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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 29 August 2013

The Brainstorms Are Failing! The Brainstorms Are Failing!

I get to speak with a lot of amazing social entrepreneurs - people with amazing artistic or design talents they hope to build businesses out of or hardcore problem solvers looking for some way to fund the exploration and trial of their solutions.

I also speak with a lot of policy generators, managers, system leads, etc. looking for ways to paint themselves out of corners, best harness new opportunities or make what they are doing now work better.

From time to time, I even get to sit in on conversations/conferences where big leaders are trying to solve world problems.

You know why Canada lags so far behind when it comes to both productivity and innovation?  It's because, complacent, comfortable people that we are, we suck at both.  

There is nothing more painful than watching the "so what?" model of concept criticism discourage innovation and shoot down ideas that, with a bit of guidance, could have great potential.  To me, this is the equivalent of putting every kid in the same class with no accommodations and failing all of those who don't make the grade; it's selection of the fittest, defining "fit" with a very narrow criteria.

We can keep on expecting innovators to be communication experts and marketing gurus and financial whizzes, dismissing or ignoring those who aren't the complete package and whose ideas, while brimming with promise, need a bit of nudging.  But that's what we're doing now.

If we want to start getting ahead of the curve, we need to change our perspective.  To do that, though, we need to accept that our current one is outmoded.  Change and introspection can be scary, but such is the risk of leadership.

It's time for Canada to lead again.

3 Reasons Your Brainstorming Sessions Are Failing

innovation_brainstorming_wordle_creativityYou’ve heard it before, right? “Think outside the box.” “Change the paradigm.” This stuff isn’t new. But it’s been regurgitated so often that it has lost all meaning.
Project managers face an inconvenient truth: brainstorming sessions often lead to nowhere. The ideas that come out of these meetings tend to be obvious, lacking the innovation that businesses need in order to survive.
Why are your brainstorming sessions producing little of value, and what can you do about it?

1. The Fear of Creativity

We all pretend to embrace creativity, and most of us genuinely believe that we want creative ideas, but scientific experiments suggest otherwise. An experiment conducted by the University of Pennsylvania tells us that uncertainty creates fear and outright hatred for creative ideas.
In the experiment, one group of people were told that they would be paid by a random lottery, while the others were given no special instructions. They found that this random payment system made the participants feel uneasy, and uncertain about the future.
More interestingly, while the “normal” participants associated the word “creativity” with words like “sunshine” and “rainbow,” the uncertain participants associated it with words like “vomit” and “hell.”
That’s right. A sense of uncertainty literally makes creativity feel like hell.
In a second experiment, the same team found that people justified this fear of creativity by actually convincing themselves that creative ideas were somehow less creative.
Brainstorming doesn’t work unless your employees are at ease. Thankfully, the experiment also uncovered a simple way to accomplish this: by asking the participants to write an essay about how there is more than one solution to every problem. While asking your employees to write an essay is probably overboard, calling attention to this frame of mind on repeated occasion is going to do a lot for the success of your brainstorming sessions.

2. Linear Thinking

In another psychological experiment, scientists discovered that paradoxical thinking helped people come up with more creative ideas. The experiment was the result of a collaboration between Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
In the experiment, participants were asked to read a series of reviews of a hypothetical toy by expert judges. If the judges said that the toy was creative, that it was cheap, or that it was creative or cheap, their performance on a creativity test was average.
But when they read reviews that the toy was creative and cheap, they got a boost on their creativity scores.
This was the result of paradoxical thinking. We typically think of things as being either creative or cheap. Realizing that a product could be bothwas enough to boost their creative potential.
In a similar experiment by the same team, half the participants were asked to come up with at least three paradoxical statements, while the others were asked to just write three statements. Afterward, they were asked to solve a complex creative problem, called the candle problem. Those who were asked to come up with paradoxical statements were much more likely to solve the problem.
In other words, successful brainstorming requires your team to be willing to mix and match ideas that don’t seem to go together.

3. Face to Face Brainstorming Doesn’t Work

This one’s painful for a lot of project managers to hear, but it’s the truth.
Experiment after experiment demonstrates that people come up with more, higher quality ideas when they brainstorm alone.
This goes against our intuition. If creativity is about mixing and matching ideas, shouldn’t group brainstorming make this easier? One experiment at the University of Texas demonstrates that when people listen to a tape before brainstorming alone, they actually do come up with better ideas. So the perspective of others does seem to play a part, but only before brainstorming.
There is one exception to this rule, though. The same team discovered that if people shared their ideas through a computer interface, their brainstorming sessions were even more successful than when working alone.
The problem is that face-to-face brainstorming creates too many distractions, fear of judgment, and a tendency to focus on a narrow group of similar ideas. These problems are avoided with a computer interface.
This calls attention to the power of computer-based collaboration. Rather than invest in single-person interfaces like Microsoft Project, managers can turn to collaborative alternatives like WorkZone, which allow for distraction-free brainstorming.


Innovation is a crucial component of success in modern business, and understanding it is a necessity for modern project managers. By conquering uncertainty, embracing paradoxes, and tapping into the power of computer-mediated brainstorming, you can outperform your competitors and deliver results.

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