Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Snow Storms and Brainstorms

Is it snowing where you are? It’s snowing here.

I’m reminded of a line from the Lou Grant pilot. Two journalists, who grew up in Minnesota, but moved to California, agree that Santa Claus in Bermuda shorts doesn’t do it for them. One of them says, “I never minded white Christmases. It was white Easters I grew to hate.”

Officially spring arrives in Calgary tomorrow morning at 5:02 AM Daylight Savings Time. Except it doesn’t really. I’m fond of the Celtic calendar, which says that spring arrived on February 2, known as Imbolic or St. Bridget’s Day. Tomorrow morning, to my way of thinking, is mid-spring.

I have a lot of funny ideas about holidays. Going with that same Celtic calendar, summer starts May 1; fall August 2; and the new year October 31. Halloween decorations and candy should never be allowed in stores until after the school supplies have been cleared. Why do we  have to have the Christmas shopping season every year? Every two years would be plenty. In our house we celebrate Christmas for twelve days, from December 25 to January 6, and birthdays for an entire week.

Which means if you put me in a brainstorming group focusing on holiday celebrations, I’d be a disaster. Or would I?

In the late nineteen-forties, Alex Osborn, an ad man, promoted brainstorming. He said the best way to be creative was to have a bunch of people throw out ideas at random to be captured on a blackboard (This was before white boards). No pressure. No criticism. Quantity over quality. Once the blackboard was filled, the cream would naturally rise to the top and the group would profit from their collective wisdom. Almost seventy years later, decades of research show that brainstorming doesn’t work.

What does work?
Polite criticism
Exposure to unfamiliar perspectives
Getting past the first layer of predictability
The power of dissent
The power of surprise
Social networks with some, not too many interconnections. Too many repeat relationships stifles creativity.
Mix old friends and newbies who are comfortable but not too comfortable together.
Put people to work within ten meters of each other.
Practice asking why.
Hold two competing things in your head: what you wish to be true, and what looks like the actual truth.
Try things you don’t like.
Pretend you have unlimited resources. Often we discount solutions because we think we can’t afford them. When you know a solution is the right one, it’s amazing how the resources come.
Do it, don’t think about doing it.
Get wet: a surprising number of ideas happen when we are in the shower or bath or have our hands in dish water.
Develop new relationships among what you already have on hand and know or can access.
Instead of writing a description of what you’ve come up with, create an icon.

Where did I get this list? One of those serendipitous chain of circumstances that I didn’t know was coming.

An article on why brainstorming doesn’t work led me to a book called The Red Thread and an article on problem solving.  By a round-about way I worked myself around to another article on why brainstorming doesn’t work which nicely completed the circle.

This little journey kept me from going bananas as I contemplated the never-ending snow and the potential for a white Easter. Even if it’s not snowing where you are, I recommend you take a jaunt around this circle. Or maybe you might like to send these links to your boss the next time she suggests a brainstorming meeting.

Quote for the week
To show your true ability is always, in a sense, to surpass the limits of your ability, to go a little beyond them. To dare, to seek, to invent, it is at such a moment that new talents are revealed, discovered, and realized.
~Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986), existentialist, writer and social essayist


Sheila Connolly said...

I haven't read any of the literature, but I find I'm wondering if there are actually two kinds of thinking: private and public. When you're alone and can clear your mind, you can examine a problem (or a plot!) at your own speed in the silence of your mind; when you're brainstorming, you're assaulted from all sides by others' opinions and responses, and that has to have an impact on your thinking. That's not to say that either is the right way, only that they are different.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

A very belated shoe drops: I never realized till you said February 2 that the origin of Ground Hog Day must be the Celtic calendar. However, I do know about Estre, the rabbit goddess who lays (or produces) colored eggs.

Anonymous said...

Sheila, I completely agree with you. One of the things I read said that when people think of possible solutions in private, then come together as a group to share, the number of possible workable solutions to a problem doubles.

Liz, I think so, too. Another one of those ancient days that got co-opted. As for the journey from sacred wells to ground hogs, I'm not going there.

Can't wait for the Easter rabbit to arrive, with her basket load of egg.

Dorothy Hayes said...

After reading a biography of Simone de Beauvoir, I thought she was a highly, intelligent and educated woman who was unable to seek the happiness she desired. Her relationship with Satre, for example, brought her, it appeared, more pain than pleasure. It seemed as though, she wanted to marry him, but never did. Instead she arranged dates for him, which hurt her.
Although, she's credited with being a leader of the feminist movement, her writings supports this, the last thing she wanted to do was lead a parade of feminists or, it appears, take on that mantle.

Regarding the notion of Christmas coming just every two years, I'm very much for it. I become someone else at Christmas, full of haunting memories, nostalgic, eager to please, it wears me right out.
January is definitely a welcoming and quiet time where I get back to normal.

Anonymous said...

Sharon, thank you so much for guesting with us at Crime Writers Chronicle! You are a gem and a very gifted person! All the best in your writing future! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Thelma. It was a pleasure to join you.

Dorothy, when I was trying to get my head around de Beauvoir, Satre, and the existentialist movement, I had this weird thought. Two highly intelligent people living together. Who took out the garbage? I finally decided that the person who the garbage bothered the most had the moral imperative to remove it. So much for deep philosophical questions.