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  • Gray Hammond

How to Brainstorm Wrong

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

PHOTO: Blue Diamond Gallery

There are four stages in the creative process. (Some authors say three, some five, some even more, but upon studying these exceptions we find that they combined or split a couple of stages. And in practice these stages do overlap.)

  1. Saturation - this may be specific research (when solving a problem) or subconscious (your collection of random thoughts, experiences & observations)

  2. Incubation - thinking it through, consciously or subconsciously (you literally “sleep on it”)

  3. Illumination - the light bulb or “Aha” or “Eureka” moment (often – but erroneously – thought to be #creativity itself)

  4. Verification - test, validate, feedback.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of potentially valid techniques to engender or enhance creativity. But they have to be appropriate on several criteria:

  • The creative development stage you’re at – a “fragile” technique suited to Stage 2 won’t withstand the rigors of Stage 4 testing.

  • Individual vs. group-oriented techniques – you don’t always have access to – or need – other people.

  • Individual personality & comfort zones – consider learning style, personality type, de Bono’s “6 Hats”, etc.

Brainstorming is the best-known creative technique - unfortunately. First, it requires a group - and this may not be the right setting for the phase you’re at. And most #brainstorming sessions we’ve seen are done wrong. The most common mistakes:

  • It’s not used as part of Stage 2, Incubation. It’s too often used to rush all four stages into an hour or two. The thinking from Stage 1 is often not used to brief participants. The results from brainstorming are very often not taken away for further incubation; brainstorming should be followed by “brainstilling”.

  • It needs a truly supportive environment in which there are no right or wrong answers - knowing you’ll be judged inhibits free expression. (See this "Checklist of creativity-killing phrases" for a tongue-in-cheek review.)

  • At the crucial endpoint, participants are often asked to judge or vote on the ideas. There are two problems with this:

  1. A non-judging environment was supposed to be the whole point in the first place!

  2. Every idea should be assessed for its potential strengths, and these should be recorded. No idea should be rejected unless nobody can find anything positive or interesting about it.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn

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