10 tips for your next brainstorming session at work (Rappler.com)

(First published on June 8, 2014 in Rappler.com)

Dreading your next big meeting? Empowering advice from former Disney Imagineer McNair Wilson

Whether you’re working by yourself or in a team, there will be times when you’ll need a breakthrough idea to save the day. Oftentimes, however, typical “brainstorming” sessions end with nothing much because, according to former Walt Disney Imagineer McNair Wilson, “Nobody knows how to brainstorm anymore… Usually what’s going on is playful arguing with snacks on the table.”

Wilson, now an author and public speaking coach—among his many other hats—was in the Philippines in May for a lecture series called “The Curiosity Tour.” He believes that curiosity is an essential trait of all creative people—whether or not they think or know they are creative. “Everyone was born with it”, he says; some people just remained curious while others “grew up” and left their sense of childlike wonder behind. (READ: Feeling uninspired? Wise words from top creatives)

The author with former Walt Disney Imagineer McNair Wilson
The author with former Walt Disney Imagineer McNair Wilson

In this Rappler exclusive, we share with you some tips from a guy whose ideas have led to some of Disney’s most popular attractions.

1. Stay curious. “The best tool of creativity is a question,” declared Wilson, who was part of conceptualizing five of Disney’s theme parks and was the lead Imagineer for Disney’s “Tower of Terror” attraction. “Never stop asking questions. Be the other guy who says, ‘Why not?’”

The next time you have a problem to solve, Wilson recommends using this question:“Wonder what it would be like if we…?”

2. Challenge assumptions. Don’t accept things “just because.” If there are unwritten rules in your team or organization, ask “Why?” or “How else can things be done?”

What else can you try that may not be in the instructions or in “how we’ve always done things,” but which can still get you the results you need? Chances are, some of your ideas may work—it’s just that no one has bothered to ask or try them out.

The danger in not challenging assumptions is that you will gravitate toward the status quo, killing the chance for new ideas to flourish. In his book, Hatch! Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer, Wilson writes, “Even when everything is ‘fine’, I say brainstorm,HATCH! That old saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ is for people who are satisfied with life, work, and business as usual.”

BE YOURSELF. Share your ideas, and don't be surprised if you don't agree – and if not everyone agrees with youBE YOURSELF. Share your ideas, and don’t be surprised if you don’t agree – and if not everyone agrees with you

3. Think differently. Be yourself. Wilson exhorts his audience to dare to be different—to be the best versions of themselves and to “find what works” for them instead of always trying to please others.

“You’re the Number One ‘You’ in the world. And if you don’t do ‘You,’ then ‘You’ don’t get done, and the world’s isn’t complete… When you do ‘You,’ you inspire the world.”

When working in teams, Wilson encourages team leaders to give members the space to share their ideas. “Be more flexible. Let people do things their way.”

“There will be limitations. There will be reasons. There will be rules,” he acknowledges, but also says that, sometimes, the failures of a team stem not from the ideas themselves but from “failure to communicate and failure to get along.”

4. Don’t block others’ ideas. Aside from believing that “we’re not creative,” another idea-killing belief is that “they’re not creative.” Managers sometimes shrug off others’ ideas because they come from junior staff or from the “uncreative types.”

“It’s not so much the words you say, but how you say [them that’s considered blocking],” says Wilson. Do you raise your eyebrows when someone speaks up? Do you appear disinterested when someone’s pitching an idea? Do you immediately jump in to say why something “won’t work”?

Wilson proposes a shift in perspective: “Be positive—be curious! Sometimes, it’s the most unlikely person in the room that can contribute a great idea.”

When that happens, “Get out of the way of inspiration,” he urges.

5. Build on others people’s ideas. Wilson calls this saying “Yes, and…” to others’ ideas. When someone else comes up with an idea, acknowledge the idea and build on it—or even go in a different direction—as long as you don’t block the original idea.

“If you say, ‘yes, and…’, nobody can be negative,” Wilson points out.

The more positive energy flows and the more ideas are generated, the more chances you’ll have of stumbling upon your Big Breakthrough.

“If you’re brainstorming, some of the best ideas come in the last five to ten minutes. Keep pushing ‘till the end,” Wilson shares.

6. Engage all your senses. Using all the senses can help you redesign an experience, improve a product or service, identify an unmet need, or simply generate new ideas. Wilson shares the experience of a bakery off Disney’s Main Street that had a sudden spike in sales when a redesign in the chimneys allowed the scent of freshly baked chocolate cookies to waft out into the street.

“When you’re designing—when you’re creating—use all five senses,” Wilson quoted the late Walt Disney.

Wilson also talks about the power of observation. Oftentimes, new solutions emerge from observing how people interact with a particular product or service. “You have to practice noticing other things,” he points out. “How can you take a familiar place or experience and look at it differently?”

