Years ago I was invited by my employer to engage in a two day seminar on generating ideas. Perhaps you have also been invited to attend one of these exciting events. We went to a golf resort and had a merry old time. My advice for anyone who has not yet experienced this type of training is to become violently ill, severely injured or otherwise incapacitated. Eat rotten mayonnaise, elect to have surgery, die if you must. I don’t care. Do whatever it takes to miss this nightmare.
That being said, I was recently invited to attend another such two day seminar, which I did. It was pretty much just as horrible as it was the first time. Ok, maybe a little worse. Sometimes, when I have a really bad bruise, I’ll press on it with my finger, just to see how tender it is. Then a few hours later, I’ll do it again. I don’t like pain, I’m just checking, you know, to see if it’s any better. Kind of like when you were 5 and you hated pickled herring, and now you’re 25 and you still hate it, but you only know that because you’ve tried it once or twice since you were 5. I mean you can’t just decide everything by age 5 and then never re-evaluate. Who in his right mind would take the advice of a 5 year old without question?
Before I begin tearing into this thing, I have to say that the people who came up with these seminars are brilliant. They did not create a market; it was already there. Companies actually do need ideas in order to survive; they just don’t want to have to pay their own employees anything to generate them. It’s ingenious because instead of paying employees full salaries to generate ideas all day, companies can pay Idea Seminar leaders $800 a head to help regular employees generate thousands of ideas in just two days. On top of that, the money spent is probably tax deductible.
So I attended the seminar, partly because it was mandatory, partly because I wanted to see if it still sucked, partly because there was the promise of lunch, and partly because I wanted to bask in the genius of a man who can convince a company to pay him $250K to force the employees to do something the company is not willing to pay them to do. An hour into it I remembered the pain, and I saw it echoed in the faces of my co-workers. One asked “Would you please gouge my eye out so I can leave?”
The leader must have seen that look as well, because he began promising us wondrous gifts. There were raffle tickets, which we could earn by doing his bidding. There were prizes totaling thousands of dollars in value. All we had to do was sit and obey.
Mollified, we did the exercises. We generated thousands of ideas. We used the tools to modify and expand on our ideas. We submitted our ideas to the Idea Barn, where they were categorized and ranked, until the top ideas appeared for our management to consider.
As you might guess, the Idea Barn is filled with crap. The ideas we generated revolved about sex, food, prostates, and revenge. Of course (almost) none of the ideas actually mentioned these things specifically, but we all know that “internet” really means “porn”, which is sex. In case you doubt my assessment, here are some of the more ingenious ideas:
- Music / Video / Picture Download = sex
- Electro shock therapy for drivers which display poor habits = revenge
- Satellite transmission vs. Cellular transmission to enhance speed and bandwidth = sex
- Server based personalization of vehicle downloads = sex
- Glove box toaster oven = food
- In seat prostate exam = prostate
- Ray gun in headlights = revenge
Then there were hundreds of ideas that would more accurately be categorized as identifications, such as “cell phone” or “a device that allows pictures to be captured onto a digital medium” or “fold up cars like on the Jetsons”. If anyone thought of something they thought was truly useful, they kept it to themselves so they could file for a patent.
One interesting thing, and I use the word carelessly because it’s not the least bit interesting, was that although corporate leadership was deeply concerned about my participation in this seminar; presumably because they have a larger view of the company and its future success, my manager began very shortly to see this seminar as an impediment, and soon needed to schedule some meeting, or escalate some customer issue so that I could “take a break”. I could hear the gears failing to mesh, and it became necessary for him to exert his authority over me and regain control of the situation.
Remember the raffle, that clever incentive the seminar leader used to manipulate us into doing his will? Well on the second day they held the raffle, and gave away about 8 things, all products designed by or for the seminar leader to promote his seminars, and worth a total on the open market of about $80. The rest of us losers, with our scores of raffle tickets still in the giant hat, got nothing but the assertion that we truly are tools, easily manipulated for whatever dark purpose our masters choose.
Oh, and there was lunch. It was 45 minutes during which we were allowed to spend our own money at any restaurant we chose.