Stretching your brain
So, if we need to stretch our muscles to help them do things we do on a regular basis, shouldn't we stretch our brains when we need to do ideation and brainstorming? Think about a typical brainstorming meeting - everyone arrives from doing their regular jobs, cramming in this meeting and already thinking about the next meeting on the schedule. They come from their respective jobs in finance or marketing or sales, very familiar with that day to day routine. The meeting starts and suddenly they are supposed to be nimble and flexible to create and generate ideas in an area or topic outside their traditional functional area, being creative and thinking outside the box.
Now, we know that people like consistency and patterns, and to geet someone out of their pattern may make them uncomfortable without making the change easy and low risk. In most brainstorming and ideation sessions, we've done none of those things - rather just thrown a bunch of people with different jobs and concerns together in a room and asked them to be creative NOW! What happened to warming up, to stretching and making room for some different approaches?
In some of our internal brainstorming sessions, one of our senior guys will often bring in a game - Charades or Pictionary or some other game to get the team thinking differently and to break down the initial barriers. When he opens up Pictionary you can see the collective eye rolls. No one wants to do this - they want to do "real work" and then get back to their "real jobs". However, after 30 minutes or an hour of Pictionary, the team seems much more cohesive and innovative.
I know it can be a hard sell to tell the boss you need a Twister game and Pictionary to be more productive, but I can assure you that exercising your brain without warming up is as risky as exercising your body without stretching. In your next brainstorming session, leave some time for the team to get ready to be creative, rather than thinking they can be creative out of the gate. For further research or other ideas, I'll also point you at Roger von Oech, he of the Ball of Whacks and A Whack on the Side of the Head. Roger has a new blog and is a good resource for ideas, exercises and tools to become more creative.