In brainstorming sessions, thought-showers or whatever your preferred term is, the team is likely to become fixated on the first half-decent idea. This is because we favour convergent thinking over divergent thinking. The team might spend hours with that idea working at it, or maybe even days, weeks or months. The idea might even get released into the wild. The idea may have gone through some testing, if we are lucky, but, Aaagh! It doesn’t work…
Why? We spent all that time on it, why isn’t it working?
Don’t stop ’til you get enough varied ideas.
There has been a lot of research into creativity and the generation of ideas over the last century, no less so than the landmark research by Christensen, Guilford & Wilson (1957). This research and many subsequent studies show that the ideas tend to get increasingly original, novel and remote as time passes [Why Do Ideas Get More Creative Across Time? An Executive Interpretation of the Serial Order Effect in Divergent Thinking Tasks – Beaty & Silvia].
This means that when we are looking for more ideas using a divergent thinking task, such as a brainstorming session, we are likely to find that the great ideas, the more creatively divergent ideas will occur later, and the earlier ideas will be the safe, hackneyed, overused ideas we have encountered many times before. The term used by Neuroscientists and Psychologists is the Social Order Effect.
So, what we should do is push for more ideas to be laid out on the table, but there is a problem. How do we get people to lay out the ideas and not be embarrassed or reluctant to carry on having more ideas?
I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.
– John Cage – American composer, music theorist, artist, and philosopher
How do we get more diverse ideas?
It is a valid question. And there are several ways to do it, but some can bring problems. For example, a standard brainstorming session usually has several people sitting around a table throwing out ideas, but usually these ideas get shot down straight away. We are only human, and we will often react emotionally to an idea being rejected in such a fashion. This leads many of us to play safe and only bring out ideas we consider safe, which often means boring, hackneyed or overused.
If we were in a meeting together and I asked you for the best ideas you could come up with to advertise a chocolate bar, what ideas would you come up with? Take a moment to come up with as many ideas as you can now.
I did this with my partner, I gave her 2 minutes to come up with as many ideas as she can for this very loose, half thought out brief. The caveats are that we were the only 2 people in the room. so it was less embarrassing than an actual meeting would be. She is also an arts graduate who has a long history of coming up with creative solutions.
My partner’s list of ideas
- Party of people
- Chilling out in front of a movie with a big chocolate bar
- Sharing a chocolate bar with a friend
- Hiding away as a secret chocolate bar eater
- Swimming in chocolate
- A pig in a muddy pig pen, but all the mud is chocolate.
- The knife and fork game (something like this video).
- A huge garden where everything is chocolate, like Willy Wonka’s factory.
- A chocolate person with wrappers for clothing.
- Someone is asleep in a bed that looks like a chocolate bar with the wrappers as duvet etc.
This is an incredible list for only 2 minutes.
Now, some of these ideas could make good ads or be part of the process of creating a decent ad. Some of them are already creating compelling visuals in my head, which is always a good sign.
Getting to the more creative ideas
But how do we go from these ideas to the truly great ideas for selling chocolate bars? If you live in the UK and have done for the last 15 years or so, you are likely familiar with Cadbury’s chocolate and their phenomenal advert for a chocolate bar featuring a drumming gorilla
The drumming gorilla advert, created by Fallon, is still spoken about nearly 20 years later as a high point in TV advertising. Marketing magazine named it the nation’s all-time favourite advert.
The advertisement was released on the 31st of August, 2007. By November of that year, over 6 million views had been registered across online video sites. The actual ad does not feature a chocolate bar. Cadbury is referenced only by the production credited to “Glass and a Half-Full Productions.”, which is subdued, and the purple backdrop to the Gorilla, which is a nod to Cadbury’s corporate colors. Why did this idea not get shot down as soon as it was mentioned?
Well, there is a full article in the Guardian from ten years after the release of the advert, quoting the creative director of Fallon on how the idea came about and how the advert got made. In the article, Phil Rumbol, Cadbury’s director of marketing, tells how his bosses thought he was mad and quotes them as saying ‘Let’s get this right. You want to make an ad that’s three times longer than a normal ad, has no Cadbury’s chocolate in it and there’s no message?’. Yet, he won the argument. The idea go accepted, and the rest is chocolatey history.
How do we not have our ideas shot down?
One of the ways to not have ideas shot down is to forgo all judgment at idea conception. Easier said than done, you might way. It works, but only if we find ways to facilitate sessions that can turn off people’s innate ability to judge or even prejudge an idea before it has had a moment to breathe.
There are fun ways to do this too. Lego Serious Play has this built-in to the application techniques in that particular system. But what if we are a group in a cab and need some ideas quickly before we arrive at our venue? We can’t get the Lego out there, but we can use some other fun techniques, like this one described below:
“Bad” Ideas Only
This is a technique we love. It allows us to suspend judgment by subverting it into amusement. We are searching for the worst ideas to amuse ourselves.
The technique we have developed follows this format:
- We write down the provocation/brief
- Everyone responds with their “bad” ideas in three rounds
- Round one – 2 minutes
- Write as many “bad” ideas as possible.
- Count ideas – winner of most ideas wins this round – reward in your own way – we prefer a chocolate (apparently it is a fixation).
- Share ideas, but don’t discuss, yet.
- Round two – 2 minutes
- Write as many “bad” ideas as possible.
- Count ideas – winner of most ideas wins this round – reward
- Share ideas but don’t discuss
- Round three – 5 minutes
- Write 3 or more “bad” ideas as possible
- Everyone with 3 or more ideas gets a reward, the one with the most ideas gets a reward
- Collate all ideas and go through as a list
- Treat each idea as a good idea, explore its possibilities – advantages and disadvantages
- Try combining some ideas or writing down ideas sparked by other ideas.
Why Bad Ideas Only Works
By using this technique, we are telling ourselves we are looking for “bad” ideas but we are gaming that premise by using time limits and prizes to gain quick ideas. The secret is that the brain is as bad at coming up with “bad” ideas as it is with good ideas if we judge them. If we suspend judgment and search for quantity rather than quality, we will find there is actually no difference between a good idea or a “bad” idea and by searching for more, we go beyond the obvious and find the potentially brilliant leftfield creative ideas, the ones featuring drumming gorillas.
You can use this technique for writing alone, and you can also use it to beat writer’s block. The only downside if you are using the technique on your own is that you have to supply your own rewards.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
The Serial Order in effect
According to the research mentioned above, the serial order effect is unusually robust. We can look into why ideas get more creative the more we have, or we can use the fact that they do and roll divergent thinking practices into our everyday life.
MundoNovus can help you identify ways to create a more divergent thinking workspace. It is not a choice between divergent thinking and convergent thinking. We need both. It just so happens that due to many reasons, including our learned need to “get the right answer”, we tend to overly rely on convergent thinking.
Convergent thinking is useful for decision making, but not when coming up with ideas to decide between. What we need is the ability to become adaptive thinkers and use the correct one at the correct time. The structures we add through the use of play and liberating structures ensure you can become adaptive and use divergent thinking when you need it.
When you’re being creative nothing is wrong
– John Cleese – Actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer
Get in touch with us and we can co-create new strategies that can help your organisation and teams be ready for whatever comes around the corner. Let’s play!