Brainstorming with Da Vinci: Chapter 33

Location Inspiration

A Place to Excite the Mind

Muscle Shoals is a unique inspirational destination in pop music history.

The northern Alabama town was a popular destination for many artists in the sixties and seventies, including The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Paul Simon, Rod Steward, and Bob Seger to name just a few. The unexpected location and sound lent itself to songs like “Brown Sugar,” “Mustang Sally,” “Kodachrome,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and “Old Time Rock-n-Roll.”

What attracted musicians to the location was the Muscle Shoals Sound. The sound was described as a blend of country, gospel, and R&B. Keith Richards said, “The sound was in my head before I even got there. And then, of course, when it actually lives up to it and beyond, then you’re in rock’n’roll heaven, man.” [i]

The sound was originally produced by four young white guys who referred to themselves as The Swampers. Their musical experience was playing in local rock bands at frat parties at University of Alabama, sock hops, and square dances around the area. Aretha Franklin was surprised by their sound when she commented, “We just didn’t expect them to be as funky as greasy [pronounced greezy] as they were.” [i]

Location matters. By switching the location as these artists did, I regularly see an increase in the quality of ideas. Sometimes I switch the location because the team is in an idea rut. Other times, the location provides inspiration relative to the brainstorming situation. Regardless of the reason, switching the location is an effective stimulus to getting people to think differently.

[i] “Muscle Shoals”, Documentary Film, Greg Camalier, Released October 25, 2013

Location Inspiration Method

Inspiration location is about getting your team off-premises and out of their environmental comfort zone. While convenient, most office environments are uninspiring. Even in some ad agencies, the environment is typically designed to be inspiring, but people still get comfortable with their surroundings. A change of scenery can provide a healthy dose of inspiration.

Planned or Impromptu

Sometimes changing the location can be planned; however, an impromptu switch can be effective if the team hits a creative block. Regardless of whether planned or impromptu, there should be some forethought in picking a location to ensure it will be an effective place to brainstorm.

I would recommend thinking of different locations as a part of your planning process. The offsite sessions can be built into the schedule, or you can keep locations in your hip pocket if you need them to energize the team. Planning a location is crucial. You don’t want to get into a situation where the team energy is low, and you are scrambling to find a place.

Inspiring, Not Distracting

The place should allow the team to focus; therefore, it should not be overly crowded or loud. In selecting a place, think about the location ambiance—which may change based on time of day. For example, your team may choose a local pub, which may be fine at two in the afternoon. However, the pub would probably be too distracting at lunch or happy hour.

Remember Logistics

In planning a remote session, consider logistics like travel time, possible permission/reservations, and the capture mechanism you will use. Several times, I worked with teams that wanted to brainstorm at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). It is a great location; however, you can’t just show up and brainstorm in front of the Detroit Industry Diego Rivera murals given the crowd, lack of seating, etc. When researching the DIA further, I found they had a place called Kresge Court, which is a relaxing courtyard with plenty of seating, food, and wi-fi.