Scattered Thoughts With Intermittent Brainstorms

December 2015 image

If you want your business to stay viable, visible and competitive in the coming new year, it’s essential that your staff not only have a sense of ownership in that process but also be invited to show you what they’ve got in terms of untapped creativity and problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for a risk-averse manager to use “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” as an argument to discourage initiative. By the time the breakage occurs – sometimes irreparably – the chance is often lost to hear solutions that may have been floating in the hallways all along and yet were never actively solicited.


Thinking Outside the (Suggestion) Box

If the drop-slot of your employee suggestion box is crisscrossed with cobwebs, it’s time to embrace a more interactive approach to feedback. Distribute questionnaires (with an option for anonymity) to gauge staff satisfaction levels with working conditions, procedures, policies, and perks/privileges. Demonstrate that you’re actually receptive to input by publishing the results in your company newsletter and using them as your talking points for the launch of a brainstorming task force. This strategy works well if the size of your organization precludes a full group meeting or if you’ve observed that workers are hesitant to speak out with suggestions for fear of rejection or reprisal.

Thought Bubble Diversity

Within any goal-oriented group – be it TV sitcom writers, nonprofit volunteers or corporate committees – there are typically four personality types: leaders, creative thinkers, analysts, and pleasers. If all the participants in your think-tank session are drawn from the same quadrant, don’t hold your breath for progress to ensue. Why? Because functionally they will cancel each other out: the leaders will grapple for power, the creative types will bounce off the walls, the analysts will scrutinize everything to death, and the pleasers – too timid to offend anyone – will assume the role of bobblehead yes-men. Likewise, if you’re exploring new ideas which will impact multiple departments, the reception to those ideas upon implementation will be a lot warmer if each division had a rep involved in the planning stages.

Forbid Podium-Hogging

What do brainstorming meetings and elementary school classrooms have in common? They are either a scene of cacophonous pandemonium in which everyone talks at once or a setting wherein a handful of know-it-alls dominates the discussion and intimidates the rest into silence. For a brainstorming session to be effective, you must not only brush up on Robert’s Rules of Order ( but encourage full participation as well. To get the conversation started, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of The Problem. In other words, what, exactly, are they there to solve? Next, have each participant write down his/her solution to the problem on a folded slip of paper and put it in a bowl. Each “anonymous author” idea is then drawn forth and written on a whiteboard for everyone to see. Start with the first idea listed and ask each participant’s opinion regarding that idea’s merits and flaws. Set a timer so no one is allowed to hog the stage with a filibuster. Rebuttals and interruptions are not allowed when someone has the floor. Ideas that accrue a higher number of negative hash tags are erased. Once you have gone around the entire room, start the process again, gradually whittling down the list – and incorporating modifications – until you arrive at a solution that everyone can agree with.


As energizing and empowering as these brainstorming techniques can be, however, an absence of sincerity – coupled with an unwillingness to compromise – is the quickest way to kill esprit de corps. Whether you’re requesting fresh ideas and then stealing them, trivializing contributions or ascribing value based on rank, or asking for input on a decision you’ve already made, it won’t take long for employees to start keeping their best thoughts to themselves or, worse, giving them to your competition.

Wherever you are in the world, here’s to a joyful holiday season and a spectacular 2016!

Office for One

P.S. Will this be the year you decide to go into business for yourself? If so, you’ll want to add Office for One: The Sole Proprietor’s Survival Guide to your wish list. Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle, this indispensable resource is perfect for any entrepreneur who wants to go it alone without getting lonely.



A Boy and His Tiger



It’s hard to believe that the mischievous Calvin and his anthropomorphic pal Hobbes have been gone now for 17 years. On December 31, 1995, the 3,150th and final cartoon strip of Bill Watterson ran in newspapers across the country. Calvin and Hobbes were pictured in their sled atop a hill of freshly fallen snow. “It’s a magical world, ol’ buddy,” Calvin declares. “Let’s go exploring!”

Not only were fans crestfallen but critics a decade later decreed that Watterson’s decision to end the popular series created a void that no one was prepared to step up and fill.

So what possesses someone to walk away from not only a huge fan base but also a steady income? In Watterson’s words, “My interests have shifted and I believe I’ve done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises.”

The first day of a new year is often a time of reflection and reinvention – a “clean slate” opportunity that is as beckoning (and daunting!) as a fresh blanket of snow. Have you always wanted to start your own business and be your own boss? Type “Chapter One” or “Fade In” on that novel or screenplay that has been swirling around for years in your head? Throw caution to the wind, pack your essentials in a bag and visit those exotic ports of call that have long enticed you?

What’s stopping you?

Maybe it’s all about hopping on your sled, tuning out the naysayers and taking a bold leap of faith.

Back in the 1980’s I was running a touring theater company, The Hamlett Players. (Hey, with a last name like Hamlett, is it that surprising I’d do be doing something theatrical?)  I was writing all of the scripts, auditioning and training all of the actors, generating all of the publicity, booking all of the productions, and doing rehearsals four days a week and running shows the remaining three. It was grand fun but one day I woke up and asked myself if it was really something I wanted to be doing forever.

As much as I loved acting, writing and producing, only one of these fields – writing – represented not only the longest shelf-life but also the most portable skill set that wouldn’t tie me to a permanent address. When I announced my decision to my board of directors, my actors and the audiences we had served, the reaction was one of astonishment…and anger. How could I just walk away from something that had my own name on it and that I had built from the ground up? What was everybody supposed to do if I wasn’t there to put words in their mouths? 

Despite my offer to support anyone who chose to take over the operation, there were no takers. One of my assistants even went so far as to say that my decision to focus on writing full-time was a selfish one and that there were no guarantees I’d even be successful. The year I made that decision – 1986 – I had four published plays and five magazine articles. In the decades that passed, those numbers now reflect 150 plays, 30 books, 5 optioned feature films and thousands of articles and interviews that appear in trade publications throughout the world.

Yes, it was a bold leap of faith. It was also a leap of faith that landed me exactly where I wanted to be.

I guess the message is that when you want something badly and believe in it enough, it’s all because, once upon a time, the universe put that thought into your head and said, “What are you waiting for?  Yep, it’s a steep hill. Maybe it’s even treacherous. But you won’t find out unless you go for it.” 

For as many times as the fearless Calvin and Hobbes plunged headfirst down that snowy incline and paid for the experience with tumbles, bumps and bruises, one likes to think that their final, optimistic ride on December 31, 1995 delivered them to exhilarating new vistas they might never have imagined.

A blanket of snow – just like a blank piece of paper – is only awaiting a free and unflappable spirit to jump in, leave a mark and make a difference.

Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

What Color Is the Cow? – by Mindy Littman Holland

Creating a Social Buzz for the Movies – by Janette Speyer

Top 10 Reasons to be Thankful for Social Media (Part One) – by Brandy Wheeler