How Do You Know You’re Not Producing Crap?

how do you know you are not producingWhat would you do if you found out that your best practices had become your worst practices? Would you stop doing them? Most of us would probably say yes, but its not that easy is it? If we could stop when we recognized that something was a bad idea, then we would have far fewer smokers, alcoholics, gamblers and other addictive behaviors. 

Ok, what if we removed addictive behaviours from the conversation and simply looked at those behaviours that are just bad practice, we would stop right?  Well, actually, not really or not easiliy.  Often what people do instead of changing their behavior is to work harder at their old models.  They don’t do it out of stupidity or spite, they do it because they are absolutely convinced  that if they apply themselves, if the tools are right, if everyone would do their part, if any array of things were different  then  the old models would be effective and they in turn would be proven correct. On a regular basis new and better ways of doing things are revealed and ignored.

Psychology Today shared results from recent psychological research that revealed that the five worst learning practices are the ones we are most likely to use in schools.  Think about that. We teach our young with methods that are most likely to ensure they don’t learn.  Do we hate our kids?  Unlikely.  Are we committed to seeing them learn and develop new ideas? Yes.  So why aren’t we using the five best learning practices? 

Think about the corporate world’s persistent use of brainstorming sessions as a way to generate new ideas.  Research has shown that we actually generate more ideas when we are alone, than when we are in group settings.  The reasons are many, ranging from a reluctance to share because we might be ridiculed, to feeling too much pressure to perform.  Regardless of the reasons for low output, we know that we are less innovative in group settings, yet we not only persist in brainstorming sessions, but we work hard to make them work better.

What makes the sessions so very appealing is that we like how we feel when we participate.  We feel that we have produced more.  They generate trust and generally make us feel more connected to our colleagues.  Not bad for a bad practice and if we had feeling good as our objective, then that would be great, but that is not the outcome we are looking for from the activity, so why persist? The answer is simple and really complex, we don’t like change.

Change is hard and it can seem frightening or futile. We will work hard to avoid change. If we can understand what motivates us to do the things we do, then we are in a better position to manage performance, manage outcomes and manage expectations.  As leaders we need to understand that what we are comfortable doing isn’t always what we should be doing. Some of the most destructive words in any workplace, community or culture can be,  “That’s how we have always done it.”

This s not to say that traditions are wrong or old way erroneous. We just need to  be aware of why we cling to activities and ways of doing things.  We should also constantly be looking for the ways to improve.  We may determine that the old ways are still the best ways, but being blind to possibility, or closed to opportunity is not only a way to fail ourselves, but when managing people it can be disastrous for an organization.

One of the most interesting aspects of social media is that it behaves like a continuous improvement process.  It never stops assessing and adjusting, it asks participants to continuously adapt, it regularly produces metrics that you can measure performance by and it never stops changing. Not bad practices for the rest of our lives. Not surprisingly, it also happens to be one of the few places where brainstorming actually produces a quantity of innovative ideas.

Applying some of the adaptability that we use to navigate the social media world in the real world would be a great start to ensuring we are not producing crap. What do you do to stay effective? How do you ensure that your practices are still best practices? Share your ideas with me in the comment section.


About Debra Yearwood

Experienced communications and public relations executive who manages challenges with an eye on outcomes and a sense of humour. Learn more about how I think at Learn more about my experience at
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26 Responses to How Do You Know You’re Not Producing Crap?

  1. Since I have taken up blogging I have learnt so many new things. Marketing especially is something I had never had an interest in and never knew much about. Now I am quite hungry for knowledge in this area for personal gain and for personal knowledge. I have actually been reading some interesting books on the topic – which your readers might enjoy.

    Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
    You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself

    I think you will learn alot from these books – I know I did

    Hopefully I also learned from them how to change some of my bad habits?


    • Thank you for the book suggestions Ashley. I’m always a keen reader or at worst, collector of books…I generally get around to reading them. I think I have “Made to Stick” in my “to be read” pile but was eager to read Susan Cain after one of my readers suggested it, I’ll have to send her a thank you. I love the title of the last book, how could you not want to read it?

      I’m still learning to manage my bad habits, I suspect it will be a life time endeavour as they are easy to pick up. 🙂


  2. As a teacher, I had a love/hate relationship with group activities. Both professionally, and personally, I’ve been guilty of falling into the trap of not using the best practices to achieve a necessary goal. It can be all too easy to get stuck in a rut. But then I remind myself of Michel de Montaigne’s motto, “Que sais-je?” What do I know? I’ve learned to take great comfort in recognizing that change happens, but that doesn’t make the adjustment any easier.


