Just as the energy of moving water can propel a water wheel into motion, so can stimuli engage the imagination and our creative impulses. We need input, in order to output. We need gas in our mental engines, in order to move forward. Group brainstorming can provide such fuel.
Brainstorming. What a great word. For me, it conjures up a storm in the mind. Electricity. One of my favorite acts to engage in, in the creative process, is collective brainstorming. It is an act that can generate phenomenal inspiration and can generate ideas that would not have been possible, without this contribution of multiple minds.
In building my first school, TITAN Teaterskole (in Oslo, Norway), I created a course that was exclusively dedicated to the act of collective brainstorming. I called it Studio Lab.
Here are are some foundation rules that we found especially strong in stimulating constructive brainstorming:
o Egos must be checked at the door. Each individual in the group needs to sacrifice their personal motivations and desires, in order to act in the service of the larger group/project/idea. We must let go of emotional connection to ideas we come up with or get excited about. “We must kill our children.” I believe this means that we must sometimes sacrifice those ideas that are our personal treasures. It is very easy to become married to an idea. Sometimes, in order to create our larger work and to make it as strong as possible, we must kill or sacrifice ideas that we love the most.
o There is no “right”. There is no “wrong.” There is only what we create. What we create today will be different from what we create tomorrow. Why put value on it so early in the process? One thing for sure…collaboration is a process of evolution. It is a process of change. Sometimes our creations are built upon seemingly non-connected ideas. Sometimes our best impulses are sitting on a foundation of others’ ideas. Ideas are born upon one another.
o Your ideas come from others´. None of us are self contained islands of inspiration. We each have our respective muses, mentors and inspirations. Some will get hurt in the process of brainstorming, if their ideas are not readily accepted. Here is an example of what can occur: A: I think we should do “banana”. B: Hmm…Oh! How about we do “potato”. At first, they seem disconnected and not related. However, “potato” was inspired by “banana”. Though one is a vegetable and the other a fruit, B would likely have not thought about “potato”, had A not said “banana”. Thus, A inspired B and B´s idea has its foundation in A´s thought. We need to keep such in mind in the process of brainstorming and, again, check our egos at the door.
o Don’t censor yourself. As long as we are judging and censoring our ideas, they will not see the light of day. Sometimes, we come up with an idea that we are reluctant to share. In such an environment, why would we be reluctant? Typically, it is because we fear the judgment of others. Martha Graham was a pioneering modern dance choreographer and dancer. This is one of my favorite quotes of hers:
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.
And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive.
~Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille
Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway.