Judgement is swift

One of my favourite exercises when preparing groups for ideation sessions involves a wheelbarrow.  Not a real one, I hasten to add, but an image of an unusual looking contraption which has the vague appearance (from a distance!) of something that might loosely be described as a wheelbarrow.  The image is used as part of an exercise which starts with showing the group the “wheelbarrow” image and asking each of them to write down three responses to the question “…what do you think of my wheelbarrow?”.  The process then involves asking the group members to read out what they’ve written.  The typical group will thus produce a long list of what are essentially criticisms of what they clearly believe is a poor excuse for the familiar garden implement.  Common responses would be “the wheel’s too small”, or “there’s no handle”, and “the bucket is too big”.  Jo b done!

The exercise continues however, with a second instruction.  The group members are asked to write down one response to the question “…what do you like about my wheelbarrow?”.  Some people struggle with this, but most can find at least one thing they like.  “It’s a nice colour” (the wheelbarrow image is yellow), “it could carry a lot”, and “it might be quite manoeuvrable”.  To round off the exercise I usually describe what happens when you run the same exercise with primary school age children.  Not surprisingly, perhaps, the school kids are much less likely to be concerned with the deficiencies of the wheelbarrow and instead they find it easier to have fun with thinking about wheelbarrows in a different way.

The point of the exercise is to try to encourage group members to suspend judgement when confronted with the new ideas that we’re hoping will emerge from the creative process.  This is very difficult for most of us, but it’s essential if we’re going to get the most we can out of brainstorming or other ideation methods.  Habitual early judgement of any new idea will end up with a pile of disappointment.

For best results from idea generation, however, we need to go beyond passive suspension of judgement and move to active consideration of possibilities.  I think it was Winston Churchill who said when confronted with a new plan during WW2 “…any fool can see what’s wrong with this idea…now someone show me how it can work”.  The message is clear.  Picking faults in an idea is usually pretty easy.  T he harder – and much more productive – task is to get past the faults and be prepared to explore what value might be hidden away in even the most unlikely looking proposals.