This week, I had a discovery meeting with a new client. They’re interested in our business writing workshops, so I felt it was important to have a brainstorm session to reveal all the communication challenges they are currently facing.
They had a lot to offer, and that was cool.
In fact, I asked that they really stretch out and talk about every tiny issue they are having, and once we’d brainstormed through every possible issue, we would tackle how to solve those issues—in exactly the same way.
Not surprisingly, the negative work came easily, but when it came to unpacking solutions, it got stifling.
“Yes, but we can’t really do it that way.”
“Yes, but is this the scope of what we’re trying to do here?”
“Yes, but I doubt they [the workshops] could address this issue.”
The Creator Versus The Editor
It can be challenging to witness how easily groups can imagine and share the litany of problems they have, but when it comes to throwing solutions into a pile, the group urge is to limit and critique as the ideas come.
Many people are (or can be) creative thinkers when they’re given the chance. The problem wasn’t with the creativity in the room; it was the fact that an “editor” was invited to a party made for “creatives.”
It’s next to impossible to have both a dreamer and an editor work together. This is why, in writing, professionals know that they can’t do both at the same time. Often we “leave the room” for several hours (or drinks) between the writing stage and the editing stage in a writing project.
The same can be said for any creative process. Coming up with a workshop curriculum requires unpacking every nook in a company’s communications, from emails, to document workflow, to phone use, to report submissions, to organizational architecture—everything counts.
A Better Brainstorm
It took a little lifting, and a bit of theatre, to break them out of the rut they were in.
I proposed that every person write down an idea they have (no matter how crazy). As each idea was tossed into the pile, we would discuss it at length. The rule was that no one could say, “Yes, but.” That would be inviting an editor to a creative’s party.
Instead, if you had reservations about an idea, you had to flip it with “Yes, and,” and find a collaborative way to make your idea and the original idea work. This forces a high level of thinking, without any of the damage critiquing can do to the creative process.
It was only a few minutes before the room was firing. Seeing how quickly a room can change when true idea alignments are allowed to take shape can be humbling.
Some of the managers tried throwing in really outlandish ideas just to see where things would go, and we ended up in some fascinating places.
But at the root of this activity is the balanced attention that each idea was given, and the equal treatment everyone in the room felt they had. When one person brings their idea forward and elevates the perspective, everyone is able to enjoy the view.
There are two types of thinkers: helicopter thinkers and vending machine thinkers. Helicopter thinkers are those people who look at a problem from many different perspectives. They hover high to see the big picture and then zoom in close to see all the detail. They see the challenge from many different points of view, and as a result see endless possibilities.
Vending Machine Thinkers push the buttons and come out with the same old ideas, just wrapped a little differently.
In their quest to win a client, get a project completed, or find a creative solution quickly, many companies settle for the vending machine ideas.
Great ideas happen when you “think like a helicopter.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Have a great week,