Capital idea

Many years ago, when I was in a carefree bachelor, a young woman I was dating told me that I need to be more spontaneous. Well, being the willing-to-please kind of guy and businessman that I am, I immediately responded by suggesting that we schedule a time to be spontaneous. "How about Thursdays between 4:00 and 6:00 PM?" I asked.

Evidently I missed the point — in the context of a personal relationship — but when it comes to creativity, spontaneity and general mental acuity, scheduling a specific time for this kind activity is a good idea.

In our current Internet and e-mail age, big budget advertising agencies are getting a run for their money. Seems like there was never a shortage of great ideas out there, just a shortage of dollars to put those ideas in front of the consumer. Now we don't need a full page ad in the WSJ or New York Times, or the local Times Herald for that matter. Any enterprising business owner can reach a very refined group of consumers (their customers) with little more than a couple of bucks and a great idea.

Ironically, you need some structure if you're going to have a successful free-for-all brainstorming session. Here are some tips:

Have an agenda
What's the purpose of your session? Identify and prioritize the problems to be solved. Set a time for your session, set a time limit for each problem and send an agenda in advance.

Come from abundance
Here's a case of "more is better," and it's quantity, not quality, that counts. Arrange your ideas into categories like Absolutely, Maybe and Later. Encourage participants to voice all suggestions. It's a numbers game. You'll need about 100 ideas to get 5 good ones.

All ideas are good ideas
Nothing will kill a brainstorming session quicker than criticism. Idea killers are verbal and non-verbal. Avoid moans, groans, and dirty looks. Instead try substituting questions that challenge the group to make the solution work.

Ask questions...and then lots more questions
Encourage participants to springboard to other ideas. Start with the typical Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? and If? Other ways to take an idea further include: adaptation, modification, appeal to the senses, substitution, association, multiplication, division, minimizing, maximization, rearrangement, reversal, and combination.

The crazier the better
A city council in Holland solved their chronic littering problem by installing tape recorders in trash cans. The thank-you message was activated when garbage was placed in the can. The voluntary program was a successful solution that came after increased fines and expensive enforcement systems had failed.

Think outside the box
Make someone explain the problem or question to you as if you were from another planet. Think low cost and high cost; simple and complicated; obvious solutions and obscure; big picture and little picture; long-term and short-term. Ask yourself what you would do if money, time and talent were not an issue. Ask what you would do if you knew you could not fail.

Do nothing!
Sometimes problems solve themselves.

Last, but definitely not least...
Brainstorming and coming up with creative solutions is hard, nerve-wracking, head-banging, frustrating work. It's hard to know when to to keep thinking, and when to stop and "just do it." But there is one thing that is must have fun!

For more creative ways to get creative, check out "Jump Start Your Brain" by Doug Hall with David Wecker. It's 418 pages of great ideas and exercises to help you and your team solve all your problems. Then you'll just have to figure out what to do with all your extra money!

See also:
The 1% solution
A dollar for your thoughts
Insider trading 

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