Creative brainstorming in the corporate environment can often be a challenge. There’s almost always someone in room who doesn’t speak enough and always someone who speaks way too much. Egos can impede the entire process, particularly if one of them happens to be the boss. An overbearing manager can bring the entire process to a screeching halt leaving some fantastic ideas, ideas that make you money, totally unexplored.
Creativity in today’s workplace is needed now more than ever. Thousands of businesses nationwide are passing up a golden opportunity to innovate, which is vital for survival, simply out of fear. The newspaper business, which is where I spent the bulk of my career as a cartoonist, is a prime example of an industry afraid to change, afraid to invest the money it takes to reinvent the business model. Papers across the country are laying off some of their most creative talent and cutting content to save money in a time when they need to be totally committed to out-of-the-box creativity and innovation.
So what can we learn from the collaborative relationship of John Lennon and Paul McCartney that can translate to the corporate environment? Plenty. I think there are some key elements that Lennon and McCartney used to create some of the most lasting music of our time that we can incorporate into the day to day creative brainstorming in the workplace.
Brainstorming with the Beatles
1. Check the egos at the door. To have successful sessions of creative brainstorming it’s vital that everyone is free to pitch ideas equally. There can’t be a pecking order and there can’t be a room full of yes sir, bobble heads. Unless, of course, you want really crappy ideas that make the boss feel like he’s Einstein when his creative IQ is more like Goofy. The reason Lennon-McCartney worked so well is there was mutual respect. It worked for them and it can work for you.
2. Give every idea a chance. Everyone involved in the session must be totally free to submit whatever idea they have on their minds without the fear of ridicule or apprehension. I’m pretty sure the idea for the song “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” sounded a little lame at the time.
3. Be the Yin to their Yang. Lennon-McCartney did the bulk of their songwriting by throwing out small ideas that were the exact polar opposite in lyrical content of the song they were working on. Always remember that “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time” was countered with “It doesn’t get much worse”. That’s Yin and Yang.
4. Be Fearless of Failure. Not every song the Beatles recorded was a hit. Don’t expect every brainstorming session to be one either. Keep digging and eventually something will click .
5. Find the right atmosphere to Create in. Lennon and McCartney did a lot of their creating in hotel rooms and recording studios. While those places can be stifling, kind of like the boardrooms we brainstorm in, you can bet they were comfortable and relaxed. Have a day of casual dress, meet at a bowling alley and do your brainstorming while bowling a few frames. Break out the Hawaiian shirts, put on some Jimmy Buffett, string up a few Christmas lights in that boardroom and start the meeting over Virgin Pina Coladas and Margaritas. Now that’s an atmosphere you can create in
6. Check the cell phones and blackberries at the door. Distractions are the mortal enemy of creativity. Sure, a bowling alley isn’t exactly quiet, but it’s a lot better than someone taking a cell phone call in the middle of a brilliant brainstorm. Set aside the time and treat it with care. Lennon and McCartney wrote about Penny Lane, not ON Penny Lane. And neither should you.
7. It’s brainstorming not brain surgery. Some people thrive under pressure and great things can be created under a tight deadline but to put expectations on every session is just not conducive to great brainstorming. Sure Paul McCartney got the melody and structure for the song “Yesterday” all at one time. But he went around singing “scrambled eggs” for weeks until he could find a lyric more suitable for the song. So throw some windup toys on the boardroom table, cater in some ice cream and have some fun while you’re thinking up the next great idea. Relax. It’s only brainstorming.