idea.”
However, slip-up #8 isn’t about the destructive people around you in a brainstorm who utter these annoying statements. No, this slip-up is more personal. It’s about you, and the “little voice in the back of your head.”
I cannot count the times someone has told me – well after the brainstorm had finished – that they had a good idea but were too afraid, embarrassed, shy or not confident to speak up. When they told me their concept, more often than not, it was impressive … but too late. As David Ogilvy famously
said, “An idea not communicated effectively is like having no idea at all.”
When It’s Good, It’s Good. But When It’s Bad …
The little voice – also known as our inner voice, an internal monologue, or self-talk – is vital to our psychological existence. When the voice is positive, it guides us to better decisions and protects us from manipulation and hurt. But it can just as easily be destructive. It not only tells us we, as a person, are not creative, it also convinces us that any idea we create isn’t worthy of value.
It’s not easy to turn off the little voice, and for some people, it may be impossible. But, you can learn to work with it.
The solution: Don’t be your own worst creative enemy.
Start to recognize when you’re listening to your negative voice. Dr. Marilyn Koch, a friend of mine who’s a psychologist in Australia, suggests thinking of the negative voice as a gremlin. “Give it a name,” she says. “When you start to hear your negativity speak to you, silence it by putting it in its place: ‘Oh, that’s just Archie talking.’” By recognizing the inner voice, it’s easier to be conscious of its affect on you.
You have two voices. What’s the other voice – the positive voice – think? It’s easier to consciously silence and balance the negative voice by forcing yourself to also be complementary.
This is a great trick to use with ideas. Ok, so you have a bad idea. Ask yourself: Is there anything good about it? Not all ideas are wholly bad. In fact, many times it’s usually an element of the idea that’s not usable. Ask yourself how it can be fixed, improved, adjusted or edited. This is also good behavior for a group brainstorm. When someone says an idea is bad, ask them to identify one aspect of the idea has relevance or merit, and encourage the group to improve it.
When a farmer collects eggs hatched by his chickens, he doesn’t grade each egg on the spot. He has to gather together all eggs to be able to grade them consistently.
The same is true with brainstorming. Don’t hatch an idea and instantly grade it. It slows you down, mentally jumping back and forth between divergent and convergent thinking. (It’s like editing your words as you write them. It’s inefficient.) If you’re constantly hatching, your corrosive voice begins to dissolve every idea to the point that you’re prematurely destroying every idea before you can objectively judge it. In the end, you’ll kill all of your ideas.
A brainstorm agenda generally falls into an 80-20 split.
- 80% of the time is spent generating ideas.
- 20% perfect is spent organizing, merging, combining, editing and sorting all of the messy ideas into a small group of ideas worthy of additional discussion, research and additional brainstorming.
Don’t expend energy in the 80% section critiquing ideas. Focus instead on generating as many ideas as possible, knowing that soon you and your team will begin to combine the better components into good ideas.
I want to share one of the most important sayings that Grandma Eklund told me. It’s true on so many levels, but equally here as it relates to self-confidence. “Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business.”
To the right, click the category on Negativity for more information.
Any other tips or thoughts to help alleviate your negative voice?
Previous slip-up: Forcing people to brainstorm in the same way.