Jurgen Wolff Brainstoming Tips ...

Reprinted with kind permission from Jurgen Wolff's Brainstorm E-Bulletin

Brainstorming Tips by Jurgen Wolff For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life

During my break I had a chance to read some terrific books, and in this edition I'll share some insights from them. At the end of your normal half a dozen items, as a PS, you'll find a new feature, a letter with which I can share some more personal thoughts with you. If you're interested, they'll be there for your perusal, if not, you'll still be getting your usual concise dose of ideas and inspirations. Here we go:


One of the books I enjoyed is "The Creative Habit," (A*) by choreographer Twyla Tharp. She writes, "it's vital to establish some rituals--automatic but decisive patterns of behavior--at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way."
She mentions several artistic examples (yoga, lighting a candle, putting on specific music), but the one that stuck out was very down-to-earth.

It came from an entertainment attorney named Burton Meyer. He said, "Ever since I was a young lawyer, each day I would come back from lunch and I would close my office door, I would sit in my chair, and for one hour I would quietly ruminate on one question. And the question was this: Burt, what's in it for you?"

Tharp notes, "A ritual of asking 'What's in it for me?' might not provide the most open-minded philosophy of life, but it will keep you focused on your goals."

ACTION: The next time you're going to undertake a new project, take an hour to ruminate on what's in it for you. Not only money, but personal satisfaction, enjoyment, etc. You might find there's not enough in it and decide not to proceed, or you might find lots of motivation to move forward.


Also in Tharp's book is a story about songwriter Burt Bacharach. He wanted to get producers thinking of him when they were looking for tunes for their recording artists and soundtracks. He made a 4-CD limited edition of all the different singers who have recorded his hits over the years, and sent 1000 of them to music executives and producers around the world. It worked.

ACTION: If there are people you want to make aware of your product or service, what unusual ways can you think of to do that? And who are the people you should target? For example, CDs are very cheap these days, so how about a CD on which you explain what you do, and featuring endorsements from people who love your product or service? Or what about a greeting card on an unusual holiday? Or...(your turn).


Another interesting book is Steve Chandler's "100 Ways to Motivate Yourself." (A*) He writes that when he finished presenting a workshop, it was often difficult to get people started asking questions. Now he draws five circles on the board and says after five questions they'll take a break. Because everybody wants the break, they are much quicker to ask questions.

ACTION: You can also use this method when conducting a business meeting. If you want some additional input, say 'Once we have another three ideas about this, we'll take a break.'


Steve Chandler tells a story in his book about his daughter, Margie, when she was in the fourth grade (so about ten years old). A very shy girl in the class accidentally put a big black mark on her nose with a black marker. The rest of the class pointed at her, started laughing, and soon had the poor girl in tears. Margie picked up the marker, marked her own nose, and then handed the marker to another classmate and said, "I like my nose this way, what about you?" Within a few minutes, the whole class had marks on their noses and the girl who had been crying was laughing.

ACTION: Who do you know who's going through a rough time right now, maybe health-wise, or in their career, or with a relationship? How can you let them know that you're on their side? Warning: don't tell them about the sufferings you've been through yourself, this turns out to be strangely uncomforting! Instead, it could be a card saying 'hang in there,' or a bunch of flowers or a plant, or just having a cup of coffee or a beer together. And if they ask why you're doing it, you can tell them the Margie story.


Richard Koch has written several books about the 80/20 principle, that we get 80 percent of our results from 20 percent of our effort. Naturally, the trick is identifying which 20 percent it is! In his book, "Living the 80/20 Way," (A*) he identifies the characteristics of 'stars' in various fields--that is, the people reaping 80 percent of the rewards. Here is what he found:

  • Stars are ambitious.
  • Stars love what they do.
  • Stars are lopsided. (That is, they are not all-arounders, they do one thing extraordinarily well and don't worry about the rest.)
  • Stars know a lot about a little.
  • Stars think and communicate clearly, they market themselves concisely.
  • Stars evolve their own success formula (and they don't arrive at it overnight).

ACTION: Consider each of the points above in the context of what you do. Do you love what you do? If not, what would you rather be doing? What's your best talent or skill? Are you putting your focus on that, rather than trying to be good at a lot of things? Have you learned how to communicate clearly your own unique selling proposition? If you haven't yet found your success formula, whose could you adapt or learn from?


