Virtual Brainstorming

On a Wednesday night a major client called and said they needed 10 – 15 big ideas for their re-branding efforts and they needed them on Monday morning… (long pause) …and their budget was limited.

A virtual weekend brainstorm was the only option. So I called my two favorite brainstormers, one in Atlanta and the other in Philadelphia, and we spent a total of thirty hours producing the ideas.

On Monday morning the client was amazed and we were still “high” on the fast track assignment. “Wow… we created those ideas and we were still in our jeans and with our families. No airplanes, no hotels!”

The next week another client asked for a webcast brainstorm so I pulled four colleagues from around the country and the client got eight billable hours of ideation.

Again the client was impressed and we were jazzed at the flow of ideas. Besides getting great ideas, our new virtual clients were getting a great rate with no travel costs.

In these days of just-in-time needs with reduced budget resources, I believe that virtual brainstorming is becoming a viable solution. It’s definitely a better solution than the impromptu brainstorm at a conference center with jet-ragged, Blackberry interrupted, over caffeinated participants.

So please call us with the impossible challenges that keep you awake at night. Let us surprise you with solutions that will make you say… “What a great idea!”

DIY Brainstorming

How to Generate Ideas Anytime, Anyplace

Think back to the last time you were stuck and needed to brainstorm. We’re you sitting in a conference room with your colleagues eager to engage? Probably not… you were staring at your computer alone with your arms crossed and teeth clenched.

Here are the strategies to help you conduct your own one-person DIY brainstorming session with divergent thinking techniques to overcome the lack of diverse participants.

1. State the challenge.

2. Start with the end in mind.

  • What is the result that I want to see, feel and hear? Be specific.
  • Why do I want to achieve this result? Be passionate.

3. What is your “blink” solution?

  • Take five minutes and brainstorm possible solutions to clear your mind of preconceptions.
  • How am I going to achieve this result? Be bold.

4. Be curious first . . .

  • What do I need to be more open-minded about to see new possibilities and to identify “killer phrases” that would stifle my creativity?
  • What is unique about the challenge that I have not seen in another situation? Identifying its unique features can help you see the root cause of the problem or the seed of the solution that you need to grow.

5. Break out of old thought patterns by reframing your challenge.

  • What is similar to the challenge? What analogy can give me insight and strategies to benchmark?
  • How would another industry respond to this challenge? Think like Apple, Zappos, Starbucks, NASCAR, or another country.

6. Visualize the opposite.

  • What’s the exact opposite of the way the competition is doing it today?
  • What if we actually did this opposite idea? Could there be a breakthrough idea here? If so, flip an opposite into an opportunity.
  • Brainstorm ideas you would never suggest as possibilities.
  • What if we actually did this never idea? What’s right about the never idea?

7. Evaluate your ideas.

  • Take your ideas and put them on the wall or lay them out on a table. Rearrange them, combine them and add to them. Be careful not to group ideas that, when combined, hide the unique value of the individual ideas.
  • Create a bulls-eye diagram with “Must Do” at the center, “Ought to Do” on the next ring and “Nice to Do” as the last ring. Then sort your ideas into the three rings.

8. Renovate while you innovate.

As you are creating ideas to implement, it is vital for you to identify unsuccessful or inhibiting programs and policies to abandon that will allow your ideas to be successful. Two questions to ask are:

  • What should I start doing?
  • What should I stop doing?

The energy released from abandoning unsuccessful programs and policies will help drive your innovation efforts.

9. Present your ideas with passion.

Most people only think of one way to present their idea: a PowerPoint presentation with too many slides, charts and words. Create at least two different presentations for your favorite idea and see what you can learn from the divergence of approaches.

Suggested presentation formats:

  • The one-minute elevator speech.
  • The 15-minute stadium speech to your 10,000 fans.
  • The golf-cart strategy: Sell the idea during eighteen holes of golf.
  • The napkin pitch: It’s just what is on the napkin and the story you tell.
  • The billboard strategy: Sell the idea on a highway billboard.

10. A Final Thought: Be curious, be passionate and be bold.


Chic Thompson is author of What a Great Idea! and Yes, but… He is a Batten Fellow at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and adjunct faculty at The Brookings Institution. Harvard Business School wrote a case on his speaking career entitled, What a Great Idea! For more information, go to


Mental Sweatpants

In early November, I have a ritual of pulling out my favorite sweatpants and indulging in the cotton fuzz comfort. My winter wardrobe consists of Nordstrom dress pants for teaching and sweatpants for everything else.

I’ve noticed an interesting paradox. On the one hand, my students comment on how much energy I have in my teaching and conversations with them. On the other hand, when I get home and change into those comfy sweatpants, after 30 minutes, I feel the need for a cup of coffee and some mental stimulus from Comedy Central to recharge my brain.

I feel sleepy, but then when I get into bed at night, I can’t sleep. At first I blamed it on the shorter amount of daylight affecting my biorhythms. But I wondered… could the cotton fuzz be lulling my brain into a state of relaxation, depleting me of energy and killing my mental cardio?

