Jump-Start Your Brainstorming Session

By Heather Baldwin

You’re leading a sales meeting designed to generate ideas about improving communications with your sales team. Things are happening so quickly in your business reps say they can’t keep up with what’s going on, so you’ve launched this idea-generating session to come up with possible solutions. Your sales team is rapidly firing ideas when suddenly it happens – total silence. They have run out of ideas. Worse, they have hit this rut with only about a quarter of the suggestions you had hoped to generate. How can you get things moving again?

Try using the forced connections technique, says Roger Firestien, author of Leading on the Creative Edge (Pinion Press, 1996). Forced connections work by taking the problem you are trying to solve, picking an object around you that is totally unrelated and making a connection or finding a relationship between the two. For example, when you hit a rut trying to solve the communication problem, you might look around the room and notice the uneaten cheese Danishes in the middle of the table. Try forcing a connection between the Danish and the communication problem, says Firestien, and you might come up with ideas such as putting updated company information in little capsules that people eat with their morning coffee; writing company information on napkins and having them distributed with everyone’s morning coffee; or breaking information down into bit-sized pieces that people can read on their lunch breaks. “The ideas you generate by using the forced connection technique might not be the breakthrough you need. They might even seem ridiculous. But they may well help you get the flow of ideas started again,” Firestien says.

If your meeting room is pretty stark, bring along a catalogue with photos. When you find things slowing down pick an item at random from the catalog and see if you can use the forced connections technique to generate ideas related to your problem, says Firestien. Or use the yellow pages to accomplish the same thing. Just be sure to pick a category as far from your problem as possible to get the ideas flowing. “Remember,” he says, “the greater the stretch between worlds, the more novel and unique the ideas you will create.”