This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Brainstorming Can Rain On Creativity’s Day

One of the most common creative tools for a novice is the brainstorming session, which is commonly structured nearly identical to most musician's writing sessions. The idea being if everyone spitballs ideas, good ideas will come out and get the group closer to the decision at hand since, after all, a few heads are always better than one. Right?

The concept of brainstorming was invented by Alex Osborn of the esteemed ad firm BBDO. He’s thought to be one of the inspirations for the character Don Draper on Mad Men. He popularized the idea of brainstorming in a series of business books he wrote throughout the 1950s. While you could point to years of creativity that occurred that followed his book's lead, the first rule he outlines for brainstorming seems to have been lost on nearly every one of the hundreds of bands I've ever attended a session of. This rule was that you’re not allowed to criticize the ideas of others in the group.

Disobeying that rule has led to the toxic environments of latent resentment present in nearly every collaboration I know that's made more than one record. Osborn said that if the members of group feared negative feedback or ridicule, the sessions would fail. Anyone who's been to a band practice knows members are commonly reduced to having "stupid ideas" etc. When it comes to discounting creative instincts, a boundary needs to be established to make better art. But this balance is delicate, so fragile that Osborn called it a delicate flower.

While many musicians have a short temper for trying numerous ideas, Osborn found the best results came from allowing collaborators to think of the absurd while not being afraid to share the dumbest or most adventurous ideas. In fact, limiting the objective often gets better results, so if you want more imaginative results, you should ask for them. Quantity should come first and then, through evaluation, quality comes later. Once the well of contributing ideas runs dry, that’s when editing should begin, just as we'll allow ourselves to perspire until we're empty, then begin to dissect.

Optimizing The Creative Environment Among Collaborators

One of the assumptions made about music is that if you put a bunch of the most proficient musicians in a room together, they're bound to make great music together. But anyone who's heard the majority of "supergroup" albums knows this isn't the case. There's a good reason for this ― when the environment is toxic, even the best performers fail to make music anyone’s excited about. Years ago, Google started Project Aristotle to discover what makes teams perform better. They discovered that teams operating in the right environment with mediocre players could outperform superstar players. The key to good collaboration is that if you get the right boundaries, teams perform better. Here are a few ideas they found as well as some of my own.

Psychological Safety - One of the keys to getting a good performance is psychological safety, which is the ability to speak your mind without fear of being punished even if you say a bad comment about your superior or the group as a whole. Just as we need to fail to get good ideas, honesty needs to be rewarded. There needs to be a conversation, not a dismissal even when it's questioning someone who's higher up the totem pole than you. The environment needs to be free of shaming where collaborators can say their innermost emotions since that's what's often being sung about. There can be no fear of ridicule or any expectations of being right all the time.

Being Heard - Whenever you get a group of collaborators together, some are bound to be more vocal than others. Humans vary in how precious they are with their words. It's important that everyone in a collaboration feels heard even if some collaborators take too long to say what they mean. To be sure everyone feels heard, try asking if anyone has anything left to discuss before closing comment on a song or a particular issue.

Group Norms - There will be bad moments in every collaboration. Whether it's caused by a lack of sleep or an impassioned objections, there's bound to be disagreement. Group Norms are the standard operating function of a group of collaborators. If your average day is filled with fights, your norms are tense, whereas if you're having a fun collaboration 13 out of 14 days, your norm is a good collaboration. Norms are important since everyone understands there's occasionally a bad moment, so if you operate well most days, a tense moment can be overlooked from time to time as long as the majority of the time you operate well. Trying to keep your norm as positive as possible enhances collaboration greatly to make up for inevitable bad moments.

Don’t Assume Malice When A Lack Of Consideration Is Likely - One of the ways teams break down is the assumption of intent to hurt a member when the person didn't consider that this action would be hurtful. If someone is consistently being neglected or hurt, there should be a discussion to remedy the situation. Far too often we jump to the assumption of bad intentions when the person being accused of malice has their head and intentions focused elsewhere, making them oblivious to their hurtful behavior. It should always be OK to say you were hurt by someone else. On the other side of that coin, accusing someone of hurting you intentionally escalates situations needlessly when it's possible they were just inconsiderate. Try to confront these actions without accusation of malice.

Social Loafing - One of the downsides of large groups is the laziest collaborators will contribute less when they assume others will pick up their slack. Setting responsibilities and asking for comments can help to alleviate a lack of contribution. An expectation of results as well as contributions regularly keeps members creative ideas in practice.

Skin In The Game - Make sure collaborators see benefits that are on par with their expectations. Many songwriters do 50-90% of the work yet give those who help make the song better an equal cut of royalties so they'll have skin in the game and maintain a lifestyle that makes them feel rewarded for their other contributions like band business or handling other facets. Without benefits that are equal across the group of collaborators, animosity builds, leading to undermining power struggles.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.