July Brainstorm

Jul 03 2002 by Jurgen Wolff Print This Article

In his book, Weird Ideas that Work, Stanford professor Robert Sutton suggests that employers use job interviews to get new ideas, not just to screen candidates. He says: "Give job candidates problems that you cannot solve. Listen as much as you can. Talk as little as you can."

TIP: You can use this same strategy even if you are not hiring people. The next time a friend asks you how your work is going, tell him or her one of the problems you are grappling with, and ask what they might do in your place.

For example, if you are a writer and are stuck on a plot point, ask a friend what he or she thinks could happen next in the story. It can be an advantage if your friend knows little about your field - sometimes the best ideas come from people who are fresh to a challenge and do not know what cannot be done. Remember not to judge their ideas in front of them; just thank them.

Professor Sutton also has this recommendation: When you know that you need to head in a new direction, but you do not know which road to take, sometimes the best thing is to do whatever is most ridiculous or random. Thinking up the dumbest and most impractical thing that you could do is a powerful way to explore your assumptions about the world.

TIP: The next time you are trying to decide something, come up with a solution that you know cannot possibly work. Then ask yourself WHY it cannot possibly work. The answers will reveal the assumptions you are making about the situation. Then examine each of the assumptions to see whether it is necessarily true. New solutions may suggest themselves once you have dropped the false assumption.

3.GO BY THE NUMBERS When brainstorming, either by yourself or in a group, number the ideas that come up, Tom Kelley suggests in his book, The Art of Innovation, Kelly says it may seem like an obvious idea but it took them ten years to catch on to it at idea-factory Ideo. He says it has two advantages. First, it motivates the participants to have a set number of ideas in a certain time period. Second, it makes it easier to go back to earlier ideas during the discussion.

TIP: According to Kelly, a hundred ideas per hour usually indicates a good brainstorming session. By setting this kind of goal for yourself, you will not have to time to judge each idea as you go along, which is one of the things that often kills a brainstorming session. It also guarantees that you write down every idea (another important guideline for effective brainstorming).

4. BE HERE NOW It is very easy to spend too much time thinking about the past or the future and forget that the only thing that truly exists is NOW.

Many people spend much of their lives in what was or what will be, and do not notice what is there for them in the moment…and thus the minutes, hours, and years of their lives slip away.

How to get back to the Now? In his book, Living on Purpose, Dan Millman suggests a practical strategy:

First ask, “Am I relaxed?” (And consciously relax your body.) Second, ask, “Am I breathing fully and evenly?” (And take three slow, deep, relaxing breaths.) Third, ask, “Am I acting, moving, or behaving with refinement, quality, and elegance?” (Then give your full attention to what you are doing in the moment, whether sitting, standing, driving, doing the dishes—and do it with a sense of grace of elegance.)

This three-question wake-up call serves to bring our attention back to the body, and back to the present moment…the body stands in the here-and-now.

TIP: The next time you find yourself getting lost in the past or future, try Millman’s technique. If you want to make this a habit, write a key word for each step on a little card and keep it visible on your desk.

Usually we encourage you to think positively, but sometimes a bit of strategic negative thinking can help, too.

Have you noticed how hard people will work when they are fighting an enemy? The more specific the enemy, the better. You can use this power by creating a symbol of whatever is holding you back. Most of the time, this is not another person, but some aspect of yourself.

For example, if you’re trying to lose weight and shape up, most likely it is your own problems with sticking to your diet and exercise regime that get in your way. You can create an image for this ‘enemy’. Maybe you want to imagine Blimpo - a cartoon-like hugely overweight and slobby version of yourself. Blimpo hates it when you exercise or when you resist the lure of chocolates because Blimpo wants to make you into his or her own image. Imagine your reaction if, the next time you are tempted, you call Blimpo to mind. You can even play out the reaction of your villain when you resist temptation - make it big and make it fun.

TIP: Decide what is your biggest enemy—the thing that holds you back from doing or being what you would like to do or be. Create a super-villain to embody that. Each time you are confronted with a challenge, visualise the enemy. Make the right choice, and enjoy the downfall of the enemy! The best thing is this all happens in your imagination. You do not need to tell anyone else about it—all they will notice is that you are doing better than ever before.

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. - Carl Jung

Til next time, Jurgen

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About The Author

Jurgen Wolff
Jurgen Wolff

Jurgen Wolff is a writer, teacher, and hypnotherapist. His goal is to help individuals liberate their own creativity through specific techniques that can be used at work as well as at home. His recent books include "Focus: the power of targeted thinking," a W. H. Smith best-seller, and "Your Writing Coach".