The Limit Is The Sky

There is nothing we like more at Spark than hanging out in the conference room brainstorming some hot new concept. Most of the time, magic happens. But sometimes we need to remind ourselves that there are good and bad ways to brainstorm.
Last week, we were stuck. We had been noodling for weeks on a media concept that addresses “work” in a fresh way. But everything we came up with seemed tired or hard to execute.
Then we remembered our old friend from third grade, the Venn diagram. As soon as we started focused on the intersection of “work” and some other domain, BAM! We had some great concepts to roll with.

Who Was The Venn Diagram Named After?

It seems improbable that no one thought of the implications of overlapping circles until 1881, doesn't it? After all, the first steam train showed up in 1804, and that seems a lot harder to come up with.
Anyway, John Venn was a mathematician and ex-clergyman who got caught up in the intellectual debates around logic and scientific reasoning with dudes like George Boole and John Stuart Mill. He invented the Venn diagram in support of Boole, who was wrestling with how to represent logic in algebra.

The Power of Constraints

We have no idea who wrote this post, but we liked her from the get-go.  First of all, she is wearing a plush crown, which you don't see every day, but more importantly, she connects a theme—the creative power of constraints—across two very different disciplines, art and business.
Great art can result from limitations on the number of words (Hemingway's six-word memoir) or physical limitations from injury (see artist Phil Hansen's TED talk), to name a few. Great business ideas result from sometimes artificial limitations like Jeff Bezos's two-pizza rule and breaking big goals down into bite-sized tasks. Lots of suggestions and links here if you're in the market for limits.


Brainstorming, it turns out, is often unproductive for the same reason that focus groups are: the extroverts in the room drown out everyone else, and good comments and ideas from the rest of us never see the light of day.
Enter brainwriting. With the efficiency of a border collie, brainwriting shepherds ideas on to the floor by leveraging silent writing time. Some people use post-its and, presumably, legible handwriting, to gather ideas from the team and then post them for discussion on the conference room wall. We do that sometimes, but we also cheat and use Slack occasionally—it's not as anonymous, but with a few constraints ("25 subject lines in five minutes"), it is still quite productive.