Brainstorm for a Better Brainstorm

Memo from the CNO (Chief Nonsense Officer)

When trouble looms or problems multiply, what do the brave do? They brainstorm. Well, I don’t like the typical brainstorm. And don’t even think of thinking outside the box.

In future, please consider the following before you trigger another brainstorm:

  • The bonus in storming right
  • Rightfully fearful of thinking a box too far
  • Don’t brain on a cold start
  • Avoid the sound of one brain storming

As always, don’t be brave. Be compliant.

Signed: Chief Nonsense Officer

The bonus in storming right

A kid who has right answers is a great kid. (free public domain:

Have you ever wondered why people at work so seldom come up with new ideas? And why brainstorming sessions, supposedly designed to encourage creative thinking, trigger the opposite?

Here’s a hint. What was your first thought at school when you were given a test or handed examination questions? Not the answer to the first question, I bet. More likely you asked yourself another question: “What is the right answer they expect?”

Why was that? Because school learning is based on one correct answer for every question. You either got it right or not. You learned quickly not to think up new answers. Doing that was plain stupid, because everybody knew that a kid who had right answers was a great kid.

No wonder we have people at work who, when asked to brainstorm or be creative, immediately think, “What’s the right answer my boss expects? And will that get me a good grade, I mean bonus?”

Rightly fearful of thinking a box too far

He thought at the level of a higher box. (free public domain:

One of my favorite nonsense ideas is… think outside the box. Come on! From day one your boss has made it his mission, with help from HR, to keep you in the box of your job description. You are paid to do as told, not paid to think!

Yes, you are expected to think, but within the frame of your little sandbox, not beyond its borders. Don’t blame your boss. It’s the hierarchy. Surely you’ve noticed how those higher up become uncomfortable when someone lower down thinks at the level of a higher box?

But then a new bit of nonsense pops up. The command to innovate.

Now you are expected to spout, not one, but many new ideas. They even plead with you to think outside the box.

But of course you don’t. You continue to think careful thoughts because you remember what happened the last time you thought a box too far.

Don’t brain on a cold start

Brain not properly warmed up. (free public domain:

It’s cold. Again. So warm up your tires before you speed on the highway. You did not know that you should warm your tires before speeding? Come on, surely you’ve seen how motor cycle racers warm their tires before they race.

Warm rubber is softer and grips the road better, allowing you to weave with ease as you annoy cold-tired drivers in rush hour traffic.

Hopefully, you will remember this when you get to the office to speed through another brainstorming session. Don’t start up by saying, “Right, who has a good idea?” That’s the equivalent of a cold start.

No brain can weave and swerve and speed up and brake unless properly warmed up.

If you want your team to lose mind control, then ask them to begin the brainstorm by immediately thinking good ideas. Better for you and them to remember that good ideas come swerving in after a gentle warm-up.

Avoid the sound of one brain storming

A private storm in action. (free public domain:

A brainstorm session can be exactly that. The sound of one brain storming. With a bit of luck, a few brains might share a few ideas. With much luck, a few other brains will polish the few ideas.

Instead of a river of radical ideas to riff on, you end up with a trickle of tame themes.

Here’s how to get every brain to storm. Before the meeting, send out key questions to trigger thoughts; collect and collate those thoughts; share results with participants. This way every brain has had a private storm in anticipation of the collective storm.

Even simpler, at the start of the meeting, get all brains to express their ideas in writing. Before they may utter a word. This way all brains are storming, not only the loudest ones.

Welcome to my side of the nonsense divide.