7. Try something new. Creativity can be awakened when you try something new; oftentimes, it happens in the simplest of ways. You can try a new dish at a favorite restaurant, a different ice cream flavor, a new drink, a different route to or from work—anything.

“Sometimes, some of my favorite things are things I used to hate,” Wilson admits. And that’s where new possibilities open up. If you try something new often enough, you soon shall have expanded your realm of possibility, making it easier to accept and try new ideas.

8. Start small. Just start. Oftentimes, the barrier to a great idea is the typical “lack of time and budget.” Wilson doesn’t see this as a hindrance—even they had some scrimping to do while at Disney—but it poses an interesting challenge to problem-solving.

“Anything worth doing is worth starting poorly just to get it done,” Wilson asserts—but he doesn’t mean being mediocre. He means starting something without aiming to be “perfect”—just to get momentum going—and then improving on things as you go along.

“It’s not about a big budget,” Wilson points out. “What do you want to do? Do it.” While you’re at it, give yourself a tight timeline to force yourself to come up with something, sooner than you think.

9. Go wild with your ideas. There are times when it pays to get wild with your ideas and see what happens when you keep pushing. “Walt Disney built a theme park that people thought wouldn’t succeed… When Disneyland opened, Walt Disney was broke,” Wilson points out.

Disneyland was losing money during the first three years of its operations. But that didn’t stop Walt Disney and his initial crop of wild believers from pursuing their wild, audacious idea. Today, the Walt Disney Company is a diversified company operating globally, with businesses in “Media Networks, Parks & Resorts, Studio Entertainment, Consumer Products, and Interactive Media.” As of May 2014, the company has a market cap of $142.92 billion, ranks No. 100 in Forbes’ Global 2000, and is No. 17 among the “World’s Most Valuable Brands.”

Wilson urges, “Go beyond what makes sense. Go beyond what you understand. Go beyond what you can afford.” Go for what excites you, and be fueled by that sense of adventure. Even if your concept does get trimmed down, you’ll still be much better off than having nothing.

10. Take risks. Finally, being open to creativity and to new ideas will mean nothing if you don’t actually take risks to make something happen.

“Take the risk. What do you love to do? Do it. Find a way to put into your regular work what you love the most.”

For McNair Wilson, the thespian-turned-Imagineer-turned-wizard-of-creativity, being curious and creative is not just a great way to work—it’s also a great way to live and be.

“What do you do best? Are you using it every day? If you’re saving it—what are you saving it for?”

He emphasizes, “Find your passion—find out what it’s about, and put it in your life. You have no excuse.” – Rappler.com

Photo of two people thinking via Shutterstock

2 Pinoys among 10 Outstanding Young Persons of the World (Rappler.com)

(Published in Rappler on September 17, 2012)

MANILA, Philippines – Two Filipinos were among those named as Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYP), an annual search by the Junior Chamber International (JCI), otherwise known as the Jaycees.

They are Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, president of MicroVentures, a social enterprise known for the multi-award-winning program Hapinoy; and Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvaña, Assistant Director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institutes of Health, University of the Philippines Manila, also known for his work with HIV/AIDS patients in the Philippines.

Benigno Bam Aquino: One of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYP)
BAM AQUINO: HAPPILY FOR the ‘Nanays.’ Image from Aquino’s Facebook page (via Rappler.com)
DR. EDSEL MAURICE SALVAÑA: Produced a rock concert if only to spread AIDS awareness. Image from Dr. Salvaña's Facebook page (via Rappler.com)
DR. EDSEL MAURICE SALVAÑA: Produced a rock concert if only to spread AIDS awareness. Image from Dr. Salvaña’s Facebook page (via Rappler.com)

Aquino and Salvaña are joining 8 other outstanding young individuals from Botswana, Catalonia, Ireland, Madagascar, the Maldives, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. They will be awarded at the JCI World Congress in Taipei, Taiwan on November 20, 2012.

This is an excerpt only. To read the full story, visit the Rappler website, HERE.

Marking the birthday of my best boss ever: My Facebook greeting for Sen. Kiko Pangilinan

(Note: This was originally posted as my status on Facebook. I joined Senator Kiko Pangilinan’s team in 2009–one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire professional life.)


I know that the nation is still mourning the loss of a great man, but I’d like to take time to thank and pay tribute to another great man on the occasion of his birthday.

To Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, may the Lord bless you today and every day of your life and may He continue to grant you the strength, the courage, the wisdom, and the grace to be the leader and public servant that you already are.

