Have you heard the term 1+1=3? A collaboration between two or more people creates an outcome that is greater than what would be achieved through solitary actions.
During my time as a design major at the Cleveland Institute of Art, a professor taught us a trick where he drew two parallel lines and asked, “How many lines are there?” If you look closely, you may see only two black lines, but by focusing on the negative space you can see a white line running between them. The negative space is not only a new and unobvious idea, but it can be the binding force between the obvious lines of thought.
Some of the greatest solutions happen when you and others have great ideas, and the final solution is a mashup of the two. I believe that this way of thinking can be the genesis of true innovation.
Build vs. criticize
Have you ever been in a meeting where you had this great idea, and the first response from another person started with the word “but?”
At that moment, it’s likely your excitement waned, as your colleague continued to explain why your idea wouldn’t work. If you were lucky, they started by saying your idea was clever, but then continued down the road of why it’s too difficult or it is just simply not a good idea.
Now, I’m not saying that all ideas are good. Many are not. But I have found that in a group brainstorming session, it’s better to start with “build” responses with the word “and.” As a result, the group can build on ideas rather than tear them down.
The most important part of any brainstorming session is maintaining positive energy and providing constructive feedback. Terrible ideas sometimes can inspire good ideas unrelated to bad ones.
You must separate yourself from owning your idea. Initial ideas will evolve into new ones. Allow yourself to be a catalyst for the brainstorming, to keep ideas flowing. While listening to an interview with Music Producer Rick Rubin during an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience Podcast, he shared that he prefers the term “cooperation” when thinking of collaboration.
The best outcomes happen when everyone in the room has the mindset of “whether it’s your idea or someone else’s idea, it doesn’t matter. If you are invested in collaboration, you want the best idea to win. You don’t want your idea to win.”
Innovation is not a solo sport. Develop the mindset that just by being in the room (or virtual room), you can be part of the solution.
Take a break
Be comfortable with the fact that a good idea may not surface in the first meeting. There is nothing wrong with planning a follow-up or taking a “brain space” break. Innovation can’t be forced, but it can be nurtured. The team can leave the room feeling energized, inspired, or challenged by the future opportunity to solve the challenge at hand.
So, the next time that you’re brainstorming, consciously think about whether you’re about to say the word “but.” Try focusing on building on other people’s ideas, and you’ll find that your brainstorms will thrive. Teams will form and you may just get collective ah-ha! moments. ●
Bill Nottingham is Managing Partner of Nottingham Unlimited Ventures