How to Win Twice at Meditation: Harvesting Great Ideas and Taming the Monkey Mind

Meditators are often advised to focus on a meditation object, and when they realize that their mind has started wandering, to just bring it back to the object of their meditation. The standard advice is not to follow any thoughts and emotions that may arise.

This, however, is often easier said than done. As soon as I am trying to quiet my mind, thoughts and reminders start coming from all directions.

Like a monkey of whom I have limited or no control, “my” mind bounces around, jumping from the cup of coffee I had before the meditation to yesterday’s cookies, and from there to the chat I had with a friend last night.

Meditation helps you to gain creative insight and tame the monkey mind.

Quite appropriately so, they call it the “monkey mind.”

But is this monkey mind good or bad news? I have been contemplating this for quite a while and over time have come to appreciate it. Why? This state of mind can be used to harvest plenty of good ideas. I let the mind loose and it turns into a treasure trove of creativity.

How do I use meditation for creativity? How do I harvest ideas and gain insight?

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How Varying Your Work Environment Spurs Creativity

This morning, I felt an outright aversion to just going to my desk and starting my work. This is an indication that I am about to get stuck with a problem and need some change of scenery to get my creative juices flowing. So I packed my computer and went to a nearby outdoor café. The café is situated under trees along a small river, providing for a very different view, different sounds, and different smells. Sitting there with a cup of coffee and just looking around, I felt like in another world. And this is just 5 minutes from my desk.

Vary your work environment: outdoor cafes foster creativity.

Does this sound familiar to you? Maybe you prefer going for a stroll through town or a walk in the park or forest when you need to get some new ideas or fresh insight into a problem you have been pondering?

I know why I like sitting at the table with the blue table cloth. I get to gaze into the distance. I have an unimpeded view of the stream, the sky, and the iron bridge, yet at the same time I feel protected, I am in the shade, and I am shielded from prying eyes.

Well, after sitting there for an hour and a half, brainstorming, taking notes, and looking at the scenery, the noise coming from an angle grinder at a nearby construction site started to annoy me. I wanted to turn inward to play with my new ideas. I was longing for the peace and quiet of my room, so I packed my bag and returned to my desk. That’s where I am sitting now. Now It feels just right sitting there and doing my work.

What do I make of this? There is no single perfect environment to do creative work.

And there are good reasons, why you might want to vary your work environment to be more creative and productive. Continue reading

Alternating Group and Individual Brainwriting: Together and Alone

In this post, I want to point you to some recent research into alternating group and individual brainstorming using brainwriting. Recent studies suggest that so-called hybrid brainwriting leads to more ideas than both group and individual brainwriting.

alternating group and individual brainwriting

This is good news because several prior studies have indicated that individuals brainstorming by themselves tend to generate more ideas than groups containing these individuals. Hybrid brainwriting is straight-forward; you can use it right away to generate more and better ideas.

Traditional group brainstorming is somewhat of a double-edged sword.

We organize brainstorming groups with members from different fields to create synergy. That is, we hope that by building on other’s ideas, participants can come up with more unique and better ideas. Almost every one of us has shared a problem with a good friend and by bouncing ideas, come up with something they wouldn’t have been able to think up by themselves.

What’s more, group brainstorming leads to a better acceptance of ideas and helps to communicate them to fellow team members.

Generating ideas is only the first step; subsequently ideas have to be evaluated, developed further, and ultimately implemented.

You can’t do it alone: great products and systems are usually the work of great teams.

On the other hand, controlled for time, face-to-face brainstorming groups often generate fewer ideas than so-called nominal groups (the pooled ideas coming from a comparable number of individual “brainstormers”).

And what is important here: studies have also indicated that the more ideas are generated, the more good ideas are generated!

Why do face-to-face brainstorming groups come up with fewer ideas than teams where everyone brainstorms individually?

Here are the three most common reasons for the drop in productivity.

1. In groups, only one person can speak their idea at a time. Others have to wait for their turn. What’s more, by attending to someone else’s idea and hoping to expand on it, you are interrupting your own train of thought.

2. Despite being assured by the brainstorming rules that criticism is not allowed and that wild and crazy ideas are encouraged, individuals might withhold ideas for fear of being negatively evaluated by their peers or their boss (who might also attend the session).

3. In a group activity, there is less individual accountability: some participants might not pull their weight.

However, there are approaches to brainstorming that do not have these short-comings: one of them is brainwriting.

What is brainwriting?

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Natural Project Planning to the Rescue

Natural Planning ModelThere are plenty of project planning approaches and software tools out there. But when do you actually use them? For most of us they are overwhelming and overkill. Getting caught up in complexity, we often miss the point.

On the other hand, not planning at all, and hence not knowing how to bridge the gap between one’s current place and a desired outcome, often leaves us lost in the woods and breeds procrastination. I have “occasionally” 🙄 experienced this myself and observed plenty of people in my work and private circles idling and killing time.

Fortunately, our brain knows quite well how to plan and execute a project. Once you make this planning process explicit, you realize that it doesn’t have to be complicated at all and are more likely to make a plan. And yes, very often it will fit on a paper napkin. You are also more likely to question why you are doing something.

So how does our brain plan naturally? Continue reading

Uncage your ideas with Brutethink, a Highly Effective Creativity Technique

Uncage Your Ideas with BrutethinkWhy should you read this?

Brutethink can help you to overcome a blank mind and unleash a river of ideas for any challenge or question you may have.

