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People often say there’s no such thing as a bad idea in a brainstorming session, but come on—is that really true?

Well sure, some ideas truly are bad, but that doesn’t mean they should be discouraged in the context of a brainstorm. An objectively bad idea may provide the perfect contrast and fertile ground for a great idea to grow.

This episode actually turned into a kind of brainstorm in and of itself.

We talk about some practical tips for coming up with ideas, using a whiteboard, Matt’s reverse funnel of specificity, why location matters, the purpose of bad ideas, and why to come into a brainstorming session with a goal.

Highlights, Takeaways, & Quick Wins

  • Brainstorming is all about coming up with creative solutions that direct you toward success.
  • Bad ideas are the fertile ground from which good ideas grow.
  • Get away from your normal work area to brainstorm.
  • Come into brainstorming with a purpose.
  • A lot of times, the best ideas come up when you’re teaching other people.
  • You need to write down the 3 most important things you will accomplish tomorrow, today—tomorrow morning, focus on just getting those three things done in the day.
  • The purpose of a plan is not to have a great plan—it’s to get where you want to go.
  • Chronicling your accomplishments will solidify in your mind that you actually are getting things done and you actually are being productive.
Show Notes
  • 19:08 Matt: Brainstorming is crucial for running everyday operations. I don’t know that it’s necessary to do every day or every week, but in my business we do it weekly. We were doing it monthly before, but we’ve got a lot of moving pieces and we needed to increase it. If it’s just you and your little operation, do it at least once a month.
  • 19:52 Sean: Do you do your brainstorming solo, or do you include other people?
  • 19:58 Matt: I always start with solo brainstorming to get a rough idea on what I’m personally thinking so I don’t get influenced by everyone else’s creativity. Since I’m the leader, I want to see what I can come up with, because ultimately, I’m the one who should be setting the direction. I’ll throw out a lot of different things that we need to touch on, then I mark things off. It’s like a funnel effect—I write out all my ideas at the top of a whiteboard. Get a whiteboard—don’t do this in your head because it won’t be as effective.
  • 20:47 Sean: Otherwise, you’re trying to remember everything and it’s too much. The more people you add, the more room for error there is. When everyone is supposed to memorize what we’re talking about, it starts getting messy. When you try to explain something verbally, you have to say it or speak the name the next time you talk about it. If you wrote it down, all you have to do is point and people will track with you.
  • 21:19 Matt: Sean and I have done this multiple times and it’s so much more effective when you throw everything out on the board. It helps you visualize what the problem is and come up with a creative solution.

Brainstorming is all about coming up with creative solutions that direct you toward success.

Write Down Every Idea

  • 22:31 Matt: Once I have my ideas at the top of the whiteboard, then we start going into relative things I need to break down even more. For example, we did demolition work on a house and I needed to figure out who needed to be there and what rooms needed to be demoed.
  • 22:51 Sean: Is this more of a reverse funnel where you have one thing at the top and it branches down further?
  • 22:55 Matt: Yeah, because you want to get down to more details. One of my professors told me that when you’re starting your brainstorming session, you want quantity over quality and as you go down the funnel, you want to start changing to quality as opposed to quantity. That’s exactly what I do—I break up my different businesses and then I branch out from there. Then we start getting into more details like days and times and eventually, we get down to things like the tools we’ll need for demo work and stuff.
  • 23:43 You also want to keep an open mind for creativity. Throughout this whole process, you have to remember to keep an open mind and keep the creativity coming. During a brainstorming session, throw every idea up on a whiteboard, even if it’s crazy or doesn’t make sense.
  • 24:17 Sean: I subscribe to the idea that “bad” ideas are ok. A lot of people say, “There’s no such thing as bad ideas,” and then people jump onto that and say, “That’s ridiculous, of course there’s bad ideas!” The thing is bad ideas are the grounds from which good ideas grow. When you say, “That’s a terrible idea! We really need to do this instead,” it’s a catalyst.

Don’t discourage a bad idea, because it can bring about a good idea.

  • 25:01 Matt: You could put an X on it with your marker, but still leave it on the whiteboard. It might inspire you to find a solution or a revision that makes the whole outcome way better.

