Last week I was invited to run a Design thinking experiential workshop for the STC conference in Bangalore. We had about 70 people in the room. All of them experienced technical content writers.
As I always believe, learning happens best when people have a lot of fun while learning. We then retain a lot of what we learn in that setting. I am getting beside the point.
I am sure that everyone of us, me included, have at one point or other, been invited to join in a brainstorm to come up with ideas to solve a given problem. As a design thinking coach, I end up facilitating a lot of such brainstorms as it is one of the core steps in the problem solving approach.
Irrespective of the cohort that I am working with, there are a few questions that typically come up every time I facilitate a brainstorming session. They came up last week in the workshop as well.
I will try and share my insights and answers to these most commonly asked questions on brainstorming sessions.
Generate as many ideas as possible
The first instruction I give to participants is to come up with as many ideas as possible. I might even suggest an insanely high number of ideas that i would expect them to come up with. The reason behind this is two fold:
Typically, when we ask someone to come up with ideas, there are some common ideas that everyone will come up with. These are the typical ideas, that almost anyone who is asked to come up and typically lack any novelty or creativity.
In order to reach the creative and novel ideas, we need to push through our comfort level of coming with the easiest & the simplest idea.
Ideas come in waves:
If you notice closely, we get ideas in waves. Once you are able to come up with some creative idea, it is much easier to modify, add/subtract something to/from that idea and come up with a lot more ideas. By asking people to go for quantity, we are trying to get them to experience as many such waves of ideas as possible.
Every wave that you experience beyond the 2nd or 3rd wave, you will see that you are moving beyond the typical solutions into the realm of truly unique, creative & novel ideas.
Why do we need crazy ideas? I believe that it is easier to make crazy ideas interesting, actionable and a little more sensible than to make a boring regular idea interesting. Think about it. Even better would be for you to try this.
Take a crazy idea to solve any given problem and try to make it more practical. Then take a boring average idea and try to make it interesting and creative.
You will realise that it is much easier to make a crazy idea practical and still retain a large dose of craziness (creative spirit).
Why do we need to delay judgements? According to me, brainstorming is a two step process: Generate Ideas, Select ideas and it is important to keep them as two separate steps in the process to get good results.
The most important reason, why I always recommend that we need to defer judgements, is because it kills creativity faster than you can say “No”. The moment someone starts judging ideas as good or bad, our minds start applying filters to our creative thinking (no one likes being rejected or ridiculed in front of others, even if it is only perceived and not real). This means, that nothing truly creative can come out of the brainstorm where ideas are judged right at the idea generation part of the discussion.
Equal Opportunity & Diversity
How can we ensure that everyone gets a chance to share their ideas? As I have indicated above, ideation is a two step process. The first step is to generate ideas. I always suggest to do this in three distinct steps:
The first step is to ask every individual to come up with ideas individually. I ask them to come up with as many ideas as possible as individuals, without discussion or sharing their ideas.
The second step is to ask every to share their ideas with the team. Others who have the same or similar ideas can cluster their ideas around the idea first proposed. Everyone shares their ideas one-after the other until all ideas are shared.
Build upon it:
The last step in this process is for people to come up with newer ideas (combining, editing, replacing or subtracting from the ideas that have already been shared by someone in the team. This is again done individually first and shared with the team later. The team can then discuss among itself to explore if they can come up with more creative ideas as a team, building upon the ideas that they already have.
While there are many ways to prioritise ideas once you have a set of them, I prefer to use a simple framework. If I am doing the brainstorming as part of a design thinking workshop, I prefer to pick ideas which are at the intersection of Desirablity, Feasibility and viability and in that order.
We could also use the red dots framework (each person on the team get 10 red dots and they can decide to use all of them in a single idea or spread them out on various ideas).
If brainstorm was a standalone one, which someone called for to solve a specific problem that they are trying to solve, i leave it up to this person to decide which of the ideas he/she would like to explore further.
Brainstorming is an important activity that has the potential to help stimulate our creativity and solve some of the most pressing challenges. However, if not taken seriously and done rigorously, it is also a great waste of time as nothing of value ever comes out of it. Now, the question we need to ask ourselves is which side of the coin do we want to see.
