How to do Brainstorming that Actually Works
Brainstorming in groups, where all of you are just gonna try and storm the idea castle. There's a lot of reasons why it's been shown that it doesn't work. A lot of theories at least. We have this need to fit into our group. We survive because we worked in tribes and you didn't survive it you got kicked out of the tribe. And if you're in a company, you are gonna be subconsciously or may consciously afraid of saying something that gets to you not invited to the next thing or not promoted or whatever and so this is why in a group people will be a little bit more inhibited than the same people will by themselves. There's a better approach than this sort of weird tradition we have of brainstorming and so I wanna talk a little bit about how to do it better. And this is something that actually we all learned how to do in elementary school, middle school, it's a scientific method. Anything that you're trying to come up with idea wise should actually follow a scientific method rather than the t...
raditional brainstorm process. This is how you bring ideas to a group that are gonna be way better than they expect. So the scientific method, basically is you make an observation and then you ask a question. So we'll go through a real example of something that I'm working on writing right now. Well actually we'll go through this in a minute. Make an observation, you ask a question that this strikes and you form a hypothesis of what the answer to the question might be and then you go test it. And then when that's wrong you go form another hypothesis and you test it again and you do that until you have results and you can analyze and make a conclusion. That's how we did the volcano made out of vinegar or whatever. You know, Mentos and Diet Coke in elementary school at the science fair. But this is a much better way to have your ideas and your ideation sessions stay in that zone of possibility of tension. So on the forming and testing hypothesis front, I have a 10-step personal brainstorming process that I wanna walk through and when we'll use an actual example when I was trying to come up with ideas for next stories to write as a journalist fairly recently. So step one is start by yourself. You don't wanna start in a group of people. You wanna sit with your thoughts and then you wanna go somewhere with a mild, but not major amount of noise. So what this is about is basically they've shown lots of studies that if you have little distractions when you're trying to think about things, that actually helps you to be a little bit more creative at a subconscious level. If you are too undistracted, then it's possible to get too focused and kind of get stuck on those mountain peeks, but little distractions like a mild amount of noise like at a coffee shop or having music playing on repeat, so music that's familiar enough, but that is just a little bit of a distraction. You don't want crazy amounts of noise or crazy amounts of distraction. This is good for basically getting your brain to not hang on so tightly to things that it shouldn't be thinking of. We're talking about creativity being things connecting. You want your brain to be in a position where things can connect. So a little bit of distracting noise is good. Then you wanna start your ideation session or if you're coming up with a list of say story ideas, in my case, or just trying to come up with an idea that's gonna be good for your next project or solution or problem, start with something insane. So I did this not long ago where basically what you wanna do is you wanna open up your mind so that the boundaries of this mountain range are pretty wide. And if you start with something insane that you know will never work, it's gonna prime your brain once again to be able to explore more territory. So you don't wanna start with a thing that you already have in your mind as the obvious thing that you think is gonna work, you know, start with something crazy. There's been these great studies where they do this in brainstorming sessions where they told people, one time my favorite, is that they're having people brainstorm ideas for a mobile app that's like financial reminders to help you budget better and they started of the brainstorming session by saying, you know, any idea is fine, but we want you to come up with novel ideas such as one of our favorite ideas is that you have a little wearable wristwatch. Every time you don't follow the notification it has a razor blade and it cuts you on the wrist. And if you fail to follow the notifications enough, it'll really cut you on the wrist and you're like holy shit, that's awful, that's insane, no one would ever approve that. If you start a brainstorm session with that idea, you're gonna be a little more likely to go beyond the boundaries of what you would normally think of. So in this case, I remember this vividly, whatever idea I had pop up I was looking through Spotify and I was like alright, I'm gonna start putting on some music, you know, be a little bit distracted and then I was like, you know what, here's idea number one, what if the Ying Yang twin's song, Get Low, is the most masterful masterpiece of lyrical genius ever? That's my idea. I'm gonna write an article about why the Ying Yang twins are the most lyrical geniuses ever. That song, if you don't know it, is like the foulest song. It's like so foul, like so much cursing, like it's awful. I can't even like in this setting I can't even say the words. So I was like alright, that's idea number one. And so come up with a couple ideas like that and then start writing out the real ideas you can come up. So I have a running list of just thoughts I have that I usually pull out when I'm coming up with ideas. But in this case, a couple ideas in, I was like alright, I can do a story about this or that, like you know, how did the Ying Yang twins get away with all that profanity in this popular song? Huh, there's something to it. I wonder if profanity has actually increased over the last few years, you know, in music? And so then basically I had formed a hypothesis. Observation wide, the Ying Yang twins curse a lot in this song, question, I wonder if there's more cursing nowadays in music? Well, let's test this. So I went and I found some databases on the Internet. It got totally derailed by this. So this is actually a better brainstorming process. Found some databases on the Internet where you can search song lyrics and I charted out, yup, more cursing in music. And I was like well I wonder if that's the case with movies as well and TV shows, and I wonder what words actually have become more popular and less popular, and so I started forming hypotheses about that. Well maybe we were becoming desensitized and those sort of obvious things. And so my brainstorming process turned into this sort of exploration, series of scientific methods around this idea of profanity and media. So then I said well I'm gonna poke holes in my ideas, this desensitization thing. Like are we really becoming desensitized or are words just coming in and out of the (mumbles) for other reasons? And then I sat down and I forced myself to list more ideas around this topic and then I tried to kill those too. So anything you're brainstorming, the idea is, is you wanna keep it in that zone of tension. You don't just list the ideas and you're like every idea is a good idea, here we go. You list the ideas and then you try and kill it. Try and use the scientific method to poke holes in it to bulletproof. You do that over and over and over again until you find an idea or ideas that you think are winners for whatever problem you're trying to solve. My case, writing a cool article and then you go talk to a bunch of people individually and have them poke holes in it. So I developed this theory about profanity and media that basically amounts to, if you look at all of the data of different words that come in and out of popularity, originally I wanted to just write about that in charting words that have become less popular and maybe why. But then I started learning about the history of profanity and then I came up with theory that some words remain taboo for certain reasons and other words become less taboo for certain reasons. And the way that society handles those words actually determines what happens. And whether the words get co-opted by sororities or fraternities, you know, as terms of endearment. Do those stick around longer and give people permission to insult them with each other and then they become more benign or do people use them as ways to denigrate groups of people and all that? So all that and I started just having conversations with strangers at bars about this. I had conversations with different friends of mine. Different people from different kind of walks of life and asked them and basically presented this theory that I was developing through this scientific method I've been doing and asked them to poke holes in it. What's wrong with this? What do you think is wrong? And then use that to go back and do more research and refine the idea. And that is turning into this gigantic post about basically how curse words evolved and how the things that you can only really get in trouble with today are the ones where you put people in a category and then denigrate that category. But nowadays the way that our relationship with religion and tolerance for people has evolved such that a lot of things that used to be not cool to say are kind of fine to say and the things that are not fine to say that you will get destroyed. Actually the news this week, Anderson Cooper was talking about this just last night. The kinds of things that will get you in trouble with everyone are the kinds of words that you use to diminish someone's power in sort of a categorical way. So that's the article I'm writing. As a result of this brainstorming process is it started with the Ying Yang twins. The whole point of that is a superior way to brainstorm rather than sitting around a table and saying who's got some ideas for a story? Saying yeah that's good. Well I don't want to disagree with that because I don't wanna make Bob feel bad or whatever. A better idea for brainstorming is to do everything you can to put your ideas in the zone of possibility.