We looked around the conference room.
Everyone was looking up at the ceiling, at the table, futzing with their pencils… They were looking everywhere but at the whiteboard.
“No one? No one can think any good ideas to prepare people for this event?”
“Well. Does anyone have any bad ideas?”
Someone laughed and said “Well, we could always duct tape the FAQ to their face so they absorb it by osmosis.”
Someone chuckled. “Yes, and we could tattoo it to their arm, too!”
The room started to wake up.
Someone else jumped in, “Or we could make it their smartphone background, so they’re forced to accidentally read it as they’re using their phone.”
And then “Yes! And we could drive to their house, sneak into their room, and whisper it into their ear while they sleep.”
With a jolt, someone stood up. “Wait. There’s actually something to that. Not the sneaking into their house part, but what if we made the FAQ into a podcast? Something people could listen to while they drove to the event?”
The event organizers sat back, stunned. That was actually a pretty good idea. In just 2 minutes, they went from an awkwardly quiet room to one bursting with great ideas.
As soon as they were liberated from coming up with good ideas and were encouraged to come up with bad ones, the energy in the room picked up. Conversation started flowing. Eventually some of those bad ideas (with some modifications) became great ones.
With a few simple rules, the group had the most productive brainstorm in the history of their event.
The Four Rules For The Most Productive Brainstorm In Your Life
1) Quantity > Quality.
It may seem counter intuitive, but coming up with lots of bad ideas is better than a few good ideas. In the story, we originally asked “Does anyone have any GOOD ideas?” That implied some standard of quality. People either self censored (thinking their ideas weren’t good enough) or worked too hard trying to come up with “good” ideas.
2) Defer Judgement.
Instead, embrace the bad ones!If you acknowledge you’re not judging ideas right now, it’s really easy to come up with lots and lots of bad ones. Sometimes a good one slips through, but more often it just means you get to use the next rule…
3) Yes, and...
This comes from improvisational comedy. If you say “No,” the improv scene or the idea is dead in the water. Instead, say “Yes, and… we could add this to it” or “and we could change this part” or “and we could do this aspect differently.”
In the story above, obviously we probably shouldn’t sneak into people’s homes and whisper to them while they sleep. But we used “yes, and…” to take the good part of the idea, using their ears instead of their eyes, and build on it.
You can almost always take a bad idea and “Yes, and” it into a good one.
4) Don’t Get Caught Up in the Details.
If you’re coming up with lots of bad ideas, it’s important not to get bogged down with the details too soon. People tend to immediately look for why something won’t work… don’t do that! Don’t get bogged down in the details. Wait to fill them in later. At this point, you want to produce lots of ideas – getting into the weeds on each one will just slow you down.
So next time you need to brainstorm ideas, go for quantity over quality. The more going into the top of a funnel means more comes out the bottom. And that means a higher chance of fantastic ideas.
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