Boring Ideas and Boring Dinner Guests – Jeffrey Baumgartner

Jeffrey argues that the fundamental rule of brainstorming leads to boring thinking. He proposes a different approach:

In fact, this would probably be the most interesting strategy: ask him the most outrageous questions you can think of in order to force him out of his boring story comfort zone and make his stories more interesting. It would be much more fun than listening to him bore you. Indeed, you might find that after half an hour, all the attention at the party is on you, the previously dull dinner guest and your crazy stories!

You can do the same thing while generating creative ideas in a group — such as in brainstorming or anticonventional thinking. But it requires that you break the golden rule of brainstorming, that you must reserve judgment and not criticise ideas. Instead, you need to be able to judge ideas boring and ask questions that are effectively criticisms of ideas. For example, if you are brainstorming ideas for improving corporate communications and someone says, “let’s build an intranet in which every department maintains a blog that they must update regularly”, you should be able to reply, “We already have an intranet. It’s boring. No one looks at it. How can we make people want to read those blogs?” or “Great, but if I want to find out the chemical composition of one of a cleaning product that is under development, how am I going to find it?” or “Who is going to read and write all those blogs? You know we’re working 60 hour days! How can we communicate more efficiently?”

By asking such questions, you force the idea submitter to think about her suggestion and improve it. You potentially move from an obvious but flawed idea to a better developed and more intriguing idea.

Critical questions are not allowed in brainstorming. They are welcome in anticonventional thinking. This is because research and my own experience demonstrates that if you want a high level of creativity, criticism, questioning and defending ideas are better than passive acceptance of every idea uttered.

Not convinced? Here’s a suggestion. Try it your next idea generation event. Allow people to ask critical questions about ideas, but be sure that it is the ideas and not the idea submitters that are being questioned. See what happens.

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