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Theory of Creativity

In Session

The brainstorming session--that awe-inspiring forum of free-flowing thoughts--is the birthplace of some of the most revolutionary changes mankind has seen. It's where anything is possible, unfettered by earthly boundaries. Or, as Moya puts it, "it's where Joe and I bang ideas off each other."

At Joe Designer, banging ideas off others is a big deal. Care is taken in the details. The key element is music--sometimes blues, often jazz. "The dysfunctional notes in jazz have a lot to do with how we think," says Moya. "It's not four-four time."

And it helps to have plenty of people. "Everybody is involved [in brainstorming sessions]. We bring in everybody, from the bookkeeper to the office manager, because they see things completely differently than we do," says Raia. "We may be a little too far out in left field and need that middle-of-the-road thinking."

The actual brainstorming sessions start slowly and, like a train, build momentum. Moya and Raia brief the staff on the project and its goals. Then they divide the project into different categories or characteristics; for example, a telephone will be divided into its physical elements: the mouthpiece, the earpiece, the base and the cord.

People will randomly go up to the blackboard and sketch or doodle something under the different sections, or maybe write down key words that might influence the design or spark an idea. "We try to break down the boundaries of stagnancy," says Raia. "It inhibits people's thinking if they're afraid to throw something out that's in left field because the boss might not like it. I want to see every little cocktail napkin they draw on. I want to see everything because the smallest ideas are usually the best."

When lulls hit, rather than plowing through, "sometimes everyone will branch off and come up with some ideas, play with Tyco cars or video games, and then we bring it back together and work as a team," says Moya. "There's a lot of breathing room."

Even having minds like the Joes, however, doesn't ward off all cases of scarcity in such sessions. "That constant need to invent new ideas is hard at times," says Raia, who points out that it's important not to limit brainstorming to the session itself but to partake daily, as naturally as you breathe. In other words, the brainstorming's not over until the fat client sings.

Moya is always prepared for an idea to surface: "I'll wake up, have a pad of paper by the bed, turn on the light and start sketching. That happens often. And it happens many times when I'm sitting on the subway going to work. I'll see something and say `Where's my sketch pad?' "

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This article was originally published in the October 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Theory of Creativity.

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