Brainstorm at Mauna Loa last night. Just for fun. We used this as our excuse, and we'll come back to it later, but it really - for me, it ended up being more about stretching out those parts of my brain that hadn't gotten a chance to shake their legs for far too long. I love brainstorms; they put me into flow state almost immediately. I love being in them, facilitating them, teaching other people how to run them. The great thing about it is that anyone can brainstorm, and it's a difficult art to learn how to truly do well - minute to learn, lifetime to master.

Some highlights of last night:

  1. Worst Thing: ("What's the worst thing you could imagine doing for the world - something that would hurt the most people most deeply in 1-2 years?") "Global infertility!" "Anarchy for a day!" "Detonate all U.S. nuclear weapons!" "All white people are automatically made slaves!" "One Handgun Per Child!"
  2. Worst Thing, Flipped: ("Now take these ideas and do a 180 on them - what's their opposite? Give specific implementations.") This led to things like "free speech punishable by death" (I forgot the exact phrasing) flipping into things like "tax breaks for property owners who allow part-time use of their land/office/home as open meeting space for the public."
  3. Cultural artifacts and internet memes: ("Break time. What are the coolest things you've heard about on the internet, or weird things from whatever you consider as 'your heritage' right now?") Examples: robots that follow you around to give you a seat, boba tea, long beards, "we eat too much biscotti", space elevators.
  4. Outlandish implementations: ("Great! Now use only things from the 'artifacts and memes' list to implement things from the 'worst thing, flipped' list.") This was designed to break us of two habits we were running into: (1) our ideas weren't wild enough, and (2) they were too vague - we had things like "inspire children," but not implementations like "inspire children with encouragement-bots that give them cheese for every new idea they publicly express."
  5. Superbowl commercial time: ("In pairs, make a 30 second ad spot for one of these ideas.") The aforementioned encouragement-bot was one; then there was Andy P lolcat-petitioning in front of Chris's polluting factory ("No can has... *gurgle* ...oxygen!") and RoboPew, which gives guests a running text commentary on appropriate behavior and the theological meaning behind actions taken during a spiritual service with which they are not familiar. The W.E.E.! World Elevator Ejector left us choked with laughter and unable to do anything for two full minutes afterwards.

We didn't get to a whole bunch of my favorite brainstorming techniques - the use of props, for one - and I would love to have warmed up or had a break with a little bit of improv theatre style training, and if we'd had time to reflect on how we were doing at applying the (semi-improvised, semi-written-from-memory) Rules of Brainstorming before we launched into a second round, I think it would have been even better. But as it was, we ran a long time with a lot of energy, and I was surprised when we all thought of checking the clock and found that it had dragged past midnight (at which point we hurriedly wrapped up so I could catch a train before the MBTA shut down for the evening).

O Metabrain: I want to learn to brainstorm better. Who are the best ideators you've ever come across, and those who are best able to bring out uninhibited, inspired crazy thoughts from others, suspending judgment for a moment?

Also, I've gotten multiple queries during the last few brainstorms I've facilitated as to whether I could teach others how to run the kinds of brainstorms that I do. My technique reflects the wildly varied ideation training I've had over the past 8 years - I use different bits of improv theatre, ethnographic fieldwork, classroom teaching, and quick-and-dirty engineering prototyping tools to kick groups out of mental ruts.

We're thinking of 3-5 weeks from now (in Boston). This would be completely free and open to the public since I'll still be learning how to teach this kind of thing effectively (I'll be practicing by teaching some friends beforehand). Drop me a line if you're interested and I'll let you know when we work out details.