Brainstorm This: Tell A Story Of Things To Come

In many of our ideation sessions, we have to start by contending with those who are stuck in “today”—those who will shoot down any suggested ideas by looking at it through the lens of today.

When people finally break out of their everyday thinking during these sessions, they feel that they are providing less value – since they are not solving a “problem of today.” One of the typical comments is, “Oh, you mean we are in the land of fantasy,” usually said with some kind of underlying disgust. They sense that we are wasting their time with the frivolity of discussing future products and services, yet to be born and yet to have a market.

Although they are more likely to have a hidden market that we have not addressed yet, thinking in this way can be a detriment to developing those genuinely disruptive ideas. So how do you separate the team from the problems of today?

Some examples include physical exercise. Others use a mental play model. We try to get the attendees to disconnect from today by filling them with stories of tomorrow. For example, at a recent session on augmented reality, we discussed that by 2024, Tim Cook had vowed to replace the iPhone with augmented reality glasses. If Apple develops and launches them in the same way they did iPhone (appealing to the cult of Apple – aka, Shut Up and Take my Money), then Apple Glass will become the most successful next product after the smartphone.

But to get the team to think in those terms, we had to tell the story of the future – we had to provide a detailed vision of that future with Apple Glass – not even knowing what their pure form might be like. The best way to get your team’s minds into that future is to tell a story of that future. Talk about people in that future and their hopes and dreams. Provide examples of the kind of life that they will have in that future—present characters who live in that future, which they could identify with.

Once you’ve done this, you can see that the minds of your attendees travel into that future, and start to imagine more of the future. You have to do the work at the start – to disconnect them from today – if you don’t disconnect them from today – they will move into what I call an “adversarial brainstorming mode” – which is the opposite of “there are no bad ideas.”

As you know, brainstorming is most effective when ideas are shared and built upon, instead of shared and torn down. Those with the mindset of today will always try to tear down ideas of tomorrow since they are mired in the problems of today. If you see this kind of interaction, you will need to lead those still stuck in today into the future – even if they think that its fanciful thinking and useless.

They may even decide that the session is a waste of time – so you can simply just let them leave – as they are bringing down the rest of the group and their ideas.

Criticism will crush new thinking out of the box, and suppress any thinking which is thought but not spoken.

You need your ideation session to be a safe space for the sharing and building of ideas, so tell a story of things to come.


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