    • Jeri we all get caught doing things the same old way we have always done them. Often that is the right way, but I think the important thing is to ask and be curious about the alternatives. I remind myself that the alternative to change is death. Suddenly change doesn’t seem like such a bad option. 🙂


  3. Leora says:

    I’m enjoying reading the comments that say they have had good experiences with brainstorming. It certainly seems like a good way to go! I’m good at technology, though I don’t see the change. It’s like the puzzles I did as a teen – I liked doing them then, and technology is mostly puzzles. If you have confidence you can solve the puzzle, you can do tech. Now, if you change a regular appointment time or tell me my kids get home earlier and I forget, that’s a change I don’t like. Moving from MA to NJ wasn’t easy for me – there’s a change that took me a while. Now I’m used to NJ (twenty years later).


    • I like the comments on brainstorming too, they make my point. 🙂 Leora you are spot on about the importance of confidence in dealing with technology. I find stuff on-line so intimidating until I actually try it. Once I decided to try, suddenly things that seemed complicated are intriguing. I rarely even have to ask a question now, someone is always out there willing to share their knowledge and experience before I even know what to ask – you are a perfect example of that, I learn all kinds of things from your blog. I still get overwhelmed every once in while by the shear volume of knowledge but I’m OK learning a bit at a time.

      Not all changes prove to be so fluid, but I think the principle remains the same. You have to try and you have to continuously ask yourself, is this the right way to do things? Does it still work and if not, don’t freeze, take a deep breath and look for ways to change.


  4. Glynis Jolly says:

    As much as we may want to embrace change, I don’t think it comes that easy for anyone whether they want to admit it or not. We want to feel comfortable with what we do and that means doing it, at least, a few times, and often much more than that. A simple change I’m have trouble grasping is to drink more water. Often I find myself in the cupboard looking for a snack when what my body wants is liquid, water. I go to the cupboard out of habit.


    • Glynis change isn’t easy, not even close to easy. I’m having the water challenge with myself at the moment. I’m trying to figure out ways of “tricking” myself into drinking more since rationalizing wasn’t working. Sometimes you just have to be innovative.


      • Glynis Jolly says:

        I have found a trick that works when I’m paying attention anyway. I’ve make a rule for myself: Every time I go into the kitchen, before I do anything else, I must drink 6oz of water. There have been a couple of times when I have forgotten but for the most part, it’s working.


  5. Some changes we have no choice over (best to accept those). Other changes we do exercise some choice. I think we tend to obsess over small things and changes (weight control comes to mind) because they feel relatively manageable. I think that larger-scale changes, like climate change, we tend to ignore, because it feels frightening and unmanageable. When we talk about change these days, technology is almost assumed to be at the center of the discussion. But I suggest that climate change should be at the center of discussions about change. It’s bigger than any change that we’ve yet encountered.


    • Great points Alison. Climate change really does put things in perspective, if we don’t change we will destroy ourselves. The challenge is convincing people that its not overwhelming. A series of many small steps is all that it takes to make a difference. If you try to look at everything needed then you can get paralysed, but if you can start with something simple, then it makes it easier to move to the next step. How hard is it to participate in Earth Hour? What if you took an hour a week to shut things down or to unplug all those things that don’t need to be left in when you’re not using them? Once you start to change little things, the big ones tend to follow.


  6. Debra, I don’t think there is one answer to the majority of the questions you pose. It depends on the individual, the organisation and a lot of other factors.

    Personlly also have the best ideas when I’m alone, mainly when I fall asleep, wake up, in the middle of the night or pleasantly occupied with something else (walking, reading and so forth).

    However brainstorming can be fantastic. Provided you brainstorm with creative and open minded people. If you are with bureaucrats it will not work. Have you noticed that the best ideas that come up during brainstormings usually are the ones that at first seem crazy?

    Personally believe a combination of ideas you personally had that are then discussed with others often works very well. Social media is great. But be careful what you share. If not your ideas will be stolen.


    • I agree, I don’t think there is one right answer, but I’ll bet there are many great ones. The idea is not to get stuck doing things a certain way all the time. Change for the sake of change is not what I’m promoting, but keeping an open mind to the possibilities.

      As to brainstorming, you can be incredibly creative and an introvert, in that case a brainstorming session is not going to work for you, but instead be an exercise in anxiety. It’s difficult for someone who is an extrovert to understand how challenging even the best facilitated brainstorming sessions can be to introverts. I often miss getting great ideas from team members because there are people who simply do not want to participate in that kind of open environment. I do a round of phone calls or emails after or before a session in order to get ideas from those simply not comfortable engaging in that setting. Gathering ideas individually then discussing as a group can work well, but the same dynamics can emerge.

      As to social media, I agree, the right safeguards have to be in place. For organizational or business purposes I would do it in a closed online forum.


  7. Gosh, where do I start. We have done such a good job training ourselves to not speak up, to take a risk and speak our mind that brainstorming sessions are an exercise in futility. I purposely gave up using that as a tool to produce ideas. I found one/ones with my staff much more affective. 😊


    • Susan I have watched one person derail an entire process by expressing a strong negative opinion so many times that I shudder when someone suggests starting a process in an open forum. There are always the introverts who would never be comfortable speaking in that setting and once a strong extrovert speaks, they can shut everyone else down. There are definitely ways to use brainstorming sessions to benefit a group, but they have to be managed carefully and you have to be pretty clear what you are trying to get from the activity.


