Welcome to the Business Smoke Break. This article is going to explore one way to prevent making big expensive mistakes. You do this by making lots of small mistakes very early on and in one of the cheapest ways possible. One method is brainstorming, a form of lateral thinking. It’s a way to explore options. Instead of going with the first solution that comes to your head for a challenge, you play with the possibilities and create a number of alternatives.

By generating multiple options for your original idea, you will either reinforce why it is the best or you will discover a better one. It’s like when you lay out several outfits to choose from to wear at a big meeting or how you wrote out multiple challenge statements in June’s Business Smoke Break to orient your team’s focus.

To understand it, you need to just do it. Need some background tunes? Check out this Viet Pop mix by Nguyễn Hoàng Long. Got your head on? Comfortable? Let’s get started.


Get your team and supplies

Round them up or save this for the next time you meet to figure out the latest challenge to growing your business. Pen and paper are a necessity. If you’ve selected your team well, they’ll be open to trying something that will benefit you. There is also the added bonus of providing them with a sense of ownership of the solution by getting them to participate. They become more invested in its success.

Write out the numbers one through ten going down the page
All team members really should do this individually. You’re going to create at least ten different ideas. This will begin to get you out of your comfort zone of what you think the correct answer is. Once you get past the few obvious responses, you’ll find yourself forced to think outside the box. Don’t hesitate to challenge yourself to do more.

Set the clock

Since this is a smoke break and entirely for your edutainment, set a timer for fifteen minutes. Feeling frisky? Set it for ten. If you happen to have gotten stuck in the couch but still want to be productive, then give yourself a full half hour. No worries. Having a hard time limit will help challenge you to not overthink your answers. It’s about generating as many possibilities as possible quickly, not about getting it right.

Crank them out

In your effort to overcome the mental challenge of coming up with the maximum amount of ideas in a short amount of time, you may find some yourself writing out any old thing that comes to mind. That’s great. Let that lead to the next idea. It’s totally cool to get ridiculous during this step. You have to go into space to get back down to earth. Your answers don’t have to be pretty, detailed or correct. You can draw them or write them.

Heck, you can cut them out of old magazines and make a collage like you were scrapbooking ten years ago. This is the entertainment! Feel stuck? Without asking them, consider what your teammates might come up with. Or your kids! Write those responses down. You can even mix and match the pieces you already have. The goal here is to quickly generate a number of possible solutions to choose from.

Share and vote

Get all those ideas you’ve generated out in the open. Even the ridiculous and embarrassing ones. If you have a wall or a white board to post them up on, that can help. If not, lay them out on a table for everyone to see. This may spark a few more ideas, so take a bit of time and add them to the collection. Everyone on your team should vote for the three they feel are the best or most exciting to pursue by putting a mark next to their choices.

Go Forth

Now you can make your action plan on how to move forward. Feel more confident that you’ve explored your options and you have a bunch of alternatives, i.e., tiny, inexpensive mistakes, to support your decision on what direction to move in. When confronted with the question of why you did it, you can say, “Because these were the alternatives and they sucked.” Screw up early and kick yourself less later.

“You have to explore every possibility to find solid probabilities” – Jane West

Brainstorming is a type of lateral thinking. It’s a way to weigh out your ideas and situations. Instead of simply thinking “this is a great idea what are the steps to make it happen?”, have a system for running through your options. You’ll be able to either reinforce why your idea is the right one or come up with an alternative. Nine wrong answers will show why the tenth is better.

Good designers will tell you that the first idea is rarely the best one. Many teams have wasted time and money because they did not know how to explore their options. That’s why you should consider doing a minimum of ten explorations every time you brainstorm. To make your mistakes cost less and to insure a higher chance of success.

Want to learn about other forms of lateral thinking? Click here.

Have any questions? Click here.

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