Dumping out the Legos – How to Improve your Creative Thinking
Remember when you were a kid playing with Legos®? The first thing you did was dump them all out on the floor! I still remember that crashing sound, and watching all those pieces come together in a glorious pile of opportunities right there in front of me. Fortunately, as adults, we can still benefit from dumping out the Legos® as part of our creative brainstorming process. This is highly effective both as individuals and when working in teams. How to turn your pile of bricks into maximum brainstorming creativity! I call this tool “Dumping out the Legos®” because that provides a very precise visual metaphor. Imagine a big box of those bricks in various shapes, colors and sizes. When you dump them all out onto the floor, there are infinite possibilities in how you might put them together. Kids are so good at this! Watch as my 10-year-old nephew notices a few random bricks stuck together, and immediately sees what they could become: When we dump out the Legos®, we are not sorting them. We don’t know yet which yellow bricks go with which red or blue ones. Nor do we want to know, because for now all we want to do is dump out our possibilities. The corpse pose of creativity This step is a lot like Savasana or corpse pose in yoga. It looks easy—you just lie on your back and chill out, right? But if you try to make yourself relax, you won’t get the full benefit. You can’t succeed at Savasana by doing. You succeed by NOT doing. The same is true in brainstorming. Often we just blurt out our thoughts, then the facilitator writes them on sticky notes and we think we’re done. But that’s not how you achieve the best results. Successful brainstorming happens not because of what you do, but because of what you DON’T do. Before we dive into describing this further, let’s start with explaining when and why you would use this tool. When should you dump out your Legos? When you want to decide what problem to solve. When you want to decide what project(s) to work on. When you want to explore multiple solutions to a problem so you’ll have a better chance of finding an innovative solution, rather than getting stuck with the obvious choices. When your brain is cluttered and you feel anxious or overwhelmed with too many tasks. Why start with dumping out the Legos®? It can help clear our minds of noise, clutter, and worry while also creating a calm mental state. It means you’ll have fewer interruptions or false starts. If you skip this process or shortcut it, your brain will likely come up with another thought or solution—basically, a new squirrel to chase—and you’ll get derailed by distractions that are not helpful. Fully and properly dumping the Legos® can help prevent that from happening. If you are working with a team, this process will ensure everyone has a voice, while also clearly defining the problem you are trying to solve so you can find the best possible solution. If you are working with a client, dumping out the Legos® with them can deepen their experience with you, so they feel truly seen and heard. For coaches especially, not rushing this process is a gift to your clients that sets you apart from everyone else in their lives. It also helps clients stay committed and accountable to chosen solutions (see #2 above). Do, or do not? Sorting out how to use this tool effectively As mentioned previously, the hardest thing to grasp about dumping out the Legos® is not what it is, but what it is NOT. It is hard not to jump ahead. It is hard not to filter or judge what comes out. It is hard not to sort or categorize or group thoughts. It is hard not to impose rules to the process. The only rule is to NOT. The only thing to do here is to get it all out. Clear your mind, then ask the one most important question You’ll likely start with a question, topic or problem. Sometimes dumping means simply laying out all of the problems! Let’s assume you’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious because you have too much to do. Begin by framing the question and intention of the dump. Your question might be as simple as, “What am I worried about forgetting?” Your intention might be to gain clarity on priorities. Start out by reminding your frantic brain that you are going to take care of it. Say to yourself: “Mind, thank you for keeping me safe by trying to remember all of these balls that we have in the air. I care about keeping you happy and productive, so I want to make sure I listen to all the ideas, worries and tasks that you think we might forget.” Then start dumping! Whatever comes into your brain next, write it down on a paper sticky note, or do the same thing by creating a free Cardsmith board where you can track your brainstorming online. Then say to your mind, “Thank you! What else?” Write down the next item on a separate sticky note or Cardsmith card. Keep going. Keep each idea on its own card. Don’t color the cards, don’t group them, don’t judge anything. Simply write it down, say thank you, and move on to the next one. One tip for coaches: you can help clients through this phase simply by verbally asking them, “What else?” Then encourage them to keep digging deeper to make sure they get all their worries, anxieties or problems out onto their Cardsmith board. At some point, they may feel self-conscious about sharing so many issues, but this will usually resolve if you give them time to do keep dumping the Legos® on their own. What happens when there’s nothing else? At some point, there will be nothing else to dump. You might think this will take forever, but it usually takes less time that we expect. Remember, the key to getting to this point is to make sure you don’t judge, categorize or organize. When you see everything out on the wall of sticky notes or your Cardsmith board, your mind will feel calmer because you’ve taken the chaos and turned it into something finite. Your mind also feels heard and gains the confidence that you will take the next step to prioritize and take action. Giving people time—and why this matters When you’re working with another person or a team, you have a choice whether to do the dumping process together as a group or individually. In most cases, it is best to give time and space for individual dumping before coming together to create a combined set of cards. One way to do this in Cardsmith is to make a one-column grid with one row per person. Have each person hide all rows except their own, and then dump out all their thoughts onto their ow of cards This allows for more pure dumping. Because people work at different paces, individual dumping ensures each that each person gets to contribute. It prevents the more vocal team members from drowning out the quieter contributors or hijacking the process. It’s also difficult to dump as a team and get the full benefit of calming the mind, but when individual contributors can do this in private they gain the confidence of knowing that their ideas will be heard and considered. Do you have a favorite memory of dumping out the Legos® when you were a kid? What about as an adult—how have you successfully used this step to brainstorm a problem and its solutions with your team at work, in your coaching practice, or as an individual?