Nancy Giordano

CEO | Brand Futurist, Play Big, Inc


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Why do we always want to brainstorm new ideas for issues that may already have brilliant solutions begging to be scaled or refined?

Healthcare efficiencies, education reform, getting a handle on the obesity epidemic, (insert pending crisis here) -- it seems I often am invited to give my advice on how to address these HUGE issues in surface, topline ways, usually without even understanding what the real problem is we are trying to solve ("here on this whiteboard, what's your idea for fixing education?"). Is anyone studying what is already out there and what seems to gaining traction?? Who determines the feasibility? Rather than create from scratch, can we build on and help refine or shape ideas that already have equity and momentum and which simply need some fresh thinking or more support to grow? Why does "new" seem more important than "smart"?

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    Mar 6 2011: I think that there are multiple processes at hand that inform this issue. Problem-solving is composed of individual and group process. Here are some threads of thought that inform my perspective:

    -There is a model of group process called "Dynamics of Success" that you may be familiar with. Its image is a triangle and at each of the points are the following concepts: product, process, and relationships. There is always a tension between these during the problem solving process, and ultimately what we want is high quality in all three areas.

    -Eleanor Duckworth discusses the pleasure of learning found through "The Having Wonderful of Wonderful Ideas." As we see in our 100-year experiment called public schools in the United States, pleasure is certainly lost when someone just tells you that something is right and the best idea and takes away your opportunity to discover things for yourself.

    With these things in mind, I think that what could come out of this conversation is a smarter process to engage people in for problem-solving, because I think, as others have mentioned, we are generally not using our resources (research and reason) to their fullest capacities.This would in fact be an enactment of what you are asking for. There are already models of process out there that could be built upon to account for your concerns. I point to Interaction Institute for Social Change as a global expert in such processes.

    A personal example: I am currently enacting Jaime Oliver's TED Prize wish through my work in the Communities Putting Prevention to Work program, a federal initiative to prevent obesity. I approached the problem as you wish people did generally. I researched what was out there, what was working, and what showed promise. I am now implementing and innovating those ideas. It is effective, and it is good practice.
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    Mar 3 2011: I've always wondered this, too. I think opportunities to "brainstorm new ideas" should always begin with a look at what's already out there to see why they're not being better employed, or if there are improvements to existing ideas that might work better. I think part of the problem is that there are a lot of opinions about what the best solution to the various problems are. And I think another consideration is that there usually isn't a one-size-fits-all solution in the first place. I don't think there's any one perfect solution to education reform, or our health care problems or many of other social ills.

    Maybe what would be more productive than brainstorming new solutions, would be taking a look at the most promising selection of already existing promising solutions and finding ways to implement them, or bring them together in the most useful fashion.
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    Feb 15 2011: Limited access to information could lead to people not even knowing about the solutions. Further, solutions can in many cases be 'culture' or locale specific thereby requiring a new approach.
    Or merely ego! The desire to be an original creator or thinker or problem solver and more importantly to own the solution?
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      Feb 21 2011: I've also noticed, on a community forum that I'm active with, that the same questions crop up again and again and again. Nobody ever does a search.

      So when you say "limited access to information" I think that often "limited willingness to find out what has already been said" would be more true. But, to be fair, wading through thousands of pages of internet chat in order to find what you're looking for is a lot less attractive than asking an expert.

      Of course, if someone doesn't have internet access then it's a different story.
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    Feb 15 2011: I think most people are hoping for a quick simple fix - one that is easy to understand and doesn't require much effort. So they keep on asking the question, and ignoring the answers that don't fit their requirements.

    Example: I once had an argument with my MP (Member of Parliament, elected representative in the UK) about the fact that he wasn't using recycled paper in his office. He referred me to Friends of the Earth, who sent me a very detailed report on the labour, energy, chemicals and other resources used in recycling paper compared to other sources . The conclusion was that, in that specific instance, it was better to use paper made from a farmed trees. Fair enough, but at exactly the same time our local government - controlled by the same party operating from the same office - was introducing a paper-recycling scheme because the public expected it. The nuances of the debate were too complex for most people to think about, even though the politician in question had done his homework and made efforts to act responsibly within his own organisation.

    Telling people that there is no big single answer, that they have to weigh all sorts of variables that change constantly and adopt tailored policies that are specific to one time and place, and may change in the near future.... nah, it's too hard. Let's just someone else.
  • Mar 7 2011: I think it is extremely imperative for us to brainstorm new ideas for issues that already have brilliant solutions, reason being that the challenges facing humanity in our contemporary world keeps increasing in different forms. We have to keep brainstorming new ideas because we will not be able to solve these challenges at the same level of thinking we were when we created them.

    Every human being is born with potentials which are usually provoked by challenges and in the course of brainstorming new ideas on how to solve theses challenges, we end up with new discoveries and innovations that enhances humanity.

    If brainstorming new ideas is not encouraged, we will have to depend only on the discoveries of our predecessors without using our potentials for the improvement of our society.

