June 1st, 2019

A group of people have a job to do, so all 20 of them go into a room together to do it.

They need a really great idea and have two hours to come up with it. Mobiles off, no interruptions, just a loud ticking clock counting down those precious creative minutes.

And there are rules of course, because everybody knows that rules really expand the possibilities, right? If you want people to come up with something truly original, then clearly the best way is to restrict them with a fixed structure that forces them to think in exactly the same way as they've always done.

Rules like this one: There's no such thing as a bad idea. Perfect. So now at least half the meeting is wasted while everyone feels obliged to 'workshop' terrible ideas just so they don't offend Alex. Who let's face it, really shouldn't be here. Ideas just aren't his thing, but according to the rules we need to give his 'attempt' the same consideration as everyone else's.

Then while Alex's nonsense gets plenty of air-time, the potentially really decent stuff from Sam never materialises because he's just not good in groups. Much easier for him to just agree with Michael, say something quickly about how it's got 'legs' and really 'resonates with the audience', then relax, contribution done, pressure off. Maybe Sam will mention his far better idea at the end when most people have gone. Probably won't bother though.

“Did anyone notice when I nodded enthusiastically?” “Is it Game of Thrones tonight?”

So now everyone's latched onto Alex's brain-mistake because it's the quickest way to get out of this meeting. Which is now the main goal. The pressure of that ticking clock means that escape is now what people are aiming for. People should be thinking of their own ideas, but instead their heads are filled with different questions, including:

“Have I said enough sentences out loud yet?”

“Did anyone notice when I nodded enthusiastically?”

“Is it Game of Thrones tonight?”

But there's ages left and they've got to appear useful. Oh and look, there's a white board! So everyone shouts out emotions that Alex's idea makes them feel ("Relieved!") and suggestions for mood boards that although are supposed to expand on an idea, end up just narrowing things down even further.

Then twenty people collectively look at the clock. A bit more 'facilitating' is facilitated by the facilitator, and everyone is now listening intently to the discussions about the pros and cons of Alex's (very vague, 'pretty derivative now we come to think of it') idea, because that's all they've got. Listening so hard in fact that they've now forgotten whatever alternative options they sort of had in the back of their minds, and can't think of new ideas because then they wouldn't be paying enough attention to the current workshopping of Alex's uncreative concept.

Then finally it's over. "Great work, team" someone pipes up, already grabbing her phone to see what emails she's missed, because really this was never her brief in the first place and won't be working on it, so can she please now do her real work thank you?

And that's the result. One mediocre idea, as opposed to a wealth of great stuff if only the creatives had been given the time to go away and work on it separately in whatever way they wanted.

Oh, and who was Alex? The one with the idea that when put it into practice, doesn’t actually work?

He's Alex Faickney Osborn, the inventor of the brainstorm.