You’re often in meetings where the boss says, “Okay team, let’s run this up the flagpole and see what we get.”
After that, everyone breaks loose with their ideas. Some strategic. Some idiotic. It typically takes a lot of the latter to arrive at the former.
Brainstorming sessions happen in less formal ways as well. If you’re a family man, you’ll often encounter impromptu brainstorming session on Saturday mornings. You gather your wife and kids and say, “Hey troops, what do you want to do today?”
Your 9-year-old daughter will want to go to Disneyland. Or watch TV and eat massive amounts of junk food.
Your 4-year-old son will want to go for a hike. Or watch TV and eat massive amounts of junk food.
Your wife? She simply wants you to take the kids off her hands so she can relax for a moment.
Or … wait, is that just my family?
So what do you do? How do you truly arrive at the best ideas ever? If you’re leading the brainstorming session, how do you instruct your team to field all requests while letting their minds go to truly creative places and arrive at strategic solutions?
If you’re in the pack, how do you become a team player when your leader has just asked you to think big?
Enter a remarkably simple yet highly effective phrase.
yes … and
I learned the technique of “yes … and” awhile back in a leadership seminar taught by Craig McNair Wilson, a former Disney imaginer who went on to be a successful corporate coach.
To use the phrase effectively, everyone in a brainstorming session needs to be in on the plan. So it may require some work on your behalf to introduce the idea to your boss, team, or family.
Once introduced, the big idea is that whatever is said is followed up with the two words yes … and. Meaning every idea is met with an agreement, (at least in passing), and a follow-up. No idea is dead in the water, no matter how outlandish or offbeat it initially seems.
It’s that simple.
It’s that strategic.
Put yourself in a corporate boardroom. Maybe you work for NIKE, and CEO Phil Knight has just asked his team to brainstorm ways to market a new, fun running shoe to a children’s demographic. Phil calls for ideas.
PERSON 1: Maybe we could host parties?
PERSON 2: Yes … and, maybe the parties could have cool themes that really attract this demographic.
PERSON 3: Yes … and, maybe one of the themes is a luau.
PERSON 4: Yes … we’ll host luaus in each city in our major markets … and, these will be no ordinary luaus either. Maybe our luaus feature dinosaurs and princesses—two things this age group completely adores.
PERSON 5: Yes … luaus with dinosaurs and princesses and door prizes and DJs and bouncy houses and jugglers and online treasures for the kids who can’t attend, and celebrity endorsements along with major media support to advertise the events … all leading back to our new shoe.
PHIL: Great work, team. Have an outline on my desk by tomorrow.
That’s an oversimplification of the process, (and undoubtedly NIKE’s marketing is more sophisticated than described), but it gives you an idea of what might happen when using this technique. The two basic building blocks for effective brainstorming are positive feedback and a continuation of ideas. That way a team surfaces a truly unique solution to the problem.
With yes … and, a person can disagree with an idea, sure. But instead of immediately shooting it down, he simply leads the conversation in a new and engaging direction, like:
PERSON 6: Yes … and maybe another idea to compliment the luaus would be soccer camps and skateboard clinics so we position the new shoe more closely with athletics…
And the brainstorming session continues to flow.
Try it with your team.
Try it with your family.
And see what happens the next time you need to come up with a great idea.
Question: What techniques do you use when you need to come up with good ideas? Do you ever find your creativity running low, if so, what do you do to refill your tank? What's an example of something creative you or your team recently dreamed up and implemented?