In a brainstorming session, authenticity, immediacy, free-association (without censoring), and a general willing and open atmosphere to entertain all (and I mean ALL) possibilities are essential.

Here’s a real life example:

I was in a brainstorming session with a pet supplies retailer a few months ago.

I was doing my usual no-holds-barred let everything in my head out.

Someone said – “don’t you have a cat?” I said flippantly “oh no, I’ve eaten him.” (Yes, I have a weird sense of humour. And no I have not eaten my cat. Though we have often discussed recipes in detail…)

Some stared. Others frowned. No one picked up on this idea. The judgement was palpable and decisive.

It was clearly an “inappropriate” thing to say. Especially as I don’t have “creative” in my title.

No one knew what else to make of the comment other than decide it was flippant and a waste of effort. It was clearly unworthy of the idea-generation exercise we were supposed to be engaged in.

As it turned out, that inappropriate idea actually held two BIG ideas hidden just beneath the surface:

  1. Just as more and more of us are concerned with organic, slow, home-cooked food, there must also be an emerging market of such things for our pets. Is there an untapped market for pet cookbooks (not the cooking of, but rather for, silly) and cooking courses? I can just see cooking courses for dogs – you bring your dog to sample the results, and meet other dog lovers in the process…
  2. The supplier currently sells all manner of goods that enables the owner to indulge in the love of their pet. What about supplies and services for when the pet dies?! It’s inevitable after all. Pet funerals would have to be a HUGE untapped opportunity. Especially in Singapore where there is no easily accessible land to conduct home burials. (I wonder – how would you get a dearly-departed great Dane down the average garbage chute?)

Because we studiously avoided such inappropriate topics, these two ideas never surfaced in the entire two hour session. Because I had to watch what I said (fear of reprisals), I enjoyed the session less than I would normally, and hence produced less ideas (remember one aim of a brainstorming session is the volume of ideas). Due to censorship and the need to “behave” like a boring grown-up, there were less belly-laughs, less playfulness, and consequently less ideas.

That sounds like a lose-lose arrangement to me! What do you think? Would you have admonished me for voicing an inappropriate idea for someone in my position? Or would you have taken it on and run with it to see where it could go?