I came across this video by Josh Clark where he talks about the challenges and opportunities of designing stuff (products/services) in the era of algorithms.
This is a must watch video if you are currently engaged in developing a product or service which uses machine learning or artificial intelligence. He points out some very interesting places where you could potentially go wrong. Watch, listen, understand and avoid these mistakes.
Hope you like the video and learnt something important.
Today, I read a post by Shane Parrish on his Farnam Street blog and couldnt resist sharing this with you. He tries to explain why some people are ultra successful and some are not, despite having similar knowledge or experience.
He goes on to share that one of the defining aspect that can explain this difference – Mindset.
If we consider ourselves professionals, our chances of success goes up significantly. So, what makes one an amateur or a professional. Below is his take on the difference between amateurs and professionals.
Amateurs see feedback and coaching as someone criticizing them as a person. Professionals know they have weak spots and seek out thoughtful criticism.
Amateurs value isolated performance. Think about the receiver who catches the ball once on a difficult throw. Professionals value consistency. Can I catch the ball in the same situation 9 times out of 10?
Amateurs give up at the first sign of trouble and assume they’re failures. Professionals see failure as part of the path to growth and mastery.
Amateurs don’t have any idea what improves the odds of achieving good outcomes. Professionals do.
Amateurs show up to practice to have fun. Professionals realize that what happens in practice happens in games.
Amateurs focus on identifying their weaknesses and improving them. Professionals focus on their strengths and on finding people who are strong where they are weak.
Amateurs think knowledge is power. Professionals pass on wisdom and advice.
Amateurs show up inconsistently. Professionals show up every day.
There are a host of other differences, but they can effectively be boiled down to two things: fear and reality.
Amateurs believe that the world should work the way they want it to. Professionals realize that they have to work with the world as they find it. Amateurs are scared — scared to be vulnerable and honest with themselves. Professionals feel like they are capable of handling almost anything.
Questions we need to ask is the following:
In which area of our lives are we acting like a professional and where do we act as amateurs? Which areas of our lives do need to become a professional in?
At one point or another, I am sure that we have all procrastinated about something – deciding to go out on our own as entrepreneurs, preparing for our exams, having that difficult conversation or exercising. I know and see procrastination as a constant companion and a part of our lives, whether we like it or not. As I am writing this, I am procrastinating on creating an online course that I have been wanted to create since the start of the year. Now, is it good that I have procrastinated about this particular project? I don’t know. Time will tell.
That is a negative stigma attached to procrastination. As with everything else in life, there are three aspects to procrastination – The good, the bad and the ugly.
There could be many reasons why procrastination is good.
>> Procrastination can be an indication of something that our subconscious knows but the conscious mind doesn’t know yet. It works as a great danger sign or an alarm to beware of. For example, if you have been procrastinating about doing a specific task on a project for a long time, maybe it is time for you to think if this project or task is really that important. If we still think that the task or project is important, what comes after procrastination can help us finish the task quickly and decisively.
>> Studies have shown the over-estimate how much you can accomplish in the short-term and under-estimate how much we can accomplish over the long-term. What this means is that in the shot-term, we take on many things and tasks hoping to accomplish them all. Our procrastination helps us in prioritising the most important tasks automatically.
>> In his book Originals, Adam grant goes on to show how procrastination leads to increased creativity. He shares many examples, the most famous of which is the “I have a dream speech”. He goes on to claim that many of the highly creative people were active procrastinators.
There are a lot of reasons why procrastination can be bad for us.
>> Putting things off even though we consider them to be important is something can lead us to a position offrustration and anger.
>> It could lead to missed deadlines and opportunities.
>> If we think of procrastination in her team context, it can have an adverse effect on the productivity of the team and interpersonal challenges.
In certain situations procrastination can have a really adverse impact.
If the procrastinating on a certain task or project by wasting our time and not doing anything else that is important or urgent, the run the risk of not achieving anything that we set out to do.
We all know people who had tremendous potential but never realised their potential. We do not want to be one of them. If we procrastinate on every task or project that we Want to do, it could be a sign of deeper psychological issues like depression or anxiety. This needs to be taken care of immediately.
Now, the question is the following:
What can we do to make procrastination work for us.
