Ways to Stimulate Ideas

There’s a famous direct mail offer that began: "They all laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I began to play…". In our studio, we consider stepping up to the whiteboard equally auspicious. Here are four ways to stimulate ideas:

Scrimmage. Practice with internal teams while the stakes are low. Ask your colleagues to evaluate your effort. Is it legible, orderly, complete? Is ALL CAPS better then cryptic cursive? What’s missing? What’s confusing? There’s no penalty for erasing and re-writing, so don’t hesitate to use your (refreshingly analog) undo and redo functions.

Take turns. Capturing a conversation can be tiring. Remember to trade places. As with serving and receiving in tennis, changing sides also changes your perspective, revealing something you may have missed, challenging assumptions, or prompting a productive digression. Like a relay race, processes go faster and the ownership of outcomes can be shared.

Think visually. Arrows. Dotted lines. Org charts. Venn diagrams. Even rudimentary graphic constructs go a long way toward making certain that the thinking being shared is unambiguous. In our experience, the most ridiculous drawings often become magnets for meaning that help everyone see a complicated idea more clearly.

Learn tricks. Employ color coding (features vs. benefits, mandatories vs. desirables—or all deadlines in red); traceable templates (a perfect circle or a lightning bolt can be a whiteboard shocker); a cool rendering (learn to draw one thing amazingly well and then show it off); or a personal "wingding" (adopt a distinctive bullet point that makes your points your way).

Michael Mooney Partner Catapult Thinking Boston