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The Importance on Non-Linear Thinking Pt.2…Mental Flossing

The Importance on Non-Linear Thinking Part 2 In Part 1 the “importance” of non-linear thinking, or managing non-linear thinkers was expressed as important. Perhaps expressing the importance of balance between non-linear and linear thinkers within an organization should be the focus. Left brain and right brain thinking, when combined and managed well can be very powerful.

What is the best way to inspire creative thinking? The brainstorm is dead. Sitting around a table in a conference room during a scheduled time is already missing the point. Creativity is not on a schedule. A creative person does not come into work, flip on a “creative” switch until 5 o’clock then flip the switch off. Creativity works best when it’s not constrained. That was the horse in a corral vs. horse in a pasture analogy. How about a brainstorm session among 5 people while going for a walk between 1:12pm and 2:37? Remove the constraints.

The following is a tried and true creative group activity to be used in place of brainstorming. I like to call it the Creative Cornucopia or “mental flossing”. I’ll use the launch of a Chinese Wine in the U.S. as an example. Many of the most successful marketing campaigns have come from this process:

1. Have a Plan – sometimes known as the Creative Brief. Establish the purpose and objectives of the brainstorming.

2. Appetizer – Identify who is going to participate in the group brainstorm. Send them an invitation (I use iggli.com) using something to initiate thinking about the subject. For the Chinese wine, each participant received a 3×5 card with images of Chinese culture with a date, time and location. They were also asked to bring something that makes them think about China.

3. Allow 24-48 hours for participants to think about the subject.

4. Main Course – Use a whiteboard or large writing surface. Once the group is together, start by asking questions about the subject. Not obvious questions, but abstract. In the case of the Chinese wine I asked the group questions like, “what if Cabernet never existed,” or, “what if France never made wine”… taking what’s obvious about the subject and removing them from the equation. If it were a bank I’d ask, “what if ATMs didn’t exist,” or, “what if we didn’t use money for economy?” Capture all comments.

5. Cross-Pollination – Take some of the answers in the main course and drill down further. In the case of “what if France didn’t make wine,” we looked at France and the culture. I asked for words associated with France’s culture, which I wrote on the white board. The group came up with words like, “wine, cheese, smoking, style, history”.

6. Cross-Pollination Word Smash – Take some of the key words from #5 and list opposing words. What’s happening by this point is your group is talking about the subject, but in a non-linear manner. By exploring the peripheries of the subject it gets the creative juices flowing. It avoids the problem of staring at a blank piece of white paper trying to get started.

7. Dessert – Identify and expand on emerging ideas. Some of the ideas that started to come out of the Chinese wine were “what is it like to try wine for the first time, what is like to do anything for the first time and what are some things someone can do to improve their image?” We listed a few celebrities and listed how they could improve the perception consumers had. Paris Hilton, John Elway, George W. Bush and Carrot Top were a few.

8. Recap and Connect. Leave the brainstorm with a homework assignment for each person to come up with 3-5 ideas, no matter how “out there” they might be (there are no dumb questions). Come back together in a day or two (don’t let too much time pass) and list ideas on the board. Rate them all based on how well they meet the objective, or creative brief in step #1. What are the advantages, limitations or truly outstanding ideas? The marketing message that came out for the Chinese wine was, “Be the First”. As in, be the first to discover wine from one of the last unknown wine growing regions on earth.

This is an abbreviated description of how to bring non-linear thinking into a group dynamic, especially a company. There is room for creativity here as there should be, but at the heart of the process is how to get all involved to think and talk about the subject in an abstract way. Hopefully you get a chance to try it. If you have questions facilitating the Creative Cornucopia with your group, email me any questions at rbakas@mac.com.

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