Tomorrow morning I will be taking my place on the airplane, comfortably on the last row – which is my favorite spot (nobody bugging behind you, and you can lower your back a bit without bugging someone else). I really like flying, and I don’t mind flying coach. Anyone thought I would be done with flying once I did it more frequently – and now that I do – I still love it.
This time my trip will take me to from the east to the west, and I will be going to rainy Seattle meeting my best friend over there and stay there for a couple of days. We have been practically growing up together, both with more than a standard interest in computers in the time that having a computer at home was still a rarity. Because of that, and also our interest in games as early-teens that still existed out of Q-bird, Pac-Man and the early Sierra’s and LucasFilms’, we got mostly interested in the creation of concepts. Concepts for games, concepts for everything actually.
And that formed our friendship, and even when, about 18 years later we both moved away from the little country in western-Europe; I went to the New York area, and he ended up in Vancouver, a slight 5,000 miles apart. That didn’t stop us. Life has changed a lot for us both, but when we meet, somehow we always end up again doing what we like best; coming up with ideas. Brainstorming. And although Seattle doesn’t really have a lot more to offer to us than Starbucks’, honestly, that is the best place to be when you want to brainstorm.
And I have been working with many people in my career that spans over 17 years of web development. Professionals in design, development, art direction… you name it. But I never have found anybody who has a talent for the most important thing about any creation; brainstorming. Even when companies support brainstorm sessions, they hardly are done right. Often it is forgotten that the best ideas spark when you are comfortable, you feel at home, are with people you respect and like to be with.
And the most important part of a brainstorm is to have someone who is, as I call it, an ‘accelerator’. Coming up with an idea is an expertise, but taking an idea and mold it and make it better is a whole different expertise. Usually, in a brainstorm session they simply put people who are the Seniors in their field in a project. But more often than not they do not bring anything to the table because it takes a mind-set to get into a brainstorm session. You have to be in an open and creative mood, and not everyone can do that.
And in this scenario, more often than not, Seniors are often defending their territory – and keeping themselves safe. A Sr. developer might not be willing to go in a direction that is unfamiliar to him if he doesn’t know if he could realize the concept that is about to appear. And a brainstorm session should absolutely be unbridled, no holding back.
But having only creatives in a brainstorm session is a wrong approach too. I am a creative, and sparking an idea is what happens to me on a daily basis. Some are hopeless, some are brilliant. But the problem is, it is always an idea in its primal state. I cannot get beyond that by myself. If you have 10 people like me in a brainstorm session you might end up with 10 brilliant ideas – but none that is going into the right direction yet.
Having an ‘accelerator’ brings brainstorming to a whole other level. For this you need to understand how creativity works when it comes to creating a spark and a new idea. You literally need a ‘spark’, but just like a real spark, it requires ingredients. And that can be anything; a vision, a word, smell, touch, memory, emotion… it doesn’t matter. But once an idea has sparked, you actually have to ‘re-spark’ it to go to a next level – to see the concept in more depth. To think of new things. A creative can’t do this that easily. Because what caused the idea were the ingredients, and they might have come from anywhere. But if there is an idea, and it is not yet formed, it is hard to get new ingredients out of that idea to boast it to another level.
Hence the ‘accelerator’. This is someone who has the power to understand the idea from a creative’s point of view, takes it, and immediately puts it in perspective. Not in reality, in perspective. This person sees the possibilities, enlarges the playing-field so to speak. He takes the idea, and mirrors it but with all new ingredients that will spark more ideas by creatives.
And, right up until know, working in and with companies that are major players also in the entertainment, creative and IT industries… I can honestly say I only have met one person in my whole life who has mastered this ability.
A brainstorm between me and my friend is never without results. And we have books full of concepts and excellent ideas that are immediately ready for production. And not only are those results relevant, they are perfectly valuable. We have used a couple of them, but mostly we write them up, always pondering about how we ever could produce it. Or, looking back talking about why we didn’t ever do anything with the idea. But the reason for that is simple, for us, we like the process. On my own and with my own company, I build things. But of course, building and content management will take about 95% of the time. And it is the brainstorming that we like the most. So, we have a multitude of ideas and just a tiny percentage actually worked out.
But that doesn’t matter… we have three full days of sitting around, moving from Starbucks to Starbucks and just write down ideas and ideas and ideas. Most probably all to end up in a bookcase again and that we will be looking back in 20 years and wondering why we did not do anything with those ideas. Ah, the good life.