Brainstorming is one of the most powerful creative thinking exercises that a group of people can engage in together. Many companies and groups that have used brainstorming have achieved successes beyond the imagination of any of the participants. So can you.
Brainstorming is quite simple. You conduct it with a group of four to seven people. This seems to be the ideal number for idea generation.
You then create a clear question that demands practical answers. Discuss and agree on the question so that everyone is comfortable with the wording. The simpler the question, the better will be the quality of the answers.
For example, you could ask, “How can we cut our costs of operation by 20 percent over the next ninety days?” This question is clear, precise, specific, measurable, and time-bounded. It is the kind of question that generates the very best quality and quantity of answers and ideas.
The key to effective brainstorming is to focus on the quantity of answers rather than the quality. During the brainstorming session, you encourage everyone to contribute as many answers as possible to the question. Have one person record all the ideas for evaluation and review at a later time.
No ridicule, criticism, or comment is allowed on any idea unless it is positive and encouraging. The fastest way to cut off the flow of ideas is for someone to criticize something that someone else has said. As the leader of the brainstorming session, your job is to make sure that the environment is positive, optimistic, and cheerful. The more ridiculous ideas and laughter, the more successful the brainstorming session will be, and the better the resulting ideas will be. The goal is to get as many ideas as possible and not worry about whether or not some of them sound silly.
The Gulf War
In the Gulf War of 1991, General Norman Schwarzkopf used the principle of maneuver in his famous “Hail Mary” attack. After eliminating the ability of the Iraqi army to get accurate intelligence on the movement of his army, he moved what appeared to be a large force up to the Kuwaiti border. The Iraqi army moved forward to meet the expected attack.
Meanwhile, under the cover of night, General Schwarzkopf had moved 250,000 troops fifty miles to the west. At the critical moment, they launched a sweeping flank attack around the Iraqi forces, cutting them off at Basra and effectively ending the Gulf War. By destroying the enemy’s ability to get accurate intelligence, Schwarzkopf was able to end the war quickly and effectively. He concentrated on reducing the time necessary to win the war and came up with the single most effective maneuver.
A Rocket to the Moon
In 1962, John F. Kennedy pledged that the United States would put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth within ten years. This was an enormous undertaking and was a response to the success of the Soviet Sputnik rockets orbiting the earth. The entire country rose up in a massive commitment to achieve this extraordinary goal.
In the nineteenth century, Jules Verne wrote a popular science-fiction novel entitled From the Earth to the Moon. In this book, he described a craft that took off from the earth, landed on the moon, and then took off from the moon and returned to the earth. This fictional account became the model that the engineers and designers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) used as their theoretical basis for the design of the moon rocket.
However, a problem quickly arose. For a rocket to break the earth’s gravity, it would require many thousands of pounds of rocket fuel. When the rocket landed on the moon, it would again require many thousands of pounds of fuel to break the gravity of the moon and return to earth. The problem was, if the rocket carried enough fuel to break the moon’s gravity once it got there, it would be too heavy to break the gravity of the earth and take off in the first place. The engineers had a real dilemma.
During a brainstorming session, one of the engineers threw out the idea, “Why does the rocket have to land on the moon in the first place?”
The chief design engineer asked him, “What do you mean, exactly?”
The engineer sketched out his idea. “What if we landed only a small part of the rocket on the moon?” he asked. “A small part of the rocket or module would only require a small amount of fuel to break the moon’s gravity.”
This was the breakthrough that led to the lunar module, piloted by Buzz Aldrin and under the command of Neil Arm- strong, that landed on the moon in 1969. Instead of attempting to land the entire rocket on the moon, the crew dropped a small module to the moon while the main rocket stayed in orbit, conserving its fuel for the return journey to earth. At the appropriate time, the lunar module took off from the moon, rejoined the orbiting space ship, and they flew back to earth together.
This breakthrough idea led to the U.S. success in space and the moon landing, something that has never been equaled by any other power, including the Soviets. The Americans won the space race through superior technology and sheer ingenuity. One idea from one engineer in one brainstorming session liter- ally changed the direction of the entire U.S. space program.
The principle of maneuver, expressed in innovation, originality, and creative thinking, continually seeking new, better, faster, and easier ways to achieve the objective, is the key to your success, both today and for the indefinite future.
Like a muscle, your creative abilities improve the more you use them. The more you practice thinking and acting creatively, the more and better ideas you will come up with from all sources. You will eventually reach the point in your mind where you know that there is no goal that you cannot achieve, no objective that you cannot seize, and no problem that you can- not solve by using the creative capabilities of your own mind.