And that’s the end of the brainstorming session. People then get frustrated, fear looking foolish, and shut up.
There must be a better way.
We already know the advice on how to brainstorm. We read it in self-help books: keep it high level, don’t eliminate ideas, focus on generating the quantity of ideas rather then quality.
Stay above the forest, and definitely do not go down into the trees, the bushes, or the weeds.
We all know this.
Stay general, don’t cut people off, listen, and then write all the ideas down (if you’re the scribe). One advice I consistently see is to publicly write all the suggestions down, on a large piece of paper on a stand, so that everyone feels his or her voice is heard.
Is there something more that we could add to this conventional wisdom? How would an artist brainstorm?
How Would an Artist Brainstorm Differently?
Artists are solitary folks. You can’t really create art by consensus. They don’t brainstorm their art in the way that office workers brainstorm stuff at the office. But is there something that we could learn by how artists approach their art that could be helpful to us office workers?
Let the Material Speak
Michelangelo said, äóìI let the marble speak, and I just uncover it.äóù
In my art practice, I try to do the same thing.
I let my images suggest where it wants to go. I initially collage images in the computer using Photoshop. At some point, I create physical cyanotype prints of the collaged images because I want to see if the paper itself suggests a way of finishing the piece. So in a sense, I listen to my material.
The image at the beginning of this post is an example. When I hand-printed the initial versions of this image, the paper kept on shrinking and stretching as it dried (with cyanotype you have to hand wash them to see the final blue image). Looking at it the next day, after the paper dried, I decided that I liked the bent paper. It gave an organic feeling to the image. That’s why the image is not a perfect rectangular shape. The final print curves inward.
So when brainstorming at work, what should we listen to? Maybe listen to the data? Let it speak to you.
Set Limits that you will not cross
This is going to sound contradictory, but at the outset of the meeting, instantly limit the scope of the brainstorm. And continually remind people during the meeting of this scope
This sounds contradictory. This sounds like cutting down ideas.
But it’s not.
In fact if you limit the scope, the creativity of the people will be focused on solving the problem better. The source of the solutions will come far and wide, but the scope remains the same.
For example, in my artwork, I limited the scope of the medium to paper. I could have print my images on glass, on cloth, on wood. Each of these would impart a certain quality or metaphor to the image. There are technically no limits on what surface cyanotype chemistry can be applied. I was running myself ragged a number of years back trying out different materials. I was especially focused on printing my images on glass. I was fixated on the idea that the images were “windows” to the future. And then my art mentor at that time said,
Why would you want to do that? Don’t let your rational brain or linguistic brain dictate the path of your art. Put a limit to your art. It’s by setting limits where creativity comes in because you get to push against those limits.
I never forgot this advice.
How does this apply to brainstorming at work. Well, setting limits necessarily mean defining the scope. And always bringing people back to the scope if they stray too far. If for example, the brainstorming relates to looking at ways to reduce expenses, then don’t let the brainstorming go to also looking at ways to maximize revenue even though these ideas may end up in the same place. The revenue brainstorm could be another session.
Limit the scope and you will then see the group hammer that topic with creative ideas. Go deep, not wide.
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Thinking Like An Artist at work can help improve job fulfillment and performance. Isn’t that what we want? To be able to feel that we are being creative and doing something new? Thinking Like An Artist at work can do that. I can help with this. I’ve been in your shoes, and I continue to be in your shoes. I’ve been an accountant for over 25 years and an artist for 3. And I’m discovering that there is a surprising synergy here that no one really talks about. I’m here to help.