Left Brain Storming

We’re doing a lot of thinking these days about which features will give us the best ROI, trying to prioritize existing features and asking ourselves “did we miss something? is there a new feature out there we left behind?”. It’s not easy to think about great one-of-a-kind ideas. It is easy though to make it almost impossible.

Why? it’s all because the “parallel” right hemisphere of our brain, imagine the following brain storming conversation:

me(Left brain): Alright I’ve got one! The user will enter the screen, do X and Y (we’ll do some Z behind the scene) to receive …
   me(Right brain kicks in): but, doing Z will take me two weeks to develop..
   me(R): gosh, we’ll need to build a dictionary and hold it in memory if we want it to scale..
   me(R): reminder, use ReaderWriteLockSlim this time. It’s much faster than ReaderWriterLock!
   me(R): I guess that this feature is not as important as feature F1, maybe I’m spending my time thinking about this feature??!
   me(R): I’m so hungry!
   me(R): Oh, we can use [some service name] to do Z. Cool, so now this feature is feasible.
   me(R): crap, [some service name] cost money, I think.

[To the surrounding, it looks like I’m saying one fluent sentence of course. During that time they have their right brain working on “why not” / “how” / “when”]
   joe(R): gosh, is he for real? this is the lamest idea I’ve heard!
   jack(R): hmm, maybe he have a point there. This feature reminds me something I’ve always wanted to do… what was it now??…
   jack(R): naa.. this guy is crazy. for sure.
   joe(R): oh wait! we can use something I wrote to implement this feature! might be cool to use this code finally. It is laying there for ages.
   sarah(R): wonderful idea! I wonder if I’ll be assigned to work on it?
   jack(R): I’m listening to his bubbling for 20 minutes now. self reminder: talk about a bonus with the CEO.
   sarah(R): I need coffee! God, if you’ll end this meeting now I promise the donate 10$ for charity! coffee… please…

me(L): .. a brilliant search result !!

Any wonder that most brain storming meetings are futile?

Brain storming is a process that should be mastered and I suggest that you’ll jump to the nearest browser to find books at the topic, it’s a skill worth investing time at.
Before you do so, here are some rules I use to silent my right brain while doing Left Brain Storming:

  1. Never ever prioritize your ideas during brain storming. I can’t stress enough how important is this rule. Don’t worry about it now, you’ll have time later. 
  2. Listen to others.
  3. Be patient = don’t judge quality of ideas.
  4. Write everything down. I really mean everything! There are no “stupid ideas” now.
  5. You are not going to execute these ideas. At least that is what you should tell your right brain during that time.
  6. Understand the meaning behind the feature, imagine how it will work, not how it will be executed!
  7. Don’t invest more than 2 hours in a single brain storming meeting. If you feel you’ve missed some ideas, rest a few hours (or even better – a few days) and then give it another shoot. “Burned out quickly, left brain does. Burned out leads to impatience. Impatience kicking the right brain in action. Right brain means trouble for your brain storming meeting” — so does Master Yoda say (well, sort of)
  8. 80/20: after you’re done throwing out ideas (or the 2h gong), go over the features you’ve raised and mark features you think are interesting and feasible with 80 and features that are not with 20. This should take no longer than 2 minutes, so please use only 80 and 20 as numbers.
  9. Set a separate meeting to prioritize features with the existing backlog you’ve got. Important: don’t do it at the same day, you’ll probably want to sleep things over.

Happy hunting!


Oren Ellenbogen