Why is brainstorming for new ideas often so disappointing? Sixty-plus members of the Ad Club got the answer at the November lunch meeting from Sheila Campbell of Wild Blue Yonder (SCampbell@wildblueyonder.biz).
Campbell told attendees that research on how the human brain works tells us that talking actually inhibits creative thinking. That’s because speech typically is a left-brain function, and creativity is anchored in the right side of the brain. So the more you talk, the less creative you are. When everyone shouts out ideas in traditional brainstorming sessions, the ideas are likely to be the same old stuff everybody was thinking when they walked in the room.(Interestingly, Campbell noted, speech doesn’t inhibit logical thinking, which is a left-brain activity.)
“Where are you when you get your best ideas?” Campbell asked the group. “In the shower,” several people answered. “In the car,” said others.
“I get my big ideas when I’m hiking,” Campbell said. “The point is, you need silence to tap into your innate creativity.”
The other inhibition on our creative thinking is that the human brain is organized to make and recognize patterns. So when we try to solve a business problem, our brains keep us stuck in the old familiar ideas. Campbell noted that she’d once spent three hours trying to think of a hamburger promotion for a restaurant client, and all she could do was recycle old McDonald’s ads. So, in addition to silence, she recommended we use “kickers” to push us out of our usual patterns of thinking.
To practice these principles, Campbell taught the group a fresher method for generating ideas. The group used “increasing participation at Ad Club” as their creative thinking topic. Each person wrote a list of five organizations and gave it to someone else, and people used their lists to push their thinking beyond the usual. In silence, each person listed new ideas on sticky notes. Within five minutes, the group had come up with several hundred ideas...some silly, of course, but also some that will get further attention from the Ad Club’s Board: member profiles on the Ad Club website, Apple-tech seminars, tiered pricing for events, trial memberships, season tickets and lots more.
This technique for generating new ideas is detailed in the book, Retreats That Work, co-authored by Campbell and Merianne and Jeff Liteman.