CommonSense Blog

Planestorming* – the Brainy Kind

By Carolyn Wang | Jun 05, 2013

Recently I flew with two of my colleagues for a somewhat formulaic client meeting. We all work out of the same office, however each of us lives near separate airports and under normal circumstances we would meet on the ground when we landed. This time I insisted we all fly together.

Though all three of us were prepared and already had a plan for the meeting, and even though the three of us work within steps of each other’s offices, we simply had not left the time or the space to ideate and discuss, and generally riff with one another so we could go in with additional fresh thinking that could further inspire our client team at the start. In fact, our day-to-day madness and competing travel schedules discouraged it. Even though our flight was under an hour and a half, I was hoping the time together would allow us to walk in with more of a roadmap that would generate feedback. What resulted, which I couldn’t have anticipated, changed the entire focus and tenor of our meeting that day.

This is a plane storm, the bad kind, and actually counterproductive to “planestorming.”

For those of us that aren’t terrified at the prospect of getting on the plane, oftentimes there’s a diametrical sentiment: It can be uplifting and inspirational. After all, an open sky is often associated with freedom and taking flight with endless possibilities, and the corny poetic parallels don’t stop there. Though most of my air travel these days involves a client at one end, for the majority of my life travel has been associated with more exotic destinations and the anticipation of adventure. To this day, airplanes and new experiences remain firmly entwined for me. Perhaps for that reason, simply being in the air enables our minds to wander, inspiring clear thinking. Wanderlust has long engendered both creativity and camaraderie, why wouldn’t those mental and emotional states translate when colleagues are traveling together?

On this particular flight, we had trouble staying focused – not unsurprising given the early hour and hyperactive nature of our agency-adapted brains. Though we tried to stay focused on the subject at hand, we kept sliding into other, unrelated conversations. Perhaps this meant that some part of our collective mind was free to focus on the core issues we needed to address while we moved from one topic to the next. Then the spark hit, when we realized that before we could do what our client had asked of us, we needed to help them address a significant barrier that they’d not yet identified. It was an “ah-ha” moment for sure, and it allowed us to formulate a somewhat brazen new structure and approach that resonated strongly with our client that day. Ultimately, we didn’t accomplish what the client asked us to in that meeting; instead we gave them a new way of thinking about their business. We’ll figure out the details on another day… perhaps on another flight.

P.S. I believe I have an idea why @bobpearson1845, @tmarklein and @psimas1 spend so much time in the air.

*Acknowledgements to @tmarklein for coining the term “planestorming.”