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Two monks were traveling down a deep muddy road in heavy rain when they came upon a lovely young girl in a silk komono who was unable to cross the road. The elder monk said, “Come on, girl.” Then he lifted her in his arms and carried her to the other side. The younger monk was speechless until later that night when he said to his elder, “We monks do not go near females, especially young lovely ones. It's too dangerous. Why did you do that?” The elder monk replied, “I left the girl on the other side of the road. Why are you still carrying her?

This parable points to a fundamental aspect of human nature in that sometimes we attach ourselves so strongly to ideas that we can’t respond positively to new realities. The elder monk had no attachments. He was able to act in the moment. The younger monk, however, was so attached to his monastic ideas that he couldn’t see that the girl needed help.

Is it me or is there a really good vibe in here? We’re born — most of us — with the instinct to read-a-room. The cues are sometimes obvious but sometimes they’re so subtle that we’ve invented phrases like, “there's a really good vibe in here”. And like many things that we intuitively know there is scientific research that points to cognitive functions and neurobiological mechanisms that explain how we are able to read intention or emotional residue and other big words that just mean 'vibes', dude.

When my son was two years-old and would play with friends, the moment any of them began to pair off or lose focus, he would raise his arms and say, “I all done.” Then he would grab his blanket and go to his room to relax with a film. Usually “The Lion King” as he found “The Little Mermaid” misogynistic. But the point is that, even at two years-old we can sense a shift in a group. And it bothers us. As you can see by his expression in this photo taken shortly after a Lego Group Dynamic had failed.  Yet, every day, in every city in most companies on Earth, we squeeze ourselves into conference rooms for workshops or brainstorming sessions based on department and title and completely ignore our group dynamics instinct. Not to menion our individual creative thinking styles.


How many of you can pull up a memory of having been excluded from a group? Either as a child or even more recently? It’s a visceral memory, right? You can feel it. Now how many of us will admit to having excluded someone for any reason other than that person’s own well-being? I see. Those of you who raised your hands are excluded from this hall. Those of you who have never excluded anyone can stay both of you. We all know the sting of being left out. So why is it still such a big part of our socialization? Why is it still a driving force in our schools, businesses and politics?   I believe it’s partly due to that sense of belonging— however hollow — that we get when we're exclusive to a group can bring. We're able to suspend compassion for an outcast to feel that belonging.

American psychologist, Abraham Maslow placed belonging as the third most basic Human Need. Just above Food and Security. And belonging to a group was essential for the survival of our species.   Before us humans became, well, human — conscious, self-aware and socially sophisticated—like the need to belong, the instinct to exclude was also essential to our survival. Our ancient ancestors instinctively knew when to banish a member who threatened the tribe by being overly aggressive, contagiously sick or they simply didn’t help gather or hunt for food. There’s an easy teenager joke here but I’m reading the room.   Exclusivity and other fear-based instincts obviously served us well or this hall might have been filled with lions discussing ideas worth spreading.

But now — most of us — are conscious, self-aware and socially sophisticated. Not to mention more locally and globally interdependent than any time in history. So this instinct turned tendency to exclude others not only doesn’t serve us anymore — it threatens our very existence. Exclusivity is our new Lion.

So here we are. In meetings, workshops, brainstorming sessions based on organizational charts not instinct or ability. Day-in and day-out we’re communing with one another in formats that are tired, counter-intuitive, indeed harmful because we’re ignoring our instincts, and our individual creative thinking styles.   So, besides binge watching TED Talks on Netflix all weekend, what can we do to get out of this dysfunction?   Well, there is a very exciting revolution going on in the software industry which is based on principles that I believe we can embrace and incorporate in other areas of our lives.

I’m speaking of Open Source Code. This is when a company releases the source code of a product to the public - to anyone to build on and hopefully innovate. The primary philosophy being that we can learn more from each other when information is open. This movement obviously challenges the long held corporate ethos of exclusivity—But with the massive success of Open Source products like LINUX, WORDPRESS, FIREFOX, GOOGLE CHROME and ANDROID the ethos is shifting—and fast.   Suddenly fear and exclusivity are no longer as motivating or potentially profitable as sharing and inclusivity.  So, to get out of the dysfunction, I get into what I call “Open Source Mode”.

It’s a strategy—a state-of-mind really based on the tenets of Open Source Code but applied to my operations as a Creative Director; idea generation, group problem solving . The strategy is this; 1. Include Everyone, 2. Give them Access to Everything then 3. Gather and Share Anything. Simple, right?   But, because so many of our colleagues are still locked into this fear-based exclusivity ethos, the tactics of this strategy can be a real challenge. They require us to rise up against some of our most embedded, time-honored practices and behaviors we have.   I have a slew of tactics that I use under this strategy but TED has wisely determined that 18 minutes is the optimal time limit for sharing and grasping ideas. So you can find more in my forthcoming book.

“19 Minutes: Stuff That I Couldn’t Fit Into My TEDx Talk”   So today let’s focus on just one of the most common practices in our classrooms, organizations and workplace — The Brainstorming Session. True story. Years ago I was invited to an exclusive Brainstorming Session to figure out how to sell a lot of ads in a short time.

