“Women are the reason we’re no longer inventive”

In a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory Sheldon, Raj, Leonard and Howard decide that they are no longer inventive because they now have women in their lives.

Series 8, episode 5 of The Big Bang Theory (The Focus Attenuation) sees the girls banished (they go to Vegas, poor things), to give the boys time and space to brainstorm.

In typical style, the boys quickly become a spectacle. If they aren’t immediately denigrating each other’s ideas, they keep getting side tracked by YouTube and DVDs.   Now, it’s unlikely that a corporate brainstorming session would be white-washed by Ghostbusters, but this episode has a host of lessons about the best ways to ideate. Here I share five of our tips for successful ideation.

Away Day – No Way.
Sheldon and the guys believed that they needed an entire weekend to come up with their next big invention. This mistake is one we see over and over again in businesses, both large and small. The belief that if we take everyone away from their desks for a day or two – preferably to some countryside location - wonderful ideas will flourish!

Realistically, humans are not machines. We work best in short bursts. The brain uses about 20% of the body’s energy quota per day. Thinking hard and being cognitively alert is exhausting! What good are we doing our team if we demand this kind of focus for an entire day? No wonder Raj and Howard preferred to watch pigeons playing ping pong than turn their minds to more challenging topics. Rather than waste a weekend failing to ideate, the Big Bang Boys should have been spending 15-20 short sharp minutes effectively brainstorming each day (surely even Penny could leave them alone for that long).  

Solo Brainstorming – Go For It.

One often assumes that team brainstorming is the best way to generate ideas, but there is plenty of research to suggest otherwise. At G2, we advocate a bit of both. Taking the time to formulate ideas outside of the group situation will give you more clarity of thought going into any meeting and it’s also more conducive to the short, sharp bursts philosophy.

Traditional team ideation can also result in the loudest, most confident voice being the only voice heard – think Sheldon. This voice is capable of contaminating the entire session. Even if we dismiss that idea and try to forget it, it’s out there, muddying our perspectives and altering our points of views, so that the resulting ideas are often shallow derivatives of this original idea.

All Ideas Are Valid, So Keep Them.

We’ve probably all been in a situation where you coyly suggest a new idea and someone immediately dismisses it for one reason or another. That idea may not have been the right idea at the time, but there could be another time or place when it will be the right idea. Therefore, just as Leonard had kept their notebook of ideas, our organisations should keep every idea (considered good and bad) for revisiting at a later date. Make sure when you do have team brainstorming sessions, time is allocated periodically for revisiting ideas from the past.

Inspiration Comes From Many Sources. 

We should have a variety of stimulus to view when we ideate. Trade magazines, marketing surveys, focus groups, competitor analysis and new material samples are obvious choices, but thinking outside of the box will separate your business from the pack. We may have derided Raj when he suggested trying to execute an invention from Back to the Future II but actually as stimulus goes, why not? Who wouldn’t want a hover board? And where could that technology lead us…

Ridiculous Can Lead To Realistic.

The biggest and grandest of ideas may seem over zealous and pure fantasy, but when broken down into smaller parts, there is often something in it. Try coming up with a crazy idea and then get colleagues to shape it into something that might be more realistic. For example, Howard had once suggested making a Robotic Girlfriend, but breaking that down into smaller, more realistic parts may have resulted in the invention of a new form of robotic prosthesis.  

The Big Bang Boys fall into many of the ideation traps we see businesses stumble into every day. Unlike our funny, fictional counterparts, here in the land of the real, we can revisit our ideas, reshape our brainstorming sessions and find new, shorter and sharper ways of engaging our brains to the next big idea. Ironically, it’s us who are in a world where anything is possible. Take these tips, give them a try and let us know how your next ideation session goes. For better or worse, you’ll never have Sheldon Cooper to contend with! And I’d love to know how you get on. 

Enjoy reading this? Want more tips on Ideation and Innovation. Take a look at our Programs and Keynotes.


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