professional development, Startup Advice

Why brainstorming isn’t always the right road to take, and why entrepreneurs should experiment “as much as possible”

Dominic Powell /

For many entrepreneur, coming up with a fresh idea or a solution to a pressing issue involves a good old-fashioned brainstorming session and getting some sharp minds in a room to tackle any problem.

However, drawing on the experience of a group of veteran musicians renowned for their complex, high-energy music videos, entrepreneur and author Damon Brown explains in Inc why brainstorming is not always the best road to take.

The musicians in question are in a group called OK Go, which rose to fame in 2009 with its simple-yet-engaging music video involving eight treadmills and some fancy footwork. Since then, the team has continued to come up with similarly awe-inspiring videos and revealed the secrets behind their ideas in a recent TED talk.

Responding to the often asked question of how the band comes up with the ideas for their videos, frontman Damian Kulash told listeners the band struggles to answer that question, as “it doesn’t feel like we think of them at all”, instead saying the band “finds them”.

Kulash criticised the process of brainstorming, saying it “has a strong bias against surprising ideas”.

“You think of an idea, you come up with a plan, and then revise your original idea to fit a great plan, and then, and only then, do you go out and execute it,” he said.

“It is a flawless system for maximizing your resources since thinking is usually super cheap and execution is expensive. And you are more likely to do something that has been done before.”

Read more: Ten inspirational TED Talks from those outside the world of entrepreneurs

Drawing on these thoughts, Brown warns entrepreneurs they are unlikely to come up with an original and fresh idea if their focus is just on “minimising risk”. OK Go uses just a third of its music video budget on coming up with ideas, instead relying on picking a great sandbox and letting the ideas come to them.

“To me, it is like spending a significant amount of your travel budget to get to, say, a gorgeous island: You don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but you have an inkling that you’re going to be in the right place for wonderful experiences to occur,” Brown says.

From this, Brown derived three takeaways for entrepreneurs from OK Go’s approach.

Firstly, you must “as much energy into the execution as the concept”.

“The best way to success may be to create a foundation and begin experimenting as soon as possible,” Brown says.

Secondly, Brown advises entrepreneurs to “create wise parameters”. The tighter the parameters, “the more defined the experience”, he says.

And finally, you should always expect surprises.

“It can’t all be planned. In fact, it shouldn’t all be planned,” Brown says.

Check out OK Go’s full TED talk below.

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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