So in mid March I tried a one-week experiment. When I got home from teaching, I skipped the shapeless sweatpants and put on my favorite designer jeans and a nice crisp shirt. I was still comfortable but surprisingly I felt more alert. When I looked into the mirror I looked like I was ready to go out to a social event

Well, it’s now been four weeks without sweatpants and without the afternoon caffeine hit. My experiment with a sample size of one has been a success. I‘m saving the sweatpants for yoga and next winter’s cozy time by the fireplace.

I’m also looking for other pattern-breaking exercises to keep my brain alive. You could call my new workout routine “neurobics”— aerobics for the mind. Here are seven “neurobic” workouts to keep your brain from getting stuck in mental sweatpants:

  1. Move your watch to your opposite wrist.
  2. Listen to a new radio station on the way to work.
  3. Watch a different newscast on TV.
  4. Sit in a different seat at meetings or at the dining table.
  5. Mix and match your clothing combinations.
  6. Drive to and from work via a different route.
  7. Use your opposite hand to maneuver your computer mouse.

These exercises will at first make your brain feel distinctly uncomfortable—and that’s not a bad thing. You will force the non-dominant side of your brain to do things it normally doesn’t do and prompt your entire mind to look at things in different, creative ways. Trust me. Try it, and see what happens!

My favorite exercise is moving the watch. If you don’t wear a watch, just move your iPhone to the other hip or pocket. Then every time you look at the wrong wrist to tell the time, smile. Smiling balances both sides of your brain and diminishes anxiety.

If you’re saying to yourself, “I’m not going to move my watch; it’s fine just where it is,” then realize you might be sentencing yourself to a life of lounging around in sweatpants. Expect your brain to get lazy.

But I have a feeling you’d rather have a lean and flexible brain, so how about you get started this way? When you’re fixing dinner tonight, prepare your meal from scratch. Cut up the raw ingredients; grind the spices; stir, and taste; then stir some more. You’ll again be exercising your brain—rather than just mindlessly dumping ingredients into a container and putting the concoction in the microwave.

Your brain will thank you for taking this time out from your usual mindless routine; hopefully, so will your stomach. And pretty soon you’ll find those mental sweatpants are just too darn baggy and shapeless for your newly toned and tightened mind!


Chic Thompson is author of What a Great Idea! and Yes, but… He is a Batten Fellow at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Founding Fellow at OpenGrounds at UVA and adjunct faculty at The Brookings Institution. Harvard Business School wrote a case on his speaking career entitled, What a Great Idea! For more information, go to

What Questions Did You Ask Today

I’d like you to think back to when you were 5 years old. When we asked on average 65 questions per day, most of them starting with “why.” The average 8 year-year-old asks 41 questions per day and by the time we are 44 years old we only asks six questions per day; most of them starting with “when,” “where,” or “how much.” The number of questions we ask per day doesn’t increase until retirement. Now why retirement?

Because that’s when we start asking, “Where are my keys?” and “Why did I walk into this room?” It could be said “We entered school as question marks and we graduated as periods.” How depressing…

Dr. Jonas Salk, the medical researcher who developed the first polio vaccine, said, “The answer to any problem preexists. We need to ask the right question to reveal the right answer.” What I take away from Dr. Salk’s comments are that we don’t find, create, or invent creative solutions—we reveal them by asking great questions.

So here’s a suggestion: Have you ever played the game Twenty Questions? What if you asked your team to come up with twenty questions about your challenge before you tried to solve it? I guarantee you’ll come up with some creative insights.

Asking great questions is a three-step process. You start with what and then why questions before you ever ask how questions. My favorite first question to ask is:

  • What is the result we want to see, feel and hear? And I’m specific about the vision for the future. Then I ask:
  • Why do we want to achieve this result? And I’m passionate about the reasons to achieve this desired result. Finally I ask:
  • How are we going to achieve this result? And I’m bold about the potential solutions.

The order to these questions is very important. If you start off asking the “how” questions before thoroughly defining your challenge with the “what” and “why” questions, you’d just come up with solutions in regard to an ill-defined problem. Not the best flow for problem solving.

Well now it’s time to give you some homework to increase your question-asking quotient. So tonight instead of asking your kids, “What did you learn today in school?” which gets you the typical “nothing” response… ask them, “What questions did you ask today?” Then encourage your kids to ask you, “What questions did you ask today at work?” Enjoy the new family conversation.

If you are a student, challenge your friends by asking who raised the best question in class today? And, of course, share your questions on social media.

You started school as a question mark asking why. My hope is that you regain that question mark status by remembering to ask great questions every day. Consider how your life might change if you retired as a question mark instead of as a period. Then you might spend your golden years asking, “What great book should I read today? and Why?” rather than “Where are my car keys?”


Chic Thompson is author of What a Great Idea! and Yes, but… He is a Batten Fellow at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Founding Fellow at OpenGrounds at UVA and adjunct faculty at The Brookings Institution. Harvard Business School wrote a case on his speaking career entitled, What a Great Idea! For more information, go to