What It Feels Like to Participate in a Group Brainstorm at Work

 Hi team, thank you for participating in this brainstorm! Remember, there are NO bad ideas, only ones that reveal the depths of your incompetence and make your colleagues look at you differently. I assure you this is a fun, zero pressure, collaborative exercise — everyone will have an opportunity to say something they regret the moment it leaves their mouth.

I value your feedback and I want to get the most out of our time together. That’s why this brainstorm has been minimized for productivity and maximized for tangents, ramblings, and confessions you’ll feel pressured into giving because no one is talking and the silence is too much for one person to bear. Relax, you got this!

Of course, I’m happy to go over the brief again if you’re confused. I promise you there are no stupid questions, only obvious ones that waste everyone’s time. Like for example, the one you were just about to ask, Ali.

The last thing I want you to do is to apologize for your ideas. I’m simply asking you to eliminate all the bad ones, in your head, before you burden the rest of the group by speaking them out loud. Nod if you understand.

This is an open, safe space for you to say whatever comes to your mind. Your performance in this brainstorm is in no way tied to your annual bonus or related to the notes I am writing down every time you speak. Just trust your instincts and speak up! It’s only by hearing Ali say “how about socks, but for potatoes” that I will instantly know what I don’t want. Clap twice if that makes sense.

Ok folks, I’m concerned I’m not hearing any claps. I don’t know how much clearer I can be: We’re simply “throwing things out there to see what sticks.” Of course what “sticks’’ and what gets crumpled up, bounced off the wall, and buried under a pile of festering garbage, is subjective. Don’t let the ambiguity of this distinction psychologically torment you into paralyzing self-doubt. We’re only spitballing here!

We’re here to support everyone, even Ali, who thinks potatoes can wear socks? Walk me through the logic. Does the potato have feet or is the potato afoot? Team, the most important thing to remember is that there’s a wrong way to use your imagination and Ali is a great example of that.

This is a group effort! That means after one person speaks, another must ask, “Can you repeat that?” on and on until there are no more words left to repeat, only guttural releases of grief, horror and remorse forever having replied yes to this meeting invite.

Ok, let’s try this. I’ll pose a simple question to get us back on track: Does anyone know what day it is? Don’t overthink it. This is not a riddle. But by now in the brainstorm, I’ve undermined your confidence to the point where you no longer accept the Gregorian calendar as a source of truth.

Just go with your gut. Think nothing of Ali’s public failures and humiliations. Brainstorms are not designed to trick you, they’re merely designed to warp your sense of self and tear holes in the fabric of reality. Time is a social construct, an illusion made up of human memories we’ve arranged to give our lives meaning. Maybe every brainstorm that has ever been and will ever be is happening right now in front of our eyes. Maybe that’s how I wanted you to answer my question. Or maybe I just wanted you to answer “Tuesday.”

Speaking of time, we’re running out. If you take anything away from this brainstorm, it’s that your contributions matter to someone, somewhere! Just not here. But don’t beat yourself up! You should take comfort knowing you’re not Ali. And also there truly is no one solution, only a series of unrelated nouns I’ve scribbled on this whiteboard that represent your collective brainpower and creativity. I truly believe the “Cat Potato Red Velcro” is going to take some world by storm. Until then, please help me brainstorm a replacement for Ali.

Ali Kelley is a Brooklyn-based humor writer and essayist with work featured in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Slate, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. Since childhood, she’s been using comedy to cope with the terror and wonder of being a woman in the world.

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