The Idea Gap


I am sure you have heard the old axiom “there is no such thing as a bad idea” regarding brainstorming. Well folks, after facilitating over one-thousand brainstorming sessions, I am here to tell you there are bad ideas. I also believe there doesn’t need to be.

The reality is this: brainstorming is a powerful business tool that is often abused and mismanaged. Recent articles written in business publications including Inc. and Harvard Business Review have tainted brainstorming as a waste of time. In many respects, those articles are right. However, in one respect, they are very wrong: businesses need ideas to thrive.

 Ideas Are the Lifeblood of Business

Today’s successful businesses run on ideas. Ideas are critical to get a business to the next level. They affect product development, marketing, operations, culture, and on and on. In most cases, the best people to generate these ideas are the people already employed at the company.

I recently talked with someone from a product development team. When I brought up brainstorming, his eyes rolled back, and he exhaled in disgust. Then he said, “You mean get the sticky notes and brown paper, get in a room with the team, and spend hours generating hundreds of random ideas? Then God help us, try to find a gem amongst the sticky notes? Yeah, no thank you.”

The reality for many companies is reflective in this person’s comment. They believe brainstorming does not require a skill or expertise. Just throw people in a room with a flip chart or sticky notes, and then POOF! Magic happens. Yeah, not so much. To harness the power of brainstorming, companies need to invest in expertise to get to great ideas—either by cultivating brainstorming internally or hiring a professional.

 Who Is Your Brainstorming Expert?

I believe progressive companies need to employ brainstorming experts (some companies already do). This discipline is as important as finance, marketing, or human resources—and it requires someone skilled to execute it. Progressive companies treat brainstorming as an investment because it impacts their competitiveness, efficiency, and culture.

I worked in advertising agencies most of my career. It is perplexing to think why any company whose existence is based on great ideas does not invest in brainstorming experts. Instead, usually the creative director or account executive would lead the session. The agency didn’t train their people on best practices, so it wasn’t a surprise that many sessions resulted in an idea gap—a gap between the team’s potential output and the actual ideas generated. This idea gap is why I wrote this book.

Filling the idea gap begins with a new role I introduce in the book, called an idea architect. This role is designed to fill the gap. As you will see in the book, the idea architect role is much more than a facilitator with a flip chart and some sticky notes. The idea architect is an inspirational catalyst to get the team to think differently. To get out of their comfort zone. To create a business masterpiece.

Creating a Masterpiece

Generating powerful ideas is like creating a masterpiece. It takes passion, experience, and commitment to truly create something great. This is the premise behind Brainstorming with Da Vinci.

In writing the book, I began with the best brainstorming practices I uncovered over my career. Over the past two decades, I led brainstorming sessions for clients including Ford, Pure Michigan, ALDI, Colonial Williamsburg, Shell Oil, and HoMedics to name a few. Throughout my career, I was constantly honing my approach to get the best ideas out of the team.

I further refined my approach by applying successful methods used by artists, writers, actors, and musicians to create a masterpiece or give a memorable performance. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the methods used by a wide array of creative celebrities including Leonardo da Vinci, E.L. James, Eric Clapton, Jackson Pollock, Daniel Day-Lewis, Amy Poehler, and Taylor Swift to name a few.

In this book, I will introduce twenty methods—as well as nine guiding principles to guide you in architecting a successful brainstorming session. The guiding principles will help you set a session up for success and make the team’s ideas actionable. The methods will take your brainstorming to the next level—to get your team thinking differently and maximizing their participation.

By providing the guiding principles and methods, I hope to empower you to lead inspirational brainstorming sessions that generate next-level ideas.

Just Lead the Session

I have a pragmatic perspective of who should benefit from this book. Sure, there are those who may want to make a career in leading brainstorming sessions, but this book is just as beneficial to someone who needs to run a session tomorrow. In fact, even more so. This book is a guide for situations where you are appointed to lead a session and come up with great ideas. The content is meant to give you confidence in running these sessions.

 Built for Everyday Brainstorming

While writing, I discussed the content in the book with many people to understand how it relates to different disciplines. One these discussions was with my aunt, who retired after teaching of third and fourth grade for thirty-eight years. She was interested in the content and how it related to her teaching career. She discussed how teachers were always brainstorming with other teachers; but also, she would have her students brainstorm as a part of her teaching approach. The conversation made me think of the many everyday situations in which the Da Vinci approach could be used for different professions and personal experiences.

 The Da Vinci approach is built for everyday situations, such as:

  • Brainstorming how to improve operational efficiency for a business
  • Brainstorming how to increase donations for a charity
  • Brainstorming ways to increase employee morale
  • Brainstorming techniques to engage students within a subject
  • Brainstorming ideas on a church group event
  • Brainstorming approaches to an annual company employee meeting
  • Brainstorming how to increase timesheet compliance at a business
  • Brainstorming on a marketing event to increase customers for a small business
  • And yes, brainstorming on new product ideas

Bottom line, the Da Vinci approach is built for when you must lead a session—and want it to be insightful, productive, and hopefully engaging in the process.

This is an excerpt from my book Brainstorming with Da Vinci.