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Brainstorming: Yay or Nay?

The old axiom claims that there are no bad ideas… but anyone who’s been in a brainstorming session knows that’s just not true. Since cavemen first sketched on walls, humans have been capturing concepts and exploring possibilities on vertical surfaces.

Certainly in creative agencies, brainstorming is a time-tested way to generate new solutions to thorny problems. Yet as a discipline, it’s typically undisciplined at best.

“Brainstorming is Worthless,” provocatively proclaims a recent article in Inc. “What a brainstorm session should be is a place to challenge the ideas that have already been vetted,” rants author Nicolas Cole. “Not a free-for-all breakout session where anything and everything goes.” Cole thinks it’s a waste of time to have a group noodling together and tossing out whatever ideas happen to flow. Instead he advocates a process whereby each team member has done their own generative thinking and comes to the table with winnowed-down directions they are ready to defend.

Meanwhile, over in the Harvard Business Review, Hal Gregersen takes a thoughtful (long) view on different protocols and processes and advocates a “better brainstorming” approach that he claims yields the most fruitful futures. Interestingly, over 20 years of practice, he has observed that “the people least likely to engage in the exercise and follow the rules are the folks with the highest positions or greatest technical expertise… who cripple the truth-seeking capability of the entire group.” He emphasizes the importance of organizational culture in creating environments conducive to truly meaningful brainstorming. “Leaders must show humility, vulnerability and trust, and they must empower others and treat them equitably.” Sounds like a recipe for all kinds of transformation and growth!

Here at Spyglass, we’re evolving our collaborative creative process (see our Be the Change post) and have experienced the direct benefits of using a more structured, inclusive and nimble approach. We’d love to show you.

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The “God Particle”

Why your office needs to be more like a Large Hadron Super Collider

By now you’ve heard that physicists have all but proven that the “God particle” exists. It was found in the Large Hadron Super Collider, a massive atom smasher on the Swiss-French border where they’re trying to understand the creation of the universe, which occurred in a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.

Apparently the “God Particle” acts like molasses. When other tiny basic building blocks pass through it, they stick together, slow down and form atoms that give the universe size and shape. So, it’s kind of a big deal. And it took the world’s largest atom smasher to reveal the particle. Which is weird. You’d think in order to find an infinitesimal invisible object you’d want a smaller room. But 2,000 trillion subatomic particle collisions later, there you have it. Boom: The God Particle.

With Best Buy phasing out telecommuting for its corporate workers, hot on the heels of Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer demanding workers put in hours at the office, it got me thinking about what we do to make our universe at Spyglass stick together. And it is our space—big, open, collaborative and conducive to smashing ideas together to reveal even better ones. Comfortable couches, beers in the fridge on Fridays, good lighting, open work spaces and floor plan. In other words, it’s a pretty nice place to be. Creating the right space is so important because if your people are going to be there, you need to make the most of their time together – not just shove them in some cube or office with a door. Get them together. Bounce ideas. Build rapport. Interact.

Don’t get me wrong. Telecommuting and tele-presence have their place. In our own business we’re out of the office a lot. Meetings, photo shoots, travel, networking events. And working remotely is always in the mix, as is freely coming and going from the office – a change in scenery is always good for inspiration. But nothing replaces being live and in-person when it comes to getting things done, finding consensus and sharing sparks of insight at the drop of a hat.

Understanding the need for the right office space and a getting-things-done working rapport is kind of like gravity and Isaac Newton’s discovery. It’s there all the time, whether you explain it or not. The trick is to identify how to make it work so that your people want to be there and will make the most of the time they spend together. Because, unlike the universe, your deadlines aren’t expanding. Time is tight. You need to make it matter by creating the right space for discovery.

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