Many of you are probably familiar with the Rules for Brainstorming, two of which being; 1. There's no such thing as a “bad” idea and 2. don’t judge any ideas. Excitedly, I blurted out the first idea—let’s discount ads for preferred clients for a limited time. The Braainstorming Facilitator looked directly at me and, I kid you not, said “Bad idea—we’re already under-valued next?” Well, I shut right down. And so did most of the group for fear of being judged by the very person who just read us the Rules of Brainstorming.  That Facilitator made three critical mistakes; iIn the first minute, she broke two of the primary rules, before the session began she made it exclusive and here's where that parable about the monks and letting go of old ideas comes into play, before she was even born, the Brainstorming technique was scientifically proven not to work.

The Brainstorming Technique was introduced in the late 1940's as a group attack on a single problem. In 1958, Yale University conducted the first empirical test of the technique. Forty eight students were divided into 12 groups and given a series of creative problems. As a control, 48 students were given the same problems to work on alone. The solo students came up with almost twice as many solutions and a panel of judges deemed the feasible and effective. The Brainstorming Technique seemed to make each individual less creative. Now, I’m not suggesting that creative group activities are a waste of time but when we conduct them like this and exclusively, we're ignoring the science, our creative thinking styles and our Group Dynamic Instinct.  

Here’s what a "Brainstorming Session" looks like in Open Source Mode.  First, change the name. Rebranding sheds old expectations. I call them Open Source Sessions and here’s how they work. One: If the goal is to come up with a great idea that helps everyone, then letting everyone in to help is the first great idea. Creativity is a whole brain function. It should be a whole group function too. Don’t limit participation. Invite everyone from the CEO to the Receptionist to the janitor in. Title and position do not determine ability. In fact, sometimes, the less someone knows about your product, company or industry the broader the solutions may be.  For instance, the governor of California appointed me to the Board of Geologists. Did I mention that I’m a Creative Director in Broadcasting. I don't know from rocks! But the wisdom there was that I could ask some really smart people some really dumb questions which prepared them for some really Federal Agencies.

Two, give them access to everything. In writing via email, state the problem that needs to be solved then include links to relevant resources and attach all the research, initial ideas and all the failed solutions to date. The more honest you are about what hasn’t worked the more people will want to come to your rescue. Radio Sales Guru MJ Milton once taught me that the best email subject line is quote “Can you help me?” It awakens the hero in the recipient, “Why yes, I will help you.”   In the email, set a time at least three days away to convene and share the ideas that everyone comes up with. This allows people time to find a favorable time and setting to get into their creative space whether alone or in a group, at home or at work.

Third, gather and share anything. This is where those two rules make the most sense. No bad ideas and make no judgments. List the ideas anonymously Allow people to defend their ideas. Vote for the top three strongest ideas. Pass them to an unidentified group. Placing the burden of choice on an “Other” authority keeps the ego at bay and causes the group to congeal as a single body. Keep the session reasonably open-ended. Time them to end right before lunch for instance so people who want or need to leave can do so guilt-free and people who may be inspired can stick around. Follow the flow of the group, read the room.


While you’re together in an inclusive state, ask the group answer one question: “What skill or talent do I have that I wish more people recognized?”   The answer unveils our bliss. It’s what we wish we were doing more of. And the harder it gets to answer this question, the closer we are to bliss.   Discuss answers then pose the problem for the next Session. But ask them to bear in mind their Bliss Question answer while developing ideas. Approaching a problem from this angle adds a sense responsibility to our creativity because thinking from our bliss point.   The Open Source Session and the Bliss Question are tactics designed to get us beyond fear and exclusivity. But, unless we embed the Open Source Mode into our being, like that Brainstorming Facilitator, we’ll just be repeating the rules and not following them.

So how do we embed the Open Source Mode into our being? What works for me is a kind of Aversion Therapy. I have a set of memories I can go to of moments when I caught myself. behaving or thinking wrong out of fear or ego. And recalling the impact of catching myself alsways puts me into this non-judgmental mindset. For instance, I was volunteering at fundraiser for Promise Ranch here in Colorado which offers Therapeutic Horse Riding for children with disabilities. While directing traffic onto the ranch I noticed a young man, late 20s leaning against the back of a van waiting for the rest of his group to unload. He was dressed in black with sunglasses and his pants tucked into his boots, sunglasses and a guitar slung around his back. I thought, “Get a load of this guy”. The band soundchecked an hour ago so I knew he wasn’t going on stage. Then I saw the group put their arms around the man-in-black who was struggling to walk down the road as people with cerebral palsy do. I collapsed emotionally—my judgmental mindset crushed by compassion. I got it wrong. This young man probably spent the better part of that afternoon dressing in that outfit to feel part of the scene on a night out with friends to forget about the pain for a while. And there I was judging him. I got it wrong. But I hold on tight to that crushing moment because it puts me in Open Source Mode.   And it doesn’t matter what we call it, Open Source Mode, Strategic Inclusivity, Anti-Bullying, what matters is that dget into this frame of mind as often as possible and be the person that joins the group that’s helps a man-in-black down a road. Because the truth is that we are all a man-in-black— struggling down a road toward bliss—where we can forget the pain for a little while and maybe even get on stage.   I all done.