Adventures in Brainstorming and the “A Team Salad”

Throughout my studies in both psychology and business and my professional life thus far, I have been fortunate enough to participate in many ongoing learning, training and certification opportunities. Some have been quite niche or nuanced and others more broad and generic. Topics have ranged from leadership development to time management and goal setting techniques; from interpersonal skills like conflict resolution or negotiation to project management and so on. And a lot of these programs or protocols, especially my Six Sigma training, have emphasized brainstorming as an invaluable and critical first step to problem solving and identification of root causes as well as potential solutions.

And to be honest, I really always thought I hated brainstorming. To me, it has often seemed like a waste of time to throw out completely useless ideas or ones that we all know will never work (I do realize that many will disagree with me here, but I am just being honest about my personal feelings). Of course there is inherent value in getting everyone to voice their viewpoints and contribute and shape the solution from different angles, but REALLY is it necessary to consider even the options that are ludicrously impractical or genuinely bad ideas? For this reason, my husband, who has also had substantial training in lean and continuous improvement ideas and programs has affectionately nicknamed me the “Idea Assassin.” Meaning that I am the person these trainings caution against, the one that has a tendency to shoot things down or start judging the ideas being proposed too early in the process (i.e. immediately). He is much more comfortable with all kinds of very abstract or nonsensical thinking, and actually regularly asks me questions, completely out of the blue I might add, like would it be “better to be stuck in a tree with a massive, angry bear beneath you or in a swimming pool with a hungry shark?” And I am just blinking and asking BUT WHEN/WHY WOULD THIS EVER HAPPEN TO ME?

However, this month my Happiness Project is devoted to my pursuit of my passions, which means carving out more time for specific hobbies and activities which are deeply satisfying to me. And one area which I wanted to focus on was cultivating my creativity. A few months ago when I was initially planning the scope and details of my year long project, I happened across an interview with A.J Jacobs, an author who has written several books on various personal lifestyle experiments. Something that he incorporated first as part of one of his projects, was a daily 15 minute completely unstructured brainstorming session. Every day he sets a timer and starts with a blank sheet of paper and whatever first thing pops into his head, for example “snowman.” From there he jots down literally anything that follows for the full time dedicated to the activity (snowflake, cold, winter, vacation, beach, towels, laundry, etc.). The exercise, he argues, has had major impact on his ability to build creative thinking skills and stimulate his brain to reason in ways that he has subsequently applied to a wide variety of other areas in his life. Research has demonstrated the efficacy of such an approach for strengthening problem solving and decision making capabilities in particular. I was intrigued, but thought for someone who genuinely struggles in the absence of structure or direction, 15 minutes was overly ambitious. So I made a resolution to commit to 5 minutes per day to start.

Now it has been just over a week. And…. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!! I set the timer and start with a fresh section in my beloved OneNote and start typing as quickly as I can to capture anything and everything that springs to mind. The time flies by and I am shocked at how substantial the boost to my energy, focus, and even happiness is with such a minute investment. I thought that although I understand the theory and value of the activity, it wouldn’t be something that I would necessarily enjoy. But I was completely wrong – the benefits have already been startlingly disproportionate to the effort that this requires on my part and it is something I look forward to daily.

And although this is supposed to be a totally unstructured activity, I can’t help but think that as time goes on, I will be interested to see how often my thoughts cycle and what particular patterns might emerge. If I look back just over the past couple days, important people in my life often come to mind as do specific topics and ideas naturally, regardless of where I start. Albeit it shocking to no one, but interesting to me nonetheless, there are definitely recurring topics and paths already as I review the concrete evidence of people and things often on my mind. Kind of like certain foods that just keep reappearing on my plate lately: avocados, artichokes, and arugula (rocket). I just can’t get enough, so in another “creative thinking” pursuit, I decided the only thing to do about it was to combine all three together to make the ultimate “A Team Salad. In addition to the aforementioned illustrious “A Team” members, I included other high profile popular favorites of mine including salmon, spinach, hemp seeds and lemon. Finished with a light, zesty vinaigrette, it’s a Whole30 compliant, savory, healthy fat and protein packed salad with just the right flavors and all the necessary ingredients to satisfy both my taste buds and my hunger. It’s almost all of my faves on platter!  Now if only I could figure out a way to incorporate almond butter…

"A Team Salad"

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Serves: 2

Pulling the entire "A Team" together on this one - avocado, artichokes, arugula along with other personal healthy fat and Whole30 compliant favorites and a light, zesty vinaigrette!
Lemon Shallot Vinaigrette
  • Avocado Oil (or Extra Virgin Olive Oil) .33 cup (80 ml)
  • Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
  • Minced Garlic clove 2 each
  • Minced Shallot 2 each
  • Apple Cider Vinegar 2 TBSP
  • Dijon Mustard 1 TBSP
  • Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
The A Team Salad
  • Salmon Filet 2 each
  • Melted Coconut Oil 1 TBSP
  • Baby Spinach 2 cup (450 g)
  • Arugula/Rocket Salad 2 cup (450 g)
  • Marinated and Drained Artichoke Hearts .5 cup (90 g)
  • Avocado, Sliced 1 each
  • Cucumber, Sliced 1 each
  • Green Onion, Thinly Sliced 1 each
  • Shelled Hemp Seeds 3 TBSP
Lemon Shallot Vinaigrette
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until combined. The oil will emulsify and the flavor will be out of this world amazing. I store this separate from the salad, and there should be enough for about 5 servings.
The A Team Salad
  1. Start by preparing the salmon, preheat the salmon to 350 F/180 C and then line a baking sheet with foil, drizzling with half of the coconut oil. Place the salmon skin side down and spoon the rest of the coconut oil over the top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and bake for about 12 minutes or until cooked to desired doneness.
  2. Meanwhile, slice all the vegetables and then start building your plates.
  3. Combine the spinach and arugula/rocket leaves and then top with the artichoke hearts, avocado, and cucumber.
  4. Once the salmon is cooked, place it on top the bed of greens and drizzle the Lemon Shallot Vinaigrette over the plates.
  5. Finish by sprinkling the green onion and hemp seeds on the salad and enjoy the explosion of flavor!