Brainstorm Purposefully

  • 25:21 Sean: I would also recommend that you go to a different room. My office is dedicated to working, so whenever Cory and I do “beanbag time” we go out into the other room where I have the beanbag. It’s just a different setting. I would say the most important thing is to get away from your normal work area to brainstorm. If you have a dedicated room to brainstorming, that’s fine, but it doesn’t always have to be the same place.
  • 25:49 Matt: Change the environment and the setting. I have mood lights now and sometimes I put some slower music on in the background to get thinking. I have a 100 inch projector screen so sometimes I’ll put a Lambo Goal episode up there. I still do it in my office but I like to change the setting so it helps me mentally prepare myself for the kind of work I’ll be doing. It’s not regular business, it’s trying to get into a creative mindset. Create that environment for yourself and you’ll be ready to start your brainstorming session.
  • 27:12 Sean: You need to come into brainstorming with a purpose. One of the times Matt and I had a brainstorming session was when I had just brought on more people and I was thinking about reproducing Learn Lettering. I put out all the numbers involved—the money we had, the revenue coming in, the possibility of moving, and the potential for hiring more people. The goal was: what do we need to do to make sure we can still pay payroll? What’s the most important thing to do first? What should we do next? What should be postponed or rearranged?
  • 28:04 We broke it all down with the real numbers and we realized we needed to not move, not hire, not do another course until later, and we needed to reproduce Learn Lettering in a certain amount of time. We had a purpose going into it. The brainstorming sessions we had for the original Learn Lettering had us looking at some really big potential numbers. At first, my mind was rejecting those numbers because they were too big, but I think that’s when my mind started to open up more to the bigger numbers.
  • 29:02 Matt: We also did a brainstorm session when Sean was trying to get me to quit my day job. That’s when we came up with heart time.

Teaching Helps You Brainstorm

  • 29:25 Sean: I do brainstorm myself, but with other people it’s admittedly selfish for me. I’m looking for other people to say something that sparks an idea for me. I think it’s good to make sure everyone present has a voice and time to speak up. There shouldn’t be any interrupting—it should be a mutual respect regardless of what status someone is. Right now, everyone is equal. Bad ideas are ok in this stage; we’re not shooting down anyone’s ideas. It needs to be a safe place where people feel free to offer up something and not get ridiculed, because that could bring about the right thing.
  • 30:18 Matt: As an example, when we were reconfiguring that house, I brought random friends of mine, people that didn’t have experience with home design, to the brainstorm session. I wanted to hear their opinion, but I was also waiting for it to trigger something in my mind. Sure enough, every friend triggered a new idea for me. I told everyone in the beginning not to be offended if we didn’t go with their ideas. Bounce ideas off your friends and family!

A lot of times, the best ideas come up when you’re teaching other people.

  • 31:40 I think of so much great stuff while I’m teaching. Always be ready for that trigger to happen. You never know when an efficient process could come out of a friend or someone in line at Starbucks saying something to you. Be ready, open, and willing.
  • 47:41 Sean: If you teach, you have to understand what it is you’re teaching. You may think you understand it, but until you actually go to teach someone else you don’t realize you’ve never actually written down what your process is for doing something. As you’re saying it, you’re solidifying your own knowledge about it.

How to Feel Like You Accomplished Something Today

  • 54:52 Here’s the deal: there will always be more in a day than you can accomplish. You will never get to the end of the day and think, “Wow! I finished all the work!” That’s just the life of a business owner. It can feel discouraging because it can seem like you’re chipping away at an ever-increasing mountain. In a way, you are. But the way to survive mentally is to set specific tasks for yourself. I’m not talking about your never-ending task list, but rather the 3 most important things you will accomplish tomorrow.

You need to write down the 3 most important things you will accomplish tomorrow, today.

  • 55:27 Write them down today. Put them on a sticky note—it’ll fit because it’s just three—and stick it to your monitor so it’s there ready for you in the morning. Tomorrow morning, focus on just getting those three things done in the day. If you do this, you will feel accomplished even though there’s always more work to be done. You will know that you completed what you set out to do in a day. When you do this and you finish those tasks by 2pm and you still have the rest of the day to tackle anything else, you will feel on top of the world and you will be on your way toward making real progress in your business.
  • 56:07 As a bonus, I would also highly recommend journaling. Get an app like Day One and at the end of every day, take three to five minutes to write down what you did. Write it down in detail, no matter how minute it feels to you. You will be surprised at how much you did and what you accomplished. You don’t realize how much you did if you don’t write it down. If you don’t do this, you will go through every day doing a ton of little things that you forget by the end of the day and you will look back without a sense of accomplishment.

Chronicling your accomplishments will solidify in your mind that you actually are getting things done and you actually are being productive.

Revising Your Plan Is Still Progress

  • 59:02 Matt: Back to brainstorming: break everything down and then by the time you get to the end of your funnel, you’ll have a plan, or at least something to start on. Your plan isn’t something concrete, you can refine it as you go. You’re kind of just making it up as you go, that’s not to say you’re a rookie. You’ll revise your process as you go and be a better businessman. Nobody is born the perfect businessman. It’s something you have to learn every day and you have to fail. You have to lose sometimes.
  • 1:00:29 Sean: Revising plans is a big one for people. I tend to be a very concrete planner, but it’s good to give people the freedom to revise their plan. The purpose of the plan is not to have a great plan—the point of the plan is to get where you want to go. If you’re going in the direction and you’re getting closer, and you see that you don’t want to go that way, you can shift and go a few degrees to the left. It’s not like you lost progress, you just went forward and pivoted. It’s ok that you revised the plan because there was still progress there.
  • 1:01:27 Matt: Don’t think your beanbag time was a failure just because you did something totally different. Your mission might change as you’re going.