The metaphor becomes a tool
When we use this metaphor in a dynamic learning strategy exercise, there are two very obvious questions that arise if indeed this metaphor will hold significant value to the participating executives and/or leadership .
- What are the similarities?
- What are the differences?
For sake of discussion, we will look at the ‘storm’ part as the ‘Outdoors’ phenomenon, and the ‘brainstorm’ part as an ‘Indoors’ event (i.e., where business usually takes place). So here are similarities that our participants usually find useful to the exercise.
The contributing conditions can be otherwise common occurrences. Outdoors – weather happens everyday. Indoors – thinking and learning happens everyday.
There were more then a few circumstances coming from multiple different directions. Outdoors – weather is not completely predictable, but we know it comes from somewhere, and it is always going to somewhere else. In this case several circumstances were coming from several different directions. Indoors – people are thinking and learning because they are usually trying to move forward in a particular direction [on a project, a program, an event, etc.] Sometimes, folks on several different activities happen to come together in a uniquely valuable way.
The storm occurred without the typical warnings. Outdoors – the weather went from OK to not so good, very quickly… because of the special circumstances that happened all at once. Indoors – the thinking and learning very often happens, not by design but rather by awareness, alertness, interest, and creativity of the brainstormers. Innovation happens when the moment is seized.
The result was an epic event, with immediate monumental consequences and long-standing implications. Outdoors – the weather generated an order of magnitude of power that rendered all objects and other elements involved, as non-consequential (e.g., $1B in damage, 12 deaths). Indoors – people can bring collective thinking and learning to such a focus as to produce greatness of unimaginable proportion. History is full of epic genius in special circumstances, brought about largely due to the “right people, right time, and right circumstances”.
The contributing conditions came together as if by chance (and of course were totally uncontrollable and their convergence was unpredictable). Outdoors – out of nowhere, low pressure systems met a dying hurricane over the Gulf Stream, along with a cache of other meteorological convergences. Indoors – ??? –
Well this is exactly the point we want to focus upon. Is the perfect brainstorm… unpredictable, happening as if by chance?
Differences – the Perfect Brainstorm becomes attainable… and realistic!
Here is where the knowledge game can become very very interesting indeed. We often think of the great innovation environments as kind of “think tanks” – like Rand Corporation, MIT, Stanford University, etc. – as elite institutions filled with super smart people and working in ideal thinking environments. If you are going to have great cerebral things happen, you need to have a perfect environment, with astoundingly knowledgeable people using superior tools to produce the kinds of intelligence we would label as “superior innovation”.
It is our experience, that this stereotype is exactly where the perfect storm metaphor wanders away from the perfect brainstorm… and becomes a bright, fair weather day!
There are two substantial differences between the perfect storm and the perfect brainstorm:
The landscape and environment in which the perfect brainstorm can occur – is controllable and replicable.
The landscape and environment in which the perfect brainstorm can occur – can be sustained indefinitely.
It was no accident that we used the labels Outdoors and Indoors to respectively compare and contrast these two concepts – The Perfect Storm vs. The Perfect Brainstorm. We all understand that the things that go on Outdoors can be wild and wooly, and for the most part, uncontrollable and unpredictable. Yet it is no stretch of the imagination to grasp that things that go on Indoors are much more susceptible to being controllable and predictable. We create the indoor environment that makes that control much more feasible.And when the indoor environment we are referring to is the human brain – we had all better believe that we can control and predict what goes on in that environment!
The perfect brainstorm happens when the usual human thinking and learning are engendered in a somewhat different way than how it usually takes place. But make no mistake; thinking and learning are ALREADY going on. This thinking and learning however can be modestly redirected – maybe it involves a bit of restructuring of the overall working situation – but the correct conditions for producing the perfect brainstorm can most definitely be controlled and replicated. We have seen it done many times.
Even more encouraging is the understanding that the perfect brainstorm can literally be an ongoing event… not awaiting special circumstances or conditions (in fact, this is part of what we mean by “controllable”). Here again we return to the fundamental point that thinking and learning are already going on anyway – regardless of what the enterprise is doing to help foster, direct, augment, or otherwise influence the process. So when the enterprise and the potential brainstormers come together with an agreed Indoor environment… well magic can happen. In fact, we have seen stellar examples of where the perfect brainstorming process has become an essential part of the enterprise culture.
Examples of the perfect brainstorm results
So why is this metaphor so appealing, and why does it have real world relevance in the 21st Century enterprise? Applied appropriately the metaphorical model actually does help the enterprise draw out that which it already knows. The Perfect Brainstorm exercise simply creates an environment and circumstances that allow the enterprise to more clearly experience its existing knowledge assets.For some excellent examples of the principles of the Perfect Brainstorm put to wonderful results… the interested reader can take a look at the Intelligence-NEXT: Track Record.
The notion of our Perfect Brainstorm exercise was in fact, drawn from past activities in which we have been fortunate enough to participate – situations that have generated outstanding results. We have studied the prevailing business environment (a.k.a. Indoors conditions) to build our model for the Perfect Brainstorm activity. It really does work!