In a previous post, we introduced classical brainstorming as a technique to come up with new ideas. We posed a specific question, problem, or challenge and tried to list as many ideas as possible on how to solve this challenge. Usually this technique leads to more ideas than we can possibly implement.

Sometimes, however, our mind goes blank when faced with a question. At other times, even after having brainstormed on a challenge for quite some time, we are still not happy with our ideas. Somehow, we need some fresh sparks.

Brutethink in a Nutshell

In this post, I would like to introduce you to a simple yet highly effective creativity technique to overcome a blank mind and an empty sheet of paper. “They” call it Brutethink. In a nutshell, this is how Brutethink works:

As in brainstorming, start with a specific problem, question, or challenge.

  1. Choose a random word or any other random stimulus (e.g., a photo) and think about its attributes. Write these attributes on a sheet of paper.
  2. Concentrate on the random word and your challenge. Your mind will automatically create connections between the word and your challenge.
  3. List all ideas that come to mind.

Support step 2 by going through the attributes one by one and asking yourself how they can help you to solve your problem.

A friend recently asked me, “How can I get more customers for my café restaurant?” This makes for a perfect example for Brutethink.

  • The challenge: How can I get more customers for my cafe?
  • We found “choirboy” as a random word.

So we have a choirboy and “How do I get more customers?”

Here is the list of attributes plus some of the ideas we came up with for our choirboy when focusing on his attributes and the challenge:

  1. Choirboy
    • More visibility
    • Ad in the local Expat forum
    • Engage with fans on my Facebook page
    • Distribute flyers with vouchers in town
    • Loyalty cards
    • Ten stamps, get one cappuccino free
  2. Sings in a choir among peers
    • Cannot sing alone, needs other choir boys
    • Cooperate with other businesses
    • Flyer or name card exchange
    • Joint discount program
    • Link exchange with hotels
  3. Beautiful voice
    • Music events, jam sessions
    • Karaoke
  4. Cute boy
    • Post beautiful pictures
    • Present the food in more appealing ways
    • Cappuccino art
    • Create a menu with photos of dishes
  5. Young
  6. Nicely dressed
  7. Has a choir master, a leader
  8. Choir sings every Sunday at church
    • Advertise outside the church
    • Daily special
    • Weekly movie night
  9. Reaches the hearts of many elderly people
  10. Organ to amplify the sound

We diverted a bit from the order given above; that is, we thought about an attribute and right away asked ourselves, “How can this help us to get more customers?”

Depending on your mood and personal preference, you could first list all attributes and then start brainstorming or dive right into brainstorming after each attribute.

Questions to help you list attributes for a random word or other random stimulus

  • What are its characteristics?
  • What does it do?
  • What can we do with it?
  • Where is it used?

Where can you find a random word or other stimulus?

  • Take a dictionary and open it at an arbitrary page. Point your finger anywhere on the page (without looking).
  • Look around you. Pick whatever first catches your eye.
  • Draw a random photo out of a shoebox filled with photos.
  • Use a random word generator, such as http://creativitygames.net/random-word-generator/randomwords/3.

Random words that can be visualized work better than words describing abstract concepts.
In his book Thinkertoys, Michael Michalko offers a list of words, which he describes as “simple, visual, and connection-rich.”

Who invented Brutehink?

I learned about Brutethink in Michael Michalko’s excellent book Thinkertoys. According to his biography, Michael, as a U.S. Army officer, headed a team of NATO personnel and academics that was responsible for researching, collecting, and categorizing all known creativity techniques. Thinkertoys is a book full of creativity techniques, tricks, and small, entertaining puzzles.

Last but not least: Read “How Do You Decide which Ideas to Implement?” for strategies to evaluate and rank your ideas.

To your success,

Helmut Sachs

Brainstorming II: How Do You Decide which Ideas to Implement?

In a previous post, we have shed some light on what brainstorming is and how to do it. brainstorming-idea-decision-matrixThe result of brainstorming could be:

  • A flipchart full of idea cards
  • A list or an outline with ideas
  • A Mind map

You will certainly ask, “Now what’s next?”

Suppose we have done a family brainstorming session on “How can we make our family happier?” As result, we have gotten a flip chart full of ideas.

While some ideas, such as being friendly and helpful, might depend on a personal commitment only, the majority will likely require further work and clear priorities.

We will not be able or willing to realize all ideas. After all, our energy is limited, and some ideas might not be worth doing.

This post suggests an easy-to-follow road map, which includes Filtering, Idea Development, Multipoint Voting, and the Decision Matrix. Continue reading

The Real Meaning of Brainstorming and How to Do It

A popular myth is that the meaning of Brainstorming is somehow related to generating a storm of ideas in a brain. While this makes sense, the creator had something slightly different in mind when he came up with the term: The word Brainstorming was coined by Alex Faickney Osborn (1888-1966) in his book Your Creative Power, published in 1948. Osborn was a very successful advertising executive and business owner during his time.

This is how Osborn explains how the name “Brainstorming” came about:
“It was in 1939 when I first organized such group-thinking in our company. The early participants dubbed our efforts ‘Brainstorm Sessions,’ and quite aptly so because, in this case, ‘brainstorm’ means using the brain to storm a creative problem and do so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.

What is brainstorming then?

Following Osborn’s definition, consider a problem a fortress we try to storm with a group of brains (our army):

The Real Meaning of Brainstorming

Classical brainstorming is a group technique to create new ideas. The group takes a specific problem and creates as many ideas as possible in a limited time. Continue reading