The Benefits of Chaos

With all the do's and don'ts and other guidelines outlined here, you may be thinking, "Boy, Monahan is proposing a lot of rules to help me break the rules."

Well, you've pretty much figured out the method to the madness.

When left to their own devices, most people use little discipline in their creative thinking, only to yield totally predictable results.

This is particularly true of groupthink. This chapter (in fact, the entire book) is aiming to impose an order—or, perhaps better stated, "ordered disorder"—to the process to better ensure a less predictable outcome.

When I run a brainstorming session it is my objective to create such a discord of thinking that it causes participants to be constantly off balance. I look to constantly create an effect not unlike the first shot in billiards when all balls scatter every which way, when anything can happen, and something often does. When most people think through an issue, it's more like calling a shot, lining it up and sinking it, which might be good when shooting pool, but it's the worst way to try to find a new idea.

At one session I ran a few years ago to brainstorm a new name for a company, we had the typical chaos, the antithesis of Robert's Rules that characterizes the groupthink meetings I conduct. In a session like this, there can be only one winning ideating team. However, afterward an executive came up to me and said, "Everyone's happy. They all think it's their idea," implying that the chaos had an unexpected benefit.

Sometimes to keep your thinking unpredictable you need to create a little orderly chaos. I say, do whatever it takes to get to fresh ideas. The rewards are worth it.

Cheat Notes for Chapter 19: Storming the Brain

Allow enough time to get beyond the surface in your thinking.

Shoot for 20 to 30 participants total. A large (but not too large) group yields more ideas.


Divide this group into teams of four to six people for more diverse thought and to dilute the impact of those who "know all the answers."

Invite a wide variety of people to participate, and go outside the core group.

Do a warm-up mental exercise to break the ice.

• •

Brainstorm in bursts; people are much better in many small sprints than in one long marathon.

Have everyone jot down their own ideas on sticky notes.

Ask people to stand while they are ideating.

Keep pushing for quantity, and quality will surface.

Distill the output periodically. Don't wait until the end.

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