Imagine a room. The room is your creative space. The space you have to move freely from idea to idea, and let creativity happen. This room could be a brainstorm session, or just some time to yourself to think. In a perfect world, ideas would just float in and out of that room, and your prepared mind would be able to make those connections that create value.
But people aren’t perfect, and therefore perfect hypothetical scenario’s aren’t perfect. Most of the time, ideas don’t start flowing freely through this creative space. Brainstorm magic doesn’t automatically happen, and even the best sources of inspiration can find fierce opposition making it difficult to create those Great Ideas.
The problem is most of these creative spaces don’t start out empty. People don’t come to a brainstorm session without presumptions or pre-made solutions they’ve already made up their minds about. You don’t start without presumptions about a problem and its solution.
These assumptions and ideas are the elephants. The elephants can be identified by 4 factors:
- They’re big and heavy crowding up the room, blocking the flow of ideas
- They trample any new ideas that do slip past
- They remember everything, clinging to the ways of yesterday
- They’re not easy to get rid of
Getting rid of the elephants
When addressing a problem, it’s important to get rid of the elephants first. These heavy weight ideas that linger in the back of your mind, or your brainstorm attendees will become the lens through which one will see the ideas of others: Compatible or not compatible, instead of being able to look at ideas objectively, and see them as individual sources of inspiration.
The elephants won’t leave easy however, in fact, it’s safe to say they will never completely leave at all. We all look at things a certain way, and have assumptions about things, which is in fact our contribution, not a handicap in ideation. But in order to avoid the elephants wandering around and trampling new ideas, just line them up nicely and park them outside for a moment.
In practice, I find one of the most successful ways to get rid of the elephants is to just ask for these heavy weight ideas up front. Present the problem, then ask yourself or the participants what you/they think is the ‘big issue’ – the one thing that needs to get solved in order to create an effective solution. These ‘big issues’ represent perception. Then ask for their solution to the ‘big issue’ – these are the elephants based on individual assumptions.
List the elephant(s) and acknowledge them as valid suggestions. This will stop the elephants trying to trample new ideas that endanger them, because they’ve already been acknowledged. Furthermore, identifying the assumptions at this early stage could be a way to fuel the brainstorm or ideation process later on. The assumptions often represent fundamentals that follow ‘the way it’s always been done’, and therefore would be ‘foolish to question’. But part of a brainstorm is to question the way things have been done. It’s essential in order to create room for new ideas.
- Realize your ideation process is always hampered by your own or others assumptions
- Assumptions kill or hinder new, creative ideas
- Locate these assumptions
- Use the assumptions to ask questions about the way things have been done