March 30, 2004 - Business Section
Brainstorming 101: Onward, Into the Fog of Creativity

Gerald Haman
<BR>President of SolutionPeople, a creativity training firm in Chicago

Gerald Haman, President of SolutionPeople, a creativity training firm in Chicago

Last November, I got stuck for two nights in the San Francisco airport on my way to Australia. With hundreds of people milling around, I pulled out an innovation tool I invented called the KnowBrainer and scribbled a sign on paper I got from a ticket agent that read: "Free ideas from Solutionman! I will help you with your goals, challenges or problems while you're waiting."

Much to my surprise, people lined up to get advice. At first I sat on a seat and later on the carpet with the KnowBrainer, which looks like a deck of cards with questions and quotations, inviting people to sit with me, one by one. An inventor was trying to think of variations on his technology-storage device, which he had been working on for over five years. He said he was dreaming about algorithms. Though he had gotten stuck on one particular formula, an Einstein quote in my game seemed to spark some ideas.

An attractive young lady in a revealing outfit actually wanted to brainstorm ideas on how "we" could vacation together in Australia. I had to politely tell her I was traveling on business - and married. We then talked about how she could improve her social life and find a boyfriend. Most of her dates asked the same old questions, like where she went to school, and talked too much about themselves and sports. She decided to try to spice up her e-mail exchanges and phone conversations with men she met on her online dating service.

Then there was a marketing consultant who wanted to bring more "emotion" to an advertising campaign. He showed me some original storyboards, which featured nature scenes and soft colors. But one purple leaf stood out, and after talking with me, he concluded he ought to use more strong colors like purple. Over two days, I visited with over 100 people. People were handing me notes with suggestions at the airport, hotel lobbies and shuttle buses.

I'm a strong believer in a correlation between your environment and creativity. I also believe you should take your shoes off to think properly. If your feet are comfortable, your brain will be comfortable. I've brainstormed in an English castle, on a ship and in a Singapore stadium with 8,000 people, but I found an airport to be a superb place for mental exercise. Lots of space, billboards and things to look at. And you can take your shoes off.

As told to Sharon McDonnell. Reprinted with Permission.