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5 things The Godfather trilogy taught me about brainstorming

A movie like The Godfather needs no introduction. The little film about Don Corleone and his merry band of mobsters has become one of the most celebrated movies of the last 100 years. (Of course, one recent poll showed it’s also the movie most people lie about having seen.) So between the shootouts, the double crosses and the fish wrapped in a bulletproof vest, what could The Godfather possibly have to do with brainstorming? Plenty.

Lesson #1 – Be prepared.
“Hey, listen, I want somebody good – and I mean very good – to plant that gun. I don’t want my brother coming out of that toilet with just his dick in his hands, alright?” ~ Santino “Sonny” Corleone

Just like Michael coming out of the bathroom, you may only get one shot at your brainstorm. Preparation is key, so don’t wing it. Take the time to put together a plan. Carefully choose the attendees. Identify one goal you want to achieve and establish a brainstorm plan that will get you there. Finally, brief the participants in advance and give them enough time to prepare. Still not sure how to prepare? No problem. Follow this simple checklist and you’ll be ready to roll.

Lesson #2 – Don’t say “No” to everything.
“No Sicilian can ever refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day.” ~ Tom Hagen

For some people, this is the hardest part of a brainstorm. But in order for your brainstorm to succeed, you need to turn off your internal monitor. Do you think it was easy for Don Corleone to sit in his study at this daughter’s wedding and agree to every random request someone made? Of course not, but he did it. You can too… even for just one hour. If you can’t, you’re going to derail the entire process. It’s impossible to know where an idea might come from, so don’t stifle the creative process just as it gets going.
Lesson # 3 – Don’t talk when you should listen.
“I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I spoil them, as you can see. They talk when they should listen.” ~ Don Vito Corleone

Ask yourself one question, “Did I invite all these people here so they could listen to me and tell me how smart I am OR did I invite them here because they’re smart and I want to hear what they think?” Don’t dominate the meeting. If you followed Lesson #1, you spent time handpicking your brainstorm attendees, so let them participate. You might need to get the group started, but once they’re rolling back off a bit. Speak up with good ideas, builds or to redirect the group’s energy, but remember that this is a team exercise NOT a lecture.

Lesson #4 – Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
“There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” ~ Michael Corleone

As John P. Kotter says in his book Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, it is natural to want to shield the creative process from our harshest critics. If we can prevent them from seeing the idea before it’s finished, we can keep them from killing it prematurely. Not so. By including our biggest critics in the brainstorm process, you can accomplish two things. First, you can identify and address their objection before it has a chance to gain any momentum*. Second, you can help them feel ownership of the idea they helped create. Once they have a vested interest in the idea, they may turn from a critic into a supporter.
*This tip is based upon an assumption that your critic can abide by Lesson #2. If they can’t silence their inner censor, then look for another way to satisfy their concerns.

Lesson #5 – It’s not personal, it’s business.
“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” ~ Michael Corleone

Finally, there will come a time when the brainstorm is over and you’re faced with a list of good ideas. Unfortunately, not every idea can move onto the next stage, so some difficult decisions have to be made. Each brainstorm participant will have their own list of favorites (possibly weighted to support their ideas). It might be easy to support ideas from your boss or other strong personalities in the room, but you need to make a business decision. Go back to the goals you outlined at the start of the meeting. Measure each idea against those goals and pick the ideas that meet or exceed those standards.

In conclusion, remember one thing and you’ll be fine, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”


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