The first step is to understand when and why we procrastinate. Once we know this, we can design our lives in a way that we use procrastination as a strength that can help us get a lot more done and done with a lot more creativity. We need to look for potential reasons why are procrastinating. Some times we don’t even know or realise that we are procrastinating. We also need to look out for signs or behaviour patterns that can shed light on tasks or projects that we consistently procrastinate about. Once we find these tasks or activities, we need to find a way to either make them fun to do or delegate them to our bosses or some one in our team.
Some times it is important to seek help from our teams to find out if there are certain tasks that we seem to consistently procrastinate about. Sometimes, we need someone to help us identify and go to the root of our procrastinating behaviour to alleviate ourselves of the underlying issue, so we don’t procrastinate on that specific task. Sometimes, it’s just that we are not fully trained to complete the task comprehensively and so we end up procrastination. In that case, it is obvious that we need to seek help so we can get trained to complete the work.
When good-enough is good enough:
One other reason why we procrastinate, is because we want to do the task or project perfectly. This quest for perfection is something that can keep us from finishing what we started. This could be a source of procrastination. We need to learn that perfection is an ever-moving target and it is ok to stop our pursuit for perfection and instead settle for good enough.
We need to understand that good enough is mostly good enough, until it is not. We need to know the difference between when it is enough and when it is not. We would do well to find some external help to help us answer this question, as we will be biased (if we are the kind who wants or likes perfection in everything).
Break down projects or tasks:
At times, we procrastinate because we don’t know where to start and how to start. So, when we decide to do take on a task or a project, if we can decide what the next steps are, right at the start of the project, it can be a big help. The same way, we need to breakdown complex tasks or projects into something that is simple enough to be handled simply and quickly.
Deadlines & Commitment devices:
What motivates and gets a procrastinator a shot and gets us to do our best work is deadlines. If we have clear deadlines for the project and the associated tasks (broken down into manageable chunks), we will get back into action and complete the tasks. Put in commitment devices to force you to do certain tasks which we are sure that we will procrastinate on.
For example, if we know that exercising is really important and we don’t really like exercising, we can create commitment devices to ensure that we do exercise daily. One such device could be hiring a personal trainer for a year and ask them to come home every single day or commit to exercising with someone every day or donate 10 USD to a charity or a politician that you don’t really like for every day that we don’t exercise. Make this automatic, so that you can’t reverse it. There are technological tools available for you to get these kinds of devices set up.
Sometimes we procrastinate when the task that we want to get done is not fun and is plain boring. If that is the root cause of our procrastination, there are two simple ways we tackle this.
>> Introduce an element of fun into the task. For example, if we dont like doing grocery shopping in the nearby mall, we can instigate a game out of it – challenge ourselves to complete the entire activity in half the time that it usually takes us or something similar.
>> One other way is that we set ourselves a specific time limit for us to do this task. Once the time is up, we stop doing until it is time to do it again. This tells our brain that it is only for a small duration of time that we need to do this is task and we give ourselves the permission to stop at that time. We can use the pomodoro technique here for this purpose.
Either ways, getting started is the key to beat procrastination.
Fear of Failure:
The most important reason why we procrastinate is our fear of failure. We dont want to be found short of. We are fine to tell ourselves that if we wanted to do something, we we can do it, if only we tried. We don’t like to try and find out that we were not as good as we thought we were. This fear of failure or the need to tell ourselves that we can do whatever we want to, if only we put ourselves to it.
Dealing with the fear of failure is a blog in and of itself. However, the most basic and fundamental way to deal with this is to get philosophical. We need to understand that failure is not a person, its an event. Just like any event, it will come and go. Also, we need to tell ourselves is that we can only control what we do. The result of what we do is not in our control. Once, we accept this reality, it becomes much easier to handle this fear and get started.
As I said at the start of this post, procrastination is an inherently human trait, but we can use it to our advantage rather than suffering due to its presence. We need to become self-aware of what, where and why we procrastinate. Once we have done that, we can put in place strategies, structures and processes to ensure that our procrastinator works for us rather than against us.
This post is inspired by this post on the Strategic Coach.
PS: Here are some videos that you will enjoy on this topic: