Productive Brainstorming Starts with the Right Question

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Productive Brainstorming Starts with the Right Question

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Finding new ways to improve processes and overcome challenges often involves bringing diverse individuals together for productive brainstorming. Moreover, these gatherings typically revolve around questions like “Can we upgrade this?” or “How can we make things more efficient?” Nevertheless, framing questions as commands can inadvertently limit creativity. When the brain perceives a command, it triggers a stress response that can hinder creative thinking. In this regard, this webinar explores a more effective approach inspired by the question, “How might we . . . ?” This particular phrase fosters open thought and creative responses. Throughout this captivating journey, we’ll delve into the neuroscience behind stress responses. Then, we will cover the power of inviting curiosity and playfulness into problem-solving to start productive brainstorming.

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The Brain’s Reaction to Commands: A Barrier to Creativity

Words like “can” or “should do” are in the field of commands that limit creative responses; when the brain hears a command, it shuts down. Furthermore, one of the first reactions to a command is a stress signal that alerts the prefrontal cortex to a possible challenge, resulting in a fear that something is wrong and a pending judgment is near. As evidenced by an interesting article on stress shutting down neural circuits in response to even mild stress. Scientific American explains that stress initiates a cascade of chemical processes that diminish the functioning of the prefrontal cortex and enhance the influence of older parts of the brain. Consequently, the prefrontal cortex relinquishes its high-level control over thoughts and emotions to structures like the hypothalamus and the amygdala, which evolved earlier in the brain’s development (April, 2012).

Moreover, the brain’s response to commands often triggers stress, hindering creative thinking. This is substantiated by scientific studies that have shown how stress can weaken the prefrontal cortex while activating older brain structures like the amygdala. This reactive pattern limits our ability to think innovatively and explore new solutions.

The Magic of “How Might We . . . ?”

Warren Berger’s HBR article on innovation, “The Secret Phrase Top Innovators Use,” introduces the question, “How might we . . . ?” Notably, this gentle phrasing encourages open thinking and creative responses. By embracing this approach, we create a safe space for idea generation without fear of judgment.

Fostering Innovation through Play

Innovation and creativity thrive in relaxed, carefree environments where the mind is curious and excited. This concept is akin to the joy of play, where possibilities are limitless. By actively adopting an invitation to play, organizations can unlock their creative potential and inspire fresh solutions. In these carefree environments, the mind has a curious, exciting environment that leads to the brain that wants to jump into the fresh surroundings of unlimited possibilities. It all starts with the invitation to play.

Productive Brainstorming

In the quest for innovation and problem-solving, how we frame questions can significantly impact our outcomes. Transitioning from command-oriented questions to the open and inviting “How might we . . . ?” can unleash the full creative potential of teams. As we delve into the neuroscience of stress and creativity, remember that a playful and open mindset is the gateway to exceptional results. Join us in our upcoming webinar to delve deeper into these strategies and empower your team to achieve amazing results through creative problem-solving.

Headshot of Judith Cardenas
Judith Cardenas, Ph.D.

Judith Cardenas, Ph.D., is the President and CEO of Strategies By Design, a consulting firm specializing in behavior design and innovation. She holds a Doctorate in education administration and training and leadership development from Harvard. With certifications in corporate coaching, ROI, innovation, and service design, she has served clients such as the UN, U.S. Navy, and MIT.

Connect with Judith on LinkedIn.

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