This is the 10th edition of my New Regular series, which is committed to helping Main Street businesses make the tenuous transition to a post-pandemic economy. You can catch normal in a bit-part on the revival of PBS’s “Downton Abbey.”
Whatever your business looks like going forward, it won’t be what you used to call normal. The easy part is that, as the recovery plays out over the next year, what you’re supposed to be doing will be revealed to you by customers. The hard part will be making that transition personally and organizationally. In other words, getting out of your own way.
Since it’s likely that how you serve customers this December will be drastically different from how you did it last December, there’s no better way to “get out of your own way” than through brainstorming. This is a leadership practice that helps shed hidebound baggage — “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it” — your business can no longer afford in the New Regular.
Brainstorming has always been powerful. But now that we’ve been keelhauled by the coronavirus shutdown, it’s essential. Plus, it’s the best way to get organizational creative juices flowing. And creativity is the mother's milk of a powerful tool without which you cannot brainstorm: adjectives.
How dull would our world be without adjectives? You know, those handy words we use, as Webster says, to modify a noun. Without the descriptive power of an adjective, a noun is broccoli without hollandaise, a sandwich without mustard, or an idea without energy.
If someone offered you a soybean, you’d probably turn away to check your Twitter feed. But if they said, “Would ya look at that beautiful thing?” you’d want to see such a bean. A change of attitude powered by an adjective.
As you relaunch your business post-pandemic, brainstorming could be the essential difference between surviving and, well … you know. And since adjectives are essential to your brainstorming sessions, let them fly.
As with anything that’s powerful, brainstorming is a process with parameters. Use these guidelines to start your team’s brainstorming.
Restrict the restrictions. If you're discussing changes to the showroom and someone asks "What if we stick an elephant in the middle?" give that person a raise. As you’ll see in a minute, often partial ideas — even crazy ones — can become golden later on.
Adjective alert: "Are we talking African or Indian elephant?"
Sometimes the rude truth is delivered by an adjective. When working under duress and urgency as we are now, if the Emperor is naked, it must be said. That means everyone must feel the environment is intellectually safe, and all constructive brainstorming contributions will be taken as such.
Adjective alert: “What if that part of our 2019 business model won’t be viable in 2021?”
Combine and improve
This is where your brainstorming foundry creates alloyed ideas forged from those that previously seemed incomplete. After this kind of synergy clicks the first time with your group, buckle up. Your brainstorming will blast off with new energy.
Adjective alert: “Sue’s idea about cutting costs made me think: What if we did that, but in reverse?”
Which new ideas will you work on first? It’s more triage than culling because, again, the unused ones from today may be for ready for primetime next week. Like seeds, every idea germinates differently.
Adjective alert: “Let’s start with John’s approach — it delivers better bang for the buck.”
This is where the power of adjectives really comes into play. A brainstorming session must have lots of ideas complete with even more powerful, clarifying adjectives. Write them all down — every one. Because, as we’ve learned, ho-hum today becomes essential tomorrow.
Adjective alert: “Huh! Never thought of blue. Is that reflex, slate, royal, baby, periwinkle?”
Don’t forget the customers
Remember that easy part about post-pandemic customer expectations? This only works if you apply three non-negotiables: You have to ask them, then listen to them, and then believe them. Even when — especially when — it hurts. If you have the guts, ask your most loyal customers to contribute to a brainstorming session. And help them get granular with the adjectives.
Adjective alert: “Mr. Johnson, we’ve been working on delivery improvements. Looking ahead, would you prefer ‘hot-shot’ delivery when you need it — for a fee? Or scheduled deliveries that we help you plan for?”
In his book “The Wisdom of Crowds,” James Surowiecki reports better brainstorming results when PhDs and high school graduates are put together. Cast an organizational cross-section — top to bottom — in each brainstorming session. Do you know how we got the awesome McFlurry? My money’s on the Nabisco janitor.
Adjective alert: “Hey, boss, can’t we do something with all these broken Oreos? We sweep up tons of cookie pieces every night.”
The written word
The immortal Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations, 1776) identified the written word as one of the three greatest human inventions. Besides the brainstorming power you’ll generate, never underestimate the power of having your inspired, adjective-energized ideas looking back at you from paper, whiteboard, or screen.
If you say it, write it.
Write this on a rock: Use brainstorming to unleash the power of adjectives and reinvent your business for the post-pandemic New Regular. And let customers — and the janitor — help you get out of your own way.
Jim Blasingame is the host of The Small Business Advocate Show, and author of the award-winning books, “The 3rd Ingredient” and “The Age of the Customer.” firstname.lastname@example.org