One of the risks of traditional “free-for-all” brainstorming is a form of groupthink known as Idea Infatuation.
Infatuation means to “inspire with a foolish or unreasoning passion.” Idea infatuation is what happens when someone falls in love with an idea at first sight and proceeds to lust after that idea with an all-consuming desire that scorns all other suitors–despite demonstrable evidence.
Just like falling in love, a creative crush can feel really good. Often the ideas we become infatuated have some sort of sex appeal. They might have a stunning visual tie-in, or perhaps a witty tagline. Often they involve satisfying alliteration, a handy acrostic or, perhaps, a perfect rhyme. Or these days, an awesome hashtag.
In this way, these ideas appear to be heaven-sent. But most of the time, these ideas come to us quickly because they were simply more convenient. Chances are, the subject of your infatuation is a cliché, an oversimplification or some form of stereotype. But because they appear “perfect” they often engender extreme loyalty, particularly among those who were struck by Idea Cupid’s arrow.
This is where things get a bit tricky. True strategic insights also come with certainty that inspires action. How do you know if you’ve hit on a strategic insight and not just some idea floozy out to distract you from the real deal? Looks for these signs:
- The idea comes very quickly.
Ideas that seem obvious, probably are. Idea infatuation tempts us to stop the ideation process prematurely by offering easy solutions to complex problems. Even if the idea has merit, don’t take the bait. Strategic insights often come after serious consideration.
- The idea becomes the only option.
Idea infatuation blinds us from seeing other concepts as viable options. All of the sudden, that idea is the only possible solution. Integrative thinking relies on adductive logic, or the ability to see new concepts based on the combination of multiple possible solutions. Idea infatuation is like a crazy stalker, while strategic insights play the field.
- The idea has no weaknesses.
When we’re infatuated, we overlook the faults in the object of our affection. The same thing happens with Idea Infatuation. You know you’re infatuated with an idea when despite new information or evidence, you still perceive your idea to be complete or perfect.
- The idea begins to give less and less.
Creative crushes seem awesome at first, but when placed under a critical evaluation process it becomes harder and harder to justify them. As they say in the ad biz, they don’t have “legs.” If you find yourself forcing connections or stretching metaphors, you’re probably flirting with the wrong idea.
- There is fear and anxiety around losing the idea.
Folks who become infatuated with ideas quickly develop codependent behaviors. They start to get defensive about the concept, resisting improvement and insisting that they can make it work. If they feel the momentum shifting against the idea, they become even more adamant in their professions of love for their crush.
If you see these warning signs, it’s time for an idea intervention. One way to break the spell of idea infatuation is to use a technique I call Headstand. Take the current idea and consider it’s exact opposite, then consider it’s total extreme. Perspective shifting, lateral thinking exercises like this can often expose the weaknesses of a skin-deep concept and open a team to new avenues of exploration. Don’t be surprised if it takes some effort to consciously uncouple the group from the idea.
After all, breaking up is hard to do.