Stuck in brainstorms?


Do the words “let’s brainstorm” excite you or scare you? Much will depend on whether you are the leader proposing a brainstorm or the team member who has been called upon to do one. Your reaction will also depend on whether you are a creative introvert or a creative extrovert.

For CEOs and founders, brainstorms offer a rare opportunity to rub shoulders with the kind of bright young people who made them want to enter their industry in the first place. People they rarely get to see these days. Bosses are thrilled when all employees ask for their approval.

For interns, researchers, and even Sam accounts who aren’t super creative, brainstorms are their big chance to impress not only others but more importantly, their bosses.

However, there are two fundamental problems. The first is that while many industries attract their fair share of creative extroverts, that is, people who don’t really know what they’re thinking until they’ve said it and who prefer self-administering electric shocks to being left alone in a quiet room with a blank sheet of paper, some of the brightest minds are actually creative introverts. These introverts care more about the quality of the idea than the number of people who hear them present it. Basically, creative introverts understand that they have to be left alone to produce original thought. They have no respect for anyone who shouts “Nuns in a Submarine” without having worked out all the amphibious and clerical logistics that come with it.

The second problem with brainstorms, which introverts naturally understand and extroverts seem to misunderstand, is this: Our brain’s generating capacity has been shown to increase exponentially when our prefrontal cortex is relaxed. The latest cranial imaging confirms this, supporting the validity of “eureka” moments, associated with bursts of high-frequency activity in the right temporal lobe of the brain. These puffs are preceded by a “brain blink” which signifies that the individual has been less aware of the surrounding environment. Basically, these patterns are not seen during analytical thinking.

According to Carola Salvi, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University, being put in situations like brainstorming sessions, when there’s a lot at stake, doesn’t facilitate creativity.

So in brainstorming, as introverts watch, in bitter dismay as creative extroverts show off wildly, mostly recycling other people’s old ideas, it turns out that everyone’s prefrontal cortex is shut down. .

Only business leaders rejoice fleetingly, to be the nucleus of such a sparkling brilliance. “Nuns in a submarine!” Who would have thought?

A few years ago, I spent a week in Spain’s Picos Mountains at a retreat called The Big Stretch, where each morning the facilitator, Rosie Walford, posed a difficult question to which we, the eight delegates of this trip, let’s try to answer. Most of us didn’t invent anything at all. Our prefrontal cortices have been tightened.

Then Rosie would lead us on a long, slow hike up the mountains or a lazy canoe trip down a river. We would spend the day immersed in nature. No phones. No distractions. Little talk. Do nothing in a large landscape. I remember thinking a lot about a lot of things, including whether I was going to go up the mountain or down the river, but the one thing I don’t remember thinking about was the big question of the day.

Later, after having bathed and rested, our small group gathered to witness the most extraordinary phenomenon. Although we didn’t consciously think much about anything, our brains had processed. Without exception, each of us who had been so uninspiring in the morning now found deep veins of rich and original thought.

And what had produced this new brilliance? Turns out it was nothing. Just big skies and vast landscapes that had allowed our minds to wander freely.

Be clear about the creative challenge you face, put it on paper, focus on it, then put it away and forget it. You can never be sure when your creative brain will come up with a breakthrough idea or new solution. But if you want more new ideas from your teams, give them a big inspiring challenge, then give their brains uninterrupted time to do the rest.

We may not all be creative introverts, but when it comes to producing fresh new ideas. a walk in the park, rather than a brainstorming session, is more likely to yield results.


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