From you, I learned that one can truly lead and serve without selling his soul; from you, I learned that one can aspire to greatness while staying ever-humble and while keeping his feet firmly on the ground. From you, I learned that great leaders need not beat their own breasts or trumpet their achievements because real achievements will always speak for themselves. From you, I learned that a leader must always question even his own motivations and actions because it is always tempting to indulge in vanity and the whims of the ego. From you, I learned that a leader must never sow despair, but must always, ALWAYS strive to bring hope and inspiration.

Most importantly, I learned from your example that nothing truly matters most than being there for your children and your family. There is no greater job than shaping and inspiring lives, and if we are to set examples for the next generation, then we must always start leading and inspiring at home. You have taught me much about being a public servant and a private person, and for this, I will be eternally grateful. May the Lord grant you more years ahead so that both your family and the nation can be gifted with your presence.

Maligayang bati po, Sir, at mabuhay kayo.

Proud to be part of Team Kiko
Proud to be part of Team Kiko

Lessons in Failed Leadership (Out of the Universe)

(Originally posted in the blog, Out of the Universe)

I committed one HUGE mistake that proved almost-fatal to my political career when I was in college: I wanted to emulate someone whose position I was aspiring for, and when I finally reached that position my intentions failed to translate into effective actions. It wasn’t because I didn’t care about the responsibilities that were entrusted to me or about the constituency that voted for me—in fact, my involvement in the student council meant pretty much everything to me in those days. In hindsight, I now see that my failure then was caused partly by my failure to understand WHY my “idol” did things the way he did, what he was trying to work towards, and what particular strengths I brought to the table that would have been my own unique contribution to the organization.

In short, I tried so hard to be someone I was not—and that caused so much grief for me and especially for the people I worked with.

In trying to be like my idol I wanted to copy everything that he did—even if it wasn’t working for our batch’s “mix” and our particular circumstances. In wanting everything to be “perfect” I sometimes failed to even begin because I was already bogged down by too many unnecessary details. In focusing on my position instead of on my responsibilities I lost sight of the reason why I was there in the first place.

That guy was a hero of sorts for me. But because I didn’t try to understand his motivations and because I still had a very shallow understanding of myself and my roles, I failed to become the leader—the hero—that I also wanted to be.

* * *

I am sharing this at the wake of the launch of the I Am Ninoy campaign and on the celebration of National Heroes Day because I have seen youth’s folly of trying to follow in the exact same footsteps of our elders and our heroes—only to be defeated and heartbroken because we assumed so many things and forgot so many others.

We assume that just because certain things worked for our elders and heroes (e.g., People Power) that those things will work for us as well. We forget that times differ, circumstances and personalities involved differ, and so outcomes will most likely differ as well.

We assume that just because they did certain things that those things “must have” worked. We forget that behind every story of victory are countless, untold stories of defeat and shame. (Imagine what could not be written in the history books!)

We assume that our heroes are infallible, perfect. We forget that, like us, they stumble and fall, they have their own failures and weaknesses, and that they, too, are subject to ego, pride, and all the nasty little things that can cause a human being to briefly swallow his principles and ideals. (Ever wonder why many heroes die young? Maybe because if they had lived to grow old they would have crossed over to the dark side as well.)

We assume that everything our heroes did was for “love of country.” We forget that, sometimes, life sets in and forces people—people like us, people like even our heroes—to choose practicality, pragmatism, convenience, or their own comforts and preferences. (I’m sure that whenever Rizal would profess his love for a woman it wasn’t necessarilypara la patria adorada.)

We assume, most dangerously of all, that we can fit into any leader’s or hero’s mold if we put our minds, hearts, and souls into it. We forget that we have our own strengths, talents, and capabilities and that we can be heroes in our own mold. (Yes, it’s easier to copy-and-paste, but that’s plagiarism. Be your own, beautifully written, original piece of work.)

* * *

And while it’s great that we are now being reminded of who Ninoy was and what he has done for the country, I exhort every young Filipino here: FIND YOUR OWN STRENGTH AND BE YOUR OWN HERO. Don’t be a “second-rate, trying hard copycat” of someone else; be the ultimate version of yourself that you can possibly be. Because if you can’t even be the best version of yourself in this planet, then what makes you think you’ll be a great version of someone else?

I Am Ninoy campaignSo if you want to be a Ninoy, by all means, GO AHEAD. But be clear, first of all, about what Ninoy means to you; about what qualities he has that you think this country needs now, in 21st-century Philippines; about what YOU have that you can contribute to this country; about why you’re doing this, and so on. Don’t believe everything that you hear or read about—do your own research. Don’t swallow everything that people tell you about what you should and should not be doing—go ahead and discover your own, authentic truths.

As the old adage goes, “First, know thyself.” It is only after that when you can unleash your true heroism and truly make a difference.

And now that I’m a tad older—hopefully a tad wiser—I can now confidently say: I am Niña, not Ninoy. And it’s perfectly okay; I’ll go and make a difference anyway.