Light Up Your Brain With ACT

Light up your brain with ACT

Have you ever felt that brainstorming sessions seem to sputter out after about 20 minutes and often leave you well short of “big idea” territory? Well, maybe it’s time to give ACT a try.

Ah, but what is this “ACT,”, you ask. Some new energy drink?  Actually, no.  It’s Anticonventional Creative Thinking (ACT for short), and if you’re not familiar with it already, it’s worth taking a little time to investigate.

When I first came across an article about Anticonventional Creative Thinking, I was as suspicious as I was intrigued. Actually, more suspicious than intrigued. But after reading about how it works, it quickly became apparent that this approach has the potential to yield far more creative solutions to advertising problems than “brainstorming.”

Jeffrey Baumgartner, an author/artist/teacher/businessman/speaker and vocal proponent of ACT, has written pretty extensively about ACT and is the self-proclaimed developer of the process.  He actually has a lot of interesting articles on his website, besides the ones on ACT. But right now, you just want to know what the heck this ACT thing is all about, right?

ACT isn’t like the typical brainstorming session in which a moderator facilitates a discussion, writes down everyone’s ideas on the whiteboard, and assures everyone that “no idea is a bad idea.”  Instead, participants are encouraged to ask open-ended questions (and lots of them) about the problem at hand. Not just logical questions, but challenging and off-the-wall questions. The goal is to come up with really outrageous solutions. Oh, and there’s no holding back on criticism— anything ordinary or conventional is to be dismissed on the spot. At the end of your session, you should have a handful of really good ideas, instead of the typical wall full of dreck that someone has to then sort through to find the good ideas.

As we all know, criticism is one thing that can make people clam up real quickly in a brainstorming session. Baumgartner addresses the merits of criticism in an article that compares the opposing camps of ACT and brainstorming: “Recent tests are also demonstrating that the most sacrosanct rule of brainstorming, reserved judgment, is not effective. When participants are allowed to criticize ideas, ideation events result in more creative ideas.”  He goes on to explain that there should be three rules to this criticism:

  1. Criticism is to focus on conventional ideas and boring ideas.
  2. Criticism will always be formulated politely and respectfully.
  3. Whenever an idea is criticized, the person who suggested the idea and anyone else in the group must be allowed, and indeed encouraged, to defend the idea.

Are you still scratching your head wondering exactly how Anticonventional Creative Thinking works?  Baumgartner outlines a good example of it in this article. Although the scenario is different from a typical advertising problem, this should give you a pretty good picture of how an ACT session goes.

Interestingly, Baumgartner has actually done some research with MRI imaging, which shows that Anticonventional Creative Thinking not only engages the entire brain, as opposed to just the small area of the brain shown to be active during more conventional brainstorming, but that it also minimizes activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal and lateral orbital regions of the brain that act as the brain’s censorship bureau. He documents this toward the back of his 17-page white paper on Anticonventional Creative Thinking, which you can download for free.

As with anything as nebulous as creativity, the jury is still out on ACT, though it has a growing share of converts from “brainstorming.” Take a look at ACT for yourself and the next time we all get together to come up with ideas for something, maybe we can see how it works for us.


August 20, 2013 · Posted by in misc  


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