Brainstorming with Da Vinci: Chapter 13

The Muse

An Inspirational Persona

In Greek mythology, the muses were nine inspirational goddesses of literature, science, and the arts. When I think of a muse, it is not from Greek mythology; rather it is a person inspiring an artist to create a masterpiece. While I researched muses for artists, sculptors, and authors, I became especially enamored with the muses that motivated a songwriter to create a hit song.

Passion is a powerful emotion leading to a hit song. John Legend wrote the song “All of Me” about his soon to be wife, model Chrissy Teigen. Another song inspired by passion is “Layla” by Eric Clapton. The muse for the song was Pattie Boyd, who at the time was married to George Harrison of The Beatles. Eventually, George and Pattie split up, and in the end, Clapton married Boyd. Pattie was also the muse for another Clapton hit song, “You Look Wonderful Tonight.” Clapton once said about a muse, “I wish I could write easily. I’m one of those guys who’s visited by the muse when things are dire.”

Pain can also be a strong motivation to creativity. No Doubt’s song “Don’t Speak” was written by Gwen Stefani because of her breakup with the band’s bassist, Tony Kanal. Two Fleetwood Mac songs were inspired by the breakup of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Lindsey wrote the song “Go Your Own Way” in response to their breakup, while Stevie had a different take in the song “Dreams.” Stevie told Q magazine in June 2009: “It was the fairy and the gnome. I was trying to be all philosophical. And he was just mad.”

A muse inspires songwriters to create something great, and a muse can be just as impactful in brainstorming by providing an empathetic perspective. The muse is a tool to get the team to look at the situation through the eyes of someone who ultimately will be affected by the brainstorming. This is important because a human tendency is to view a problem through our personal experiences. Thinking back on the many brainstorming sessions, this is one of the most used Da Vinci methods, because it is so effective in impacting ideas.

The Muse Method

In a Da Vinci session, the muse is communicated through a persona. A persona is an emotive representation of the North Star target. Visually, the persona is often illustrated on a single page. While I have seen personas written with a lot of data, I prefer to keep them simple and focus on just the key desire of that person—and a few relevant insights. I include examples of marketing and human resources personas at the end of this chapter.

A persona is a useful tool for the idea architect because a human tendency is to project ourselves into the brainstorming. A persona is an objective mechanism to keep participants seeing the situation from the affected person’s viewpoint.

I use personas for most of my brainstorming sessions. Sometimes, there is just one persona. Other times, I create multiple personas, because I identify people with different desires. When I worked on a project for Bob Evans restaurant, I identified three different desires that affected a customer’s decision on where to eat. These desires included:

  • Customers motivated to get the best deal,
  • Foodies who craved specific menu items, and
  • Parents looking for family time to slow down and catch up.

I created a persona representing each distinct desire.

Capture the Desire

A key to creating a persona is capturing the desires of the person you are trying to impact with your brainstorming. As I said, this person could be a customer for marketing brainstorming, an employee for a human resource brainstorming, or student (or parent) for an educational brainstorming. These are just three examples; however, I have used personas in many additional situations where the purpose of the brainstorming was to influence a group’s decisions or actions.

The desire should be the focus of the persona because it is the why behind their behaviors. Focusing on the why is important, because if you want to influence someone’s actions, then you need to know what motivates them.

There are different ways to research persona desires. The simplest is using the internet to find existing research for your target persona. Other methods can include focus groups or surveys. The latter options tend to be more costly and time intensive, but they provide more relevant data than general research. 

Keep the Persona Focused

A persona is meant to be a reminder mechanism. Think of it like photos you took while on a vacation. The photos bring back memories of the experience for you and your travel partners. Most session will have an immersive experience covering key insights vital to the brainstorming. The persona is used to remind people of the most important insights (not all the insights), like a photo triggering memory of the best parts of a vacation.

There is no one format to write a persona. Some approaches are minimalistic, others “trash-can” the persona and try to fit every factoid on one sheet of paper (not recommended). I lean toward “less is better” and only include information within the persona that is instrumental to focusing the brainstorming.

The examples I provided are focused on a singular desire. You can always add information to this persona, but you should only add what’s relevant to helping you focus the team (rather than all ancillary information you found interesting).

Multiple Personas May Be Necessary

Based on the diversity of a solution, you may need to create multiple personas to capture multiple desires. This is the case with the examples I provided for restaurant marketing customers and a human resource work-from-home session. When you have multiple personas, you will spend time on each persona in the session to come up with different ideas.

The Muse Example
Personas about Deciding Where to Eat

IIn my career, I worked on different restaurant brands. I already mentioned Bob Evans, but I also guided sessions for the fast-food eatery, White Castle, and a local Detroit fast-casual restaurant. Each brand has unique desires that drive the customer’s decision on where to eat. The typical north star for these sessions were threefold: to attract new customers; to get them back more often; and to get them to spend more.

The personas prompted the team to go beyond general ideas and generate solutions to tie a customer’s desire with the desired decision. The ideas from the session could impact the restaurant’s products, in-store experience, or marketing tactics. The following are several fast-casual restaurant personas.