Richard Koch points out that most of us assume that more happiness will come from having more and doing more, but in fact sometimes less is more. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • Stop spending time on anything that doesn't bring you happiness and fulfillment, that isn't necessary for your living or the happiness of the people you care about;
  • Don't say yes when people ask you to do things, unless it connects in some way with your purpose;
  • Take items off your list. Less work. Less shopping. Clear closet clutter. Give away things you don't need, or recyle them. Give up feeling angry, close off an old grudge.
  • Edit your life. Cut out unsatisfying meetings, travel, relationships. If something's not going anywhere, stop.

ACTION: Did any of these suggestions have an emotional resonance for you? What's the first thing you're going to edit?


“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”
– Father Alfred D'Souza

Until next time,


PS: Here's the first letter from a book that I'm working on, which will be called "Letters to an Unknown Friend." I hope perhaps these letters will speak to you-- j.

Dear Friend,

I have not told anyone about this book because the baby killers are around. Have you heard that phrase before? The "babies" in question are ideas, and the killers are all those people who greet a new idea--when it's very young and needs a lot of love and nurturing--with scorn. "That'll never work, that's a crazy idea, who would go for that, what makes you think you can do it, nobody's done it before, why waste your time?"

All of our pasts are littered with the fragile bodies of the babies that we brought forth, that others laughed at, and that we abandoned. They are our (almost) forgotten dreams, and probably they are our greatest source of regrets. Somebody wise observed that it's not what we did that we regret at the end of our lives, it's what we didn't do. I'd be surprised if, upon reading this, you don't hear the echoes of a few of those scoffing voices from your past. Often they belong to well-meaning parents, who said no once too often; who feared risks themselves and didn't want you to get hurt (forgetting, somehow, that getting hurt is part of growth).

This particular baby comes from the fact that I love writing and receiving letters. I used to get long, funny, informative letters from friends all over the world, and sent back similar ones. Then I guess we all grew up. Jobs started taking more time, so did relationships, then some of my friends became parents and God knows children take time. We found ourselves dashing off notes and eventually e-mails, and talking on the phone instead.

I miss writing those letters and I miss receiving them. So I thought I would write a book of letters to friends as yet unknown--letters these friends can read at their convenience, letters they don't have to answer except in their own minds.

The nastiest thing about baby killers is that we allow them to set up housekeeping in our brains. Those critical, unsupportive people in your life may be long dead, or you may have escaped them by moving away, or you may have changed your circle of friends...and yet their voices live on. I heard some of them when I had the idea of this book.

“Who will care about what YOU have to say?”

“When are you going to have time to write this, considering everything else on your plate?”

“How do you know you’ll find a publisher?”

I told them they've been wrong more often than they've been right, so please shut up. I have no time for them--I'm busy writing a book, thank you.

Is there a dream you're harboring right now that the baby killers, external or internal, are holding you back from achieving? It doesn't have to be anything grand, it might be learning a new language, shaping up at the gym, telling your family you need half a day a week just for yourself, or...

If it's other people who try to stop you, sometimes telling them the story of the phrase "baby killers" when they're scoffing or being critical seems to work. Of course they'll say they're only trying to help, only trying to keep you from wasting your time or making a fool of yourself. If you tell them that you feel like wasting some time, and that it might be quite refreshing to make a fool of yourself, there's a pretty good chance they'll shut up. At least to your face. They may go on scoffing behind your back, but so what? There's no point in arguing with them because they're not operating from logic; they're operating from fear—maybe their fear that you’ll get hurt, or maybe their own fear projected onto you, or maybe their unconscious fear that you'll succeed in achieving the things they'll never dare to try.

One of my dreams years ago was to go to Hollywood to write for television and film. I packed up my little car with everything I owned and hit the road. When I got to the freeway sign that said, "Hollywood, next 7 exits," I was in heaven. I checked into a cheap motel and late that night discovered, via the sound effects, that this was a location favored by hookers. That first night was a pretty good metaphor for my eight years in Hollywood, but I'm not sorry that I told the baby killers to leave me alone because I had a dream.

The internal baby killers are sometimes harder to silence. Nike, the shoe company, makes jillions of dollars a year, and one of the reasons must be their slogan: Just do it. That's probably the best way to keep the internal baby killers at bay. Be too busy just doing it to listen to them.

I've now spent a few hours beginning to Just Do this particular dream of mine. Your turn?

your friend,

Our web site is (unfortunately, Jurgen's site is now closed). You might also enjoy my book, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT, (A*) available now in the U.K.

(Contents copyright, Jurgen Wolff).