    For those who brainstorm new ideas only with the aim of getting credit as “original thinkers”, it is important to educate them on the fact that they can achieve a lot more if they don’t care who gets the credit.
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    Mar 7 2011: It's a slightly controversial subject given how often it happens and the effects that occur afterwards, I think it's partly down to "personal satisfaction." We may all be doing whatever we can to improve lives, save the Planet, and leave our own mark on history, but many people will be looking for as much recognition as possible and be labeled a "Saviour", or "Genius", How often do you see Governments create a BRAND NEW solution to a problem that already has an incredible process to solve it, and Politicians/Contractors/Members of the public say;
    "I came up with this idea, I'm the one who changed this".?
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    Mar 5 2011: Why does "new" seem more important than "smart"?

    Yes, I felt this too. We like watching "new" TED talks, being inspired by them but that's it. We wait for the next TED conference, new speakers, new ideas. Few of us, I think, do further research on the topics past speakers talked about, try to implement the ideas.
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    Mar 5 2011: Its a genuine concern but as we attempt to build on what we already have attained, where an individual can do it simply by implementing his own thought, building on his or her personal pinnacle(s), same action and process in society goes by mutual consent. Every one who is a party to its affects has share of not only opinions but actions as well. Children, with much less experience try most things new to them by themselves while elders are sure what is right and wrong way of doing those. This is experiential learning and most effective one, though it does take toll, as much less of what already has been understood is used to build up further, such many small setbacks assure big slow but firm steps ahead. I do not mean that all are always right for particular matter of judgment but when all are involved, because it is believed that it is about all involved hence involved, different levels of comprehension by individuals lead to a need of democratic system of doing things. Another factor worth consideration is if all involved really are ones who get affected and why every opinion must matter. Social system of deliverance must be worked upon to make sure that able isn't disabled ;) and people who deliver are ones to whom it really concerns.
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    Mar 4 2011: There are no limits for perfection.
  • Mar 4 2011: I think that it's fun to make up an idea all by yourself. I've thought of many many things so far in my life, some intelligent interesting thoughts that I'm really proud of coming up with. Then of course it turns out I wasn't the first person to think of these things. No, not at all, some greek guy from over 2000 years ago thought of it already. And of course he thought of it even more than I had thought of it. He was first and better at thinking about it than me. :(

    Still, thinking for myself makes me interested. I'm a bit of an idea factory and I find the most interesting ideas to be ideas that I've kind of ideas I have thought of myself earlier on, (tough not at all as elaborated as when some long dead adult thought of them) So coming up with ideas, to me, is a good way to start off my curiosity.

    So that probably wasn't what you were going for. (I'm speaking a lot about my personal experience and you're talking about a far more practical issue) But in defense of brainstorming, it's engaging. And just because an idea has been thought of before doesn't mean it's pointless to think of it again.
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    Mar 4 2011: I think this is a politicians' problem, so to speak. Each new group or generation of policy makers, consultants, politicians or public intellectuals has to state that it has a new, working approach to an old problem. People buy the "it's new, so it's good", because they see the same logic in the supermarket.

    Perhaps a good advice is to do some cross-cultural research.

    For example, not long ago I followed a debate on how to make good food more available to poor kids in cities. The debate was in the U.S. Now in Germany, they've been working on this since the early '90s, with school gardens, community farming, neighborhood kitchens, the lot - even deep into policy.

    For Americans: just check what Canada is doing. Then say: we'll do the Canadian thing, only better! This might work.

    The internet should be a massively useful tool here. A "comparative policy database" of sorts would be useful, even though several do exist already (for example on health care).
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    Mar 3 2011: I like the question, "Why does "new" seem more important and "smart"?

    I think some people, not all, have the tendency to want to "own" the idea or be its perceived creator.

    An example: I was talking with a chap about an aquatic biological response which he wanted me to explain. Five minutes later he turned to the audience he was addressing and spoke word for word what I had just explained to him as though he was the source of the information even though he knew very little on the topic.

    While not quite brainstorming, I think it shows an example of how people like to be recognized (ego) as the creator of "something" and that urge leads them disregard what is already known and try to reinvent the wheel (so to speak).

    Very unproductive.
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    Mar 3 2011: Ideas are easy. Scaling is hard.

    A big part of the problem is that in a world driven by profit and personal stature instead of solving common human problems, a lot of the expertise and insight that is needed to scale and replicate good ideas is locked away, and a lot of the resources that it takes to scale and replicate come with complicated strings attached.

    What we need is more cooperative spaces for refining and growing out good ideas.
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    Mar 3 2011: I'd put a different spin on it. We have information overload and a breakdown in the filters that determine what are good, bad, and just uninformed ideas. We tend to start from scratch and go on what to an outside observer looks like a random walk through data because we all have our own culturally and personality based approach to solving problems. Plus, for complex problems involving humans, there is no one answer for every big problem. It is an ecosystem of solutions. So we don't reinvent the wheel. We find the solution that makes sense to each of out, relying on what we view as credible input to shape and then reinforce our plan.
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    Mar 3 2011: Perhaps the reason is that the ideas on the table have not been well or completely communicated and the people involved do not understand that they are the solution that is needed. Perhaps it is merely that the obstacles seem too great to implementing them and that people are hoping for an easier solution.
    Having said that, I am famous at work for saying "we do not have to reinvent the wheel, here. The answer is probably already in the literature."
    Good question- thanks for posing it!
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    Mar 3 2011: Hi Mam,

    we have asked everyone to work on their own ideas before the meeting takes place.

