Brainstorming with Da Vinci: Chapter 21

Obvious Springboard

Escaping the Obvious

Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance man. As we’ve explored, he is probably best known for his painting of the Mona Lisa and the fresco of The Last Supper at the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. While da Vinci apprenticed to be a sculptor and painter, his interests went beyond the fine arts.

Da Vinci spent a great deal of time immersing himself in nature, testing scientific laws, and dissecting human bodies. At some point around the age of forty, da Vinci began filling notebooks about his observations and ideas related to four broad themes–painting, architecture, mechanics, and human anatomy. If we review these notebooks (called Codex Atlanticus) today, we will find a wide range of ideas, ranging from flight to weaponry to musical instruments and from mathematics to botany.

Da Vinci’s curiosity to explore solutions is a great example of a divergent mindset. Divergent thinkers generate ideas by exploring many possible solutions, while convergent thinking is using logic to come up with a “correct’ answer. Both are important, but in brainstorming, by letting go the logic of the day, we can explore more possibilities to create innovative solutions.

Obvious Springboard Method

This method is designed to open the team to possibilities by removing the obvious solutions. Since brainstorming often stays within familiar territories, the team is in tune and ingrained with ideas and tactics already implemented. It may be difficult to break free of these ideas. I found that generating a list of the obvious (e.g., ideas, tactics, solutions) is a great way to recognize and remove them as a possibility, to get to original ideas.

There are two ways to generate the list of obvious solutions:  Recall and Audit.

Recall: Done within the Session

Recall works well if the tactics are top of mind with the team. Normally, recall is best for internal North Stars where everyone is aware of tactics attempted in the past. With recall, you begin the session by having the team list all the obvious ideas, tactics, or solutions. Capture them on a white board or flip charts. Make sure the list is displayed when you move onto brainstorming new ideas.

Audit: Done Prior to Session

Audit is used if team members are unaware of all the obvious tactics. This is common for external tactics, like in marketing where a group of competitors are all doing different tactics. It is incumbent on yourself or another team member to audit the tactics used within the category prior to the session. For the marketing example, I would have a person review all the competition’s advertising within the marketplace. The session would kick off with a review and discussion of the audit.

The Obvious Becomes Out of Bounds

Regardless of the approach, the obvious list is comprised of topics to avoid in your brainstorming. When using this method, I usually encounter an initial idea paralysis by the team. This is normal, because the obvious ideas have been removed, and it takes a bit of time for people to think more deeply and truly come up with original ideas.

Obvious Springboard Example
Escaping the Corporate Communication Trap

In discussing the obvious springboard with Linda Taylor, she thought the method was beneficial to think differently about employee communication.

Over the years the channels to communicate information to employees has increased. The following is an example of obvious channels companies use to communicate to their employees.

Through this proliferation of ways to communicate to employees, an effectiveness trade-off emerged:

  • Some channels communicate a consistent message (e.g., email, employee portal) but lacked a feedback mechanism.
  • Human interaction channels (e.g., One on Ones, Weekly Status Meetings), allowed for feedback but often created an inconsistent message as managers put their own spin on the topics.

The goal of the brainstorming session was to think beyond the obvious channels and generate ideas that would increase the consistency of communication and provide a feedback mechanism. .