An electric utility in the northwestern U.S. had problems with ice building up on its power transmission lines during the winter. The company had to send linesmen out to climb the pylons that held the lines to clear off the ice and snow. It was difficult and dangerous work, especially as bears sometimes wandered close to the pylons as the linesmen were working.
One day a group of linesmen got together for a brainstorming session, hoping to find a better and safer way to clear away the ice. One linesman mentioned that a bear had actually climbed a pylon after him once. That led to a humorous suggestion of placing honey pots at the top of the pylons to attract the bears. Then, as they tried to get to the honey, they would knock the snow and ice free.
Then an administrative assistant said, “But we’d need to use helicopters to place the pots at the top of the pylons, and the vibrations would frighten the bears and chase them away.”
Eureka! The answer was right in front of them. Soon afterward, the company began sending helicopters up into the air – without honey pots – and using the vibrations and wind created by their motors and rotors to knock the ice down.
A casual comment had solved the problem. And that’s the beauty of brainstorming.
Brainstorming is defined as a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from an individual or all members of the group.
The term was popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book, “Applied Imagination.” Osborn claimed that brainstorming was more effective than individuals working alone in generating ideas.
Brainstorming can be a powerful process for sparking creativity and stocking your supply of ideas. It is like a password to open minds. Brainstorming began when Osborn, who was presumably searching for an idea, decided to ask a few of his colleagues for input. He set out five core principles upon which all brainstorming is built to this day.
1. Gather together a group of people into a room with plenty of easels and whiteboards.
2. Capture all ideas that come to mind, even if they sound crazy – especially if they sound crazy.
3. The more ideas, the better. Your initial goal is quantity, not quality.
4. Do not apply critical thinking. There’s no such thing as a bad idea – the evaluation process comes later.
5. All ideas belong to the group, so people should be encouraged to build on each other’s ideas.
These rules are probably very familiar to you; however, chances are you are even more familiar with the reality of most brainstorming sessions. They can easily devolve into meaningless time traps if at least some semblance of organization isn’t present.
If you haven’t come up with any good ideas lately, you might want to try different approaches to getting the creative juices flowing. These are some of my favorite brainstorming techniques:
Mackay’s Moral: Great brainstorms should produce plenty of en-lightning!
Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.
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