Cavemen Didn’t Brainstorm

We all have to be creative. Whatever our job or business, if we don’t constantly improve or come up with new ideas, eventually, we get left behind. Too often, however, we ignore the primary importance of creativity and leave some of our best tools (discomfort, limitations, and need) on the table. We get too comfortable, begin “brainstorming,” and miss leveraging creativity techniques we most likely invented in the stone age.

I don’t imagine that the wheel was invented an hour into a scheduled meeting of cavemen whereby they put down their sticks and listed all of the great ideas for getting to their favorite hunting ground. Actually, I think it is more likely that one of them came close to killing themselves rolling down the hill with a rock, trying to get away from a tiger, and thought to themselves, “That was fast!” and started working on the rolling rock idea immediately.

Cavemen did not waste time exploring all the possible ideas and, I believe, neither should we. If you have been in a meeting that should have been titled, “We don’t actually know what the need is, so we’re going to talk about creating a solution where there is no defined problem or goal.” you know what I am talking about. When we comfortably explore all the ideas, we generally never follow through on any of them.

The best ideas more often come when survival is at stake, there is a real an immediate need to help a client right now, or when one great solution is needed to cross the finish line. Dr. Seuss created “Cat in the Hat,” one of the most successful children’s books, by betting his publisher that he could create a book using less than 50 total words. He did not bring all the ideas to the table, he made the table only fit a certain number of ideas and got busy.

Cavemen more likely sat around the campfire talking about where the tigers were so they could stay alive, and where the game was so they could stay a step ahead of the other tribe. Only then did they talk about how. Instead of having brainstorming sessions, perhaps we can have more discussions, even arguments, about what the real needs are and automatically begin limiting the available ideas. The process could get uncomfortable, ruffle some feathers and light some fires. But aren’t those simply the fuel for great creativity?

The clearer we are about why we are doing something, the less possible “how” solutions are available. Cavemen did not play around with a lot of ideas. If they wanted to live, they got real focused on why, which made them much more purposeful with how. Otherwise, they just became lunch.

If we really want to bring out the creativity and inspiration of a group of people or even just yourself, find something worth struggling over. What client is going to suffer if you don’t find the solution? What competitor is going to beat you to the punch and when? What real dilemma or opportunity have to be figured out now, RIGHT NOW?

Make your meetings about discussing those questions. Brainstorming won’t save us from the tiger unless we start by knowing exactly where the tiger is, what it looks like, and when it is going to be in the backyard. Spend your time debating this and you just might find the next great idea is sitting right in front of you, like a rock.

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