We’re all looking for that “Aha!” moment; that spark of genius that presents itself as an original, creative solution to a problem.
Great ideas: how do we get them and where can we find more? Many of us turn to brainstorming for inspiration.
Where did this concept of brainstorming all start?
The term “brainstorming” was popularized in 1941 by advertising executive Alex Osborn, and outlined in the book Applied Imagination. Osborn found that conventional meetings halted the creative process and limited the production of new ideas. He opted for a set of rules that would give people the freedom of thought in order to trigger and reveal new ideas. These group-thinking sessions proved to produce more ideas that were of greater quality and usefulness.
The world took hold of this concept, and today brainstorming is widely used across organizations to inspire new ways of thinking and to solve pressing business problems.
The truth about brainstorming is revealed in research.
The truth: businesses are brainstorming the wrong way.
In her book Creative Conspiracy, Leigh Thompson of Kellogg School of Management affirms that “although team collaboration is essential for companies and businesses, decades of research evidence clearly reveals that groups are inferior to individuals when it comes to creativity!”
Thompson noted in an interview with Fast Company: “As sexy as brainstorming is, with people popping like champagne with ideas, what actually happens is when one person is talking you’re not thinking of your own ideas. Sub-consciously you’re already assimilating to my ideas.”
What often occurs in a traditional brainstorming session is that 60-75% of the talking is done by a few people, with the earliest ideas disproportionately influencing the rest of the discussion. Essentially, killing creativity.
So how can we brainstorm better?
Simple. Write first, discuss later.
Thompson found that real collaboration requires focussed, independent thought mixed with structured team interaction.
Better brainstorming comes down to “brainwriting”. Write down your ideas and share them with your team in an organized manner. Thompson reports that brainwriting groups produce 20% more ideas and 42% more original ideas when compared to conventional brainstorming groups.
Next time your organization needs some inspiring problem-solving ideas, try a brainwriting session to give every idea an equal, unbiased chance.
Write First: Let your ideas pour out on paper.
To find your spark of genius, take the time for quiet contemplation. Schedule regular “brainwriting” sessions into your calendar.
If you’re not sure how to get writing, try the freefall technique as part of your brainstorming activities.
Start with the problem you want to solve. Write it at the top of the page. Then simply write. Set a timer for 10 minutes and allow yourself to write down everything that comes to mind. Don’t overthink or worry about structure or mistakes. See where your words take you.
You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish in only 10 minutes.
Freefall writing helps you to let go, allowing you to be creative and spontaneous, to break through internal barriers and self-censorship. What you discover are ideas that aren’t even fully formed in your mind, already in words. That’s where you’ll find your spark of genius.