Creativity, Personal Development, Strategic planning

Hunt for ideas before butchering them

Have you ever been in a group setting where you’re all trying to find some new and creative solution to a challenge the group/company/organization is facing? Picture the setting in your mind. Got it? Ok. Here’s what I think often happens. Someone, often the leader or senior person in the group, asks a question or briefly outlines the challenge and then says, “So, any ideas?” After an uncomfortable pause one timid soul offers a tentative solution. Unfortunately, unless the idea is clearly a brilliant one s/he will invariably be met with a plethora of reasons why that solution won’t work. A few more stabs at solutions are suggested until the group decides that perhaps it would be best to stick with something that is the same as or at least very similar to what they have already been doing. Anything new or innovative will have already been shot down and butchered. So the idea you end up with is most likely a mediocre, regurgitated version of something that’s been done before.

Recognize this scenario? I do. A few years ago I read a book that offered a great solution (actually it had many cool solutions, but this is the one that stuck with me best) for this challenge. The solution is in the form of a catchy phrase. Let me write it in Norwegian first because it flows better and rhymes, then I’ll translate it.

Idé jakt før idé slakt.

Literally translated it means – Idea hunt before idea slaughter. In other words, hunt for ideas before you butcher them. Notice there are two distinct phases in this creative process; 1) hunt, search, chase, stalk your ideas, then after you’ve exhausted yourselves, then, and only then can you 2) begin to slaughter, butcher or dismantle your ideas.

In the idea hunt phase you create a safe setting where everyone knows that what they say will not be butchered immediately. A few simple guidelines can be helpful.

  1. In the hunt phase you want all ideas on the table; the good and bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the fantastic and the horrible. You might just find that the horrible idea that you initially wanted to lambaste stimulated a thought in the head of someone else that became the really beautiful, fantastic idea that would eventually revolutionize your business. Without that horrible idea the beautiful one would never have been thought of.
  2. In order for all the ideas to make it to the table you must agree that no criticism of any idea is allowed.
  3. Some will be tempted to criticize in subtle ways; “yes that is a good idea, but….” Outlaw the phrase, “Yes, but.” Instead encourage the phrase, “Yes, and.” Yes and, acknowledges the first idea and then adds something to it. Yes and is a spontaneous and organic way of encouraging one another to explore new ways of looking at things.
  4. After you are content with the amount of ideas produced you bring an end to the hunt phase and begin butchering or discarding your ideas until you’ve come up with one or two that will really do the job. Please note that sometimes you end up with an idea that is tried and true and not all that innovative, but is the best one out there. The difference between ending up here after this process and ending up here after butchering as you go along is that there is a greater chance that more people will be on board with the decision because they’ve felt as though they have been heard and have contributed.

Try this next time you have a team meeting and see if it doesn’t generate more ideas which in turn will lead to better ideas. Good luck J.


The book where I got this idea from is entitled: Kreativitet by Stig and Stein. For those who don’t read Norwegian, I’m sorry. It’s not a bad language to learn, though :-).

More on Stig and Stein here –



4 thoughts on “Hunt for ideas before butchering them

  1. This is really cool because i also have promoted this idea. However, I recently read research that the opposite can produce better ideas. Actually butcher as much as possible as early as possible 😀
    I’ll try and find this….


  2. Hey Brendan, Thanks for the excellent article. The brainswarming method is something I also use and highly concur that it can produce excellent results by tapping into the minds of not only extroverts, those most likely to engage in a larger group setting, as well as introverts, those least likely to engage in larger settings.

    I won’t try to argue with Bailis other than to note that I have successfully used the hunt before butchering technique with good results. Plus, a side benefit has been a deepening of trust between the members of the group. Early and open criticism has not had the same side benefit. In a future blog I’ll write about the “how to make toast” excercise that is a further take on the brainswarming method. Thanks again for the article and more food for thought 🙂 .


    1. I think maybe it depends on how safe the group members are with each other. Trust and safety allows a lot more butchering a lot earlier in the process. Don’t waste time on “silly” ideas approach.
      However, from silly ideas we get ridiculous ideas and from there we often great great innovation 🙂



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