    Once we are all gathered around, we sub divide our topics of interest and begin brainstorming each others ideas.

    This is what is currently working forever. get more and more new innovative ideas and suggestion to have and adopt with New technology with GREEN world.
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    Feb 28 2011: I agree re-inventing wheels is waste of time. But sometimes people are not aware of existing solution thats why they brainstorm. The other reason we are in to highly dynamic time and sysmtem , when everything is changing every moment. We can change is the most ultimate thing, so any existing solution , however brilliant it can be may not be applicable in to the next changed situation. So we need to brainstorm to look in to the feasibility of that brilliant soultion from the perspective of new situation.
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    Feb 16 2011: Thank you for your comments! I totally agree that culturally we have a growing desire to be "the original thinker" -- it's less fun (or harder to become famous) for helping others refine their ideas. And also agree that we are hungry for instant gratification and love the possibility of creating a fast, easy answer. (Even if the issue is so much more complex).

    The strategist in me is eager to better understand the problem, break it down into more actionable issues and then hunt for what is / isn't already working before we jump to create more "instant fixes". For example, rather than ask "how can we fix education?" (literally a whiteboard question I was invited to comment on), one could ask, "what are the barriers to better science/STEM education in grade schools?", or "what prevents more parents from being involved in their schools and what approaches are working best?"

    Bottom line I wonder how we can harness all that enthusiasm and energy that drives the need for "credit" and "instant gratification" in more effective ways??
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      Mar 5 2011: I think you've hit the nail on the head. The issue is one of people wanting credit for what they've done to solve the problem themselves, rather than being willing to work with others to improve on existing solutions.

      One would hope that the need to see the issue resolved would be more than enough to drive cooperation. I'm just worried that folks like to think more than do nowadays.

      Perhaps one way is by trying to figure out better ways to share the information so that those seeking it will find it. You'd think that in the age of search engines constantly being re-calibrated based on what we do seek that it would be easier. It may actually be becoming harder as we're not exposed to those things that we need to be in order to know that a solution is out there.
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        Mar 6 2011: I totally agree with both - there's almost constant pressure to keep up with the info we have access to, which is INSANE!! just think about 50 years ago and the info we had then. Now we're permanently connected to everything, at least in the western world. And that much info makes it that much harder to be ''someone'' - original, recognized, famous even. It's impossible to be original nowadays unless you are completely insane. At least that's how it feels.

        I'm not sure anyone is going to be happy by just contributing to a community instead of taking matters completely in their hands and being a leader - there is so much social pressure about being unique, and the selfishness of it is somehow natural. And then we all want to belong and contribute, in the same time, but we're deadly afraid of someone stealing our ideas or us being less recognized for them. We are afraid of getting lost in the crowd.

        And then again, people that are most original are the ones that take something that's already there, and develop it. Like the famous youtube make-up artists, or mike tompkins, or any researcher that has an idea which comes from a previous study.
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      Mar 6 2011: "Bottom line I wonder how we can harness all that enthusiasm and energy that drives the need for "credit" and "instant gratification" in more effective ways??"

      Perhaps changes in our education systems where more group activity based learning is applied and the groups recognized for their achievements rather than the individual. Would that build on a more holistic approach for the next generations?
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    Feb 15 2011: Our solutions are limited by the way we define the problem. The bigger and more complex the problem, the harder it is to define it properly. Simplifications have to be made.

    As a salesperson and teacher, I've spent a fair amount of my life trying to influence people to define their problems on my terms, rather than letting them decide what shape the answer should be. It sounds like people are asking you to solve the problems that they have defined, rather than asking you to define the problem for them.

    As a teacher, it's my job to tell people what they need to learn. Here in Taiwan, where education is a for-profit industry and teachers are a commodity, people generally come to me with clear expectations of what they need and they expect me to teach them on their terms. The customer defines the relationship, and pointing out that "your way hasn't got results for you in the past" doesn't seem to work. Students expect to tell me what they need to learn, instead of letting me tell them.

    It sounds like you have a similar problem. My solution is to take control. You have to educate people to see the problem on your terms before you can start discussing solutions. Once it has been established that you're the expert, not simply a 'provider' then you can move forward.

    Of course, simplistic arguments dominating the media tend to skew public opinion away from anyone saying anything that challenges the accepted dogma.
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        Feb 20 2011: One-sided, true. But then if you've been hired on the premise that you know what you're talking about and the student doesn't.........

        Actually, you've highlighted an important issue. English language teaching in Asia is usually either Asian people defining english on their own terms or foreign 'experts' who know more about the language but fail to realise that they don't understand the thought processes of their students. Most of the books are completely inappropriate. In both cases, someone has defined the problem without listening to the other person.