  8. I agree that we often hold on to practices that don’t work. But I do disagree that brainstorming is a waste of time and that you can think up better ideas alone. I personally have conducted brainstorming sessions in which we came up with many new ideas, pared them down to those that met our criteria, assigned people to implement them and set deadlines. The problem with most brainstorming exercises is that you throw up a lot of ideas on the wall but then nothing happens. We used to have a saying in our agency that two heads are better than one, four heads are better than two, etc. In a novel approach, we invited clients to participate in brainstorming sessions. Why not? Some agencies would be afraid the client would think the agency people wouldn’t know what they were doing. But my experience is that clients welcomed becoming part of the process.


    • If I implied that brainstorming was a waste of time then I apologise. I think it serves many useful purposes and is a technique I use myself. What I would say is that if you need to generate as many ideas as possible in a short period of time, then you will get a greater quantity of ideas if you let people generate them on their own and then come together to discuss. One of the most obvious reasons for this that not everyone can talk at once in a group. There are also other factors like fear, lack of trust and social loafing (I don’t need to talk, so I won’t or let’s talk about other stuff). It’s all about your objectives.

      If you have time, want to grow trust and have collective buy in to ideas, then I think a well facilitated brainstorming session works wonders. As to inviting your clients in to join you for a session, BRAVO!!! I love that idea. The client understands the challenges and benefits of their product better than you and so bring powerful insight to the process. In addition to that, they would be more vested in the solutions you develop because they were part of the process.


      • Debra — I respect that you’ve had the experience where ideas flourish when individuals bring them together to discuss. But I’ve had the experience that when you get a group together people they are looser (when the group is properly facilitated) and can build on other people’s ideas. The ideas really get flowing One thing we always did was to bring someone to the session who was not part of the team, not on the account, and entirely unfamiliar with the problem we were trying to solve. He or she had no built-in biases and wasn’t afraid to pipe up with an idea out of left field. Some of the people with the least information came up with some of the best ideas!


        • Jeannette I’ve no doubt you’ve had great experiences with brainstorming sessions, you may have found the methods that make it work well. However the views I shared in the post are not personal opinion, but are based on about 40 years of research done on the subject that reveals that they produce fewer ideas than individual activity. I would also add that its not a question of brainstorming sessions not producing ideas, but that the research shows that more ideas are generated individually.

          In the 1940’s and 50’s Alex Osborn wrote a series of books addressing the challenges he was having with employees. They weren’t creative enough. To respond to that he developed the concept of brainstorming. The idea took like wild fire and hasn’t reduced in popularity in the years since. In fact, the way we structure many of our organizations are prefaced on employees working and creating together. In the 1960s, researchers started to look at the effectiveness of brainstorming sessions, the earliest studies were conducted by researcher Marvin Dunnette but numerous studies have followed. Susan Cain explores the area in some detail in her book, Quiet. The New Yorker magazine also carried an interesting article on the subject in January of 2012 called The Brainstorming Myth.

          More recent research comes from Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University. I think you will find his work particularly interesting as he has focussed on creativity and successful management strategies. He has developed methods to make brainstorming more effective. Given the success you have had with your sessions, you may be following activities similar to those he suggests or found other ways to circumvent some of the challenges that have been found.


  9. Lorraine Marie Reguly says:

    I don’t love change. But I don’t hate it, either. What I don’t like is technology, because it’s smarter than me, and it makes me feel inferior. I also have a tough time understanding it, for the same reason.

    If change is for the better, or if I understand it, then I am okay with it.

    The main thing I would like to change is my weight. But that’s a whole ‘nother ball game….


    • I love the comment about technology, it is precisely how I feel about it. I don’t always like it, but boy am I fascinated by it. You know most of the time people’s resistance to change is because they don’t understand it. I do a lot of change management work and the biggest challenge is helping people to understand why the change is needed.


  10. This reminds me of a thought I have every now and then. We are taught so often to focus our view into certain areas that it seems we forget to look at the bigger picture. Instead of seeing how many things share similar qualities we are more intent on the details of what makes something unique. This thought can be applied to many things throughout our lives.


  11. Simone Hart says:

    I was fortunate to have a fabulous teacher in high school who emphasized ‘the only constant thing is change’. As a result, I have always embraced change. It certainly makes life interesting to look for and try new things or methods for work or your personal life. Paying attention to young people whose minds are more open will sometimes give you a new world of ideas.
    Some old ways are reassuring, comfortable like old friends or slippers. The friends are certainly keepers!


    • You were very lucky Simone. It’s lesson that is easier learned young and one that once understood, makes life so much easier. My kids teach me new things everyday, don’t tell them I said so. 🙂 I also learn from friends who are older and wiser than me, I guess it’s about staying hungry for knowledge in all aspects of your life.


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