Whenever I facilitate a brainstorm session for an organization, I follow a rule of having all the participants in the room scribble down every single idea they can think of within the first 5-10 minutes – and then throw them all away.
There are three reasons I do this:
ONE: Someone else already thought of those ideas
These ideas are the low hanging fruit. These are the easiest conclusions to reach, because you didn’t have to think too hard (or stretch too far) in order to come up with these solutions.
You want proof?
Before you pitch that first crop of ideas, take one of the lists and read off the concepts aloud. Have everyone else in the room raise their hand if they have the same idea (or reasonable facsimile) on their own list. Have everyone draw a line through the idea on their list and then move to the next idea on the list. You typically won’t have any ideas remaining which don’t have a line drawn through it. If you DO, I’d bet someone didn’t hear you, didn’t understand the instructions, or feels the wording was different enough that they weren’t the same (they’re wrong. It’s the same.)
Need more proof?
Ask the others in the room if THEY have any ideas left on their own list that weren’t crossed off. If they do, ask them to read their remaining ideas aloud and everyone else raise their hands and cross off the ideas if they’re repeated on their own lists. My guess is you might come away with one or two items in a room of ten or more people that aren’t crossed off. I would still throw them away. If those ideas are really any good, they’ll resurface later in the brainstorm process.
TWO: Pudding Skin
Remember when you were a kid and your mom made pudding? I mean “real” pudding where they warmed milk and cooked it in a sauce pan on the stove and put it in the refrigerator to set and stuff… not that pudding-cup peel-the-foil-and-eat crap. Whenever she took the big bowl out of the fridge and brought it to the table, there was this dry, tough, rubbery layer of “pudding skin” that nobody liked (unless you had a George Constanza in your family). Those first ten ideas are like pudding skin. You need to scrape it off in order to dig into the rich, creamy, tasty stuff beneath.
THREE: Those are the ideas that “we’ve tried before and they didn’t work”
One of the most common idea-killer phrases uttered in a corporate setting contains the words “we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work.” It’s delivered as an almost reflexive response – like a doctor hitting your knee with one of those tiny rubber hammers – the phrase is out of their mouth just as the smarmy grin begins to take shape, displaying their smug self-satisfaction at removing themselves from any sort of risk while simultaneously castrating your creativity.
The best way to counter this response is to avoid it altogether. By throwing away the first ten ideas (and then coming up with ten more even better ideas) you can virtually guarantee proposing ideas the Idea Assassin has never even heard before – let alone ever attempted to put into action.
Need additional insurance and preventative measures against these three examples?
Just throw away your first TWENTY ideas.