Brainstorming For Meaning and Happiness

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What with all the news these days, people can start feeling a little down. A brainstorming session can do wonders to boost the mood around the office. And you never know, you may just get some great new ideas to help the flow in the workplace as a bonus.

Typically, brain storming sessions work well with groups of 15 and under. It is also fine to have a good brainstorm session with just three or four people, and it’s not impossible to do it with just two, like in the advertising business.

For the purpose of this article, let’s stick with the small group idea of perhaps 6 to 12 people or so. Now, every brainstorming session needs to have a leader and it may be a great idea to assign someone to be the scribe who can jot down ideas as they come quickly while the leader keeps a friendly control over the group. Some companies will hire a qualified consultant as a Brainstorm Session Leader, or, a manager who is suited for this kind of activity may be preferred.

As I mentioned earlier, the real world can be a bit depressing with all the troubles going on, however, it’s very important that brainstorming sessions keep an upbeat and positive attitude. Let ’em know up front that any Negative Nelly’s or naysayers will be asked to ‘try again later’ and the decision will be up to the leader and that’s final. Perhaps a person is feeling a little lousy and can’t ‘get in the mood’, although they may be the one who could benefit the most from the session. You’ll have to be a careful judge on that matter.

Let’s take a moment to discuss “R” Directed Thinking, and “L” Directed Thinking, and the “symphony” that occurs between the two. First, let me mention a book I’ve just read which has seriously inspired me to write this article for you. The book is called A Whole New Mind, Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, by Daniel H. Pink. Pink has a clear command on the way the world works, a former White House speechwriter, his wisdom on social, economic and cultural trends, challenges the conventional wisdom of the technocratic thinking of the industrial age and sheds light on our real powers of creativity. If this topic is an unexplored area for you, Pink’s book, which is now out in paperback, is more than a “must read”, it may become one of your favorite tools in your toolbox.

As Pink explains in his convincing and thought-provoking book, the right brain and left are by no means absolutely separate, and certainly the two sides work together, in “symphony” but not at the expense of either. Especially for our creative Brainstorming “jam-session”.

Understanding the benefits of a Brainstorming Session.

Of course, our first impression of a brainstorming session would be that an idea will pop up and we’ll all hit the jackpot. The company’s productivity will explode and we’ll all become millionaires overnight. Wrong. Of course, you don’t want to rule that out, but it’s a long shot. However, if the brainstorming session is handled properly you can almost guarantee you will get some very positive results.

Please don’t wind up in 15 or 20 minutes of frustration with a roomful of disappointed faces. Daniel Pink mentions in his book the five essential rules for brainstorming, where he credits Tom Kelly’s excellent book, The Ten Faces of Innovation.

Here are the five rules:

1. Go for Quantity. Set a goal for a certain number of ideas to jot on the white board, flip chart, screen or whatever. It could be 50. it could be 100. It may depend on how many minutes you have for your meeting. But with lots of ideas you may later glean a few great ones.

2. Encourage Wild Ideas. If a few balls land in the bleachers, keep on swinging. Cheer, support and encourage, even the most far-out and even nonsensical ideas. Here is where you can pull the naysayers up a few notches and into having some fun. If you’re still stuck with a real sourpuss, don’t take the risk of bringing down the whole room, the session is meant to get into the creative mind have some fun and pull up some positive expectations. Of course no one here gets beat-up, but if a real stick-in-the-mud is still in the room, they must be asked leave and to ‘try again another day’, no hard feelings. Just keep those crazy ideas coming. (Hopefully the sourpuss won’t be the CEO or General Manager – believe me, it happens! If it does – give them a copy of Pink’s A Whole New Mind, with a smile of course. They’ll thank you later.)

3. Be Visual. Creativity can be unlocked using pictures of graphics. A terrific discussion starter is to take tape and scissors and five minutes chopping up some magazine pictures to create an invention, fashion, design, or some wacky new product. (Put away the tools after 5 minutes) Or just try drawing on paper, there are lots of techniques in this area. But keep in mind rule number two.

4. Defer Judgment. There are no bad ideas, outlandish, oddball and wacky – all calls are good. If you’re hearing laughter in your brainstorming session you are on the right track. Lighthearted, creative, playful fun is the stuff of Right Brain Directed Thinking.

5. Please, One Conversation at a Time. A little friendly-firm control is good. The leader will listen, be polite and allow the group participation to build on each others’ ideas and suggestions. Sometimes the room may roar, so lets get everyone’s ideas as best as possible -per turn.

The participants in the brainstorming session are not required to boil it all down. That can be done later by the leader. It’s highly possible that some great moments happened in that meeting. It’s possible that some very rewarding bonding occurred. It’s more than likely that some people were supported by others and encouraged like they had never been before since they’ve worked there. It’s very likely that some friendships have grown and some new levels of communication have sprung up between people who may have rarely spoken to each other before. It could be that in the coming days or weeks these newfound communication skills benefit the function and purpose of the company and what’s more, create a rewarding sense of camaraderie and teamwork within the group.

The concept of being able to enjoy oneself while at the workplace is growing by leaps and bounds. There will be many holdovers from the past days of industrialism and technocratic thinking, where there is little room for light-hearted, creative thought. In our current days, as we are all well aware, a very large portion of technical functions are easily outsourced, while the ability to be personable, and be a creative problem solver is becoming much more valuable, the atmosphere of the workplace must be able to change enough to support this. The alternatives are grim.

Our brainstorming sessions may bring more than simply a few good ideas within the flow and function of company operations. Meaningful relationships within the group generally equals a happier crew. The very idea of “meaning” stems from a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging and acceptance because every relationship on many levels, is personal. A touch of acknowledgment from the management, in understanding and being able to focus in on people’s well-being, may change the reason and meaning of what we are all doing at work.

If these are the results from the brainstorming sessions, it could be a positive and meaningful change to hold these sessions on a regular basis. As mentioned in Daniel Pink’s book, work and play are not opposites. He goes on to explain how the opposite of play is depression. With a some Right Brain Directed thought, it becomes clear how creativity, a little fun, and a positive atmosphere can bring a great deal of meaning to one’s work.


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