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New Section 6
How to brainstorm a new name
What should we call it?
Coming up with a hundred ideas is the easy part, once you know a tad bit more about brainstorming.

Dear Tom: We want to change the name of our service [testing that helps public schools improve their performance] to something with the word Data in it. But nothing we've thought of sounds right. We're pulling hair out in clumps over this. Help!!! Signed, Nameless and Nearly Bald.

Stop. Deep breath. Toss every name you have. Not because they're bad. Because they're predictable. You might end up returning to them. But first you need a bit of brainstorming.

Okay, to begin.

Question #1: Does the name matter? By which I mean, can you call it anything (Google, Frito-Lay, Data Smackdown) and get the same results. The answer is probably yes.

Here's my point. A name is just an identifier, to distinguish you from the rest of the world. "That boy is Merlin. Those other boys are not Merlin." Realizing that a name is merely a name loosens the shoulder muscles. "Okay, all right, I see: the name is just a name. We can call ourselves anything, really. No need to panic. There's no RIGHT name."

Question #2: What's wrong with your old name? By which I mean, what are its salient deficiencies? Too long? [The old name stretches out to four words and 36 characters.] Too bureaucratic-sounding? It's good to know exactly why you don't like the old name before you go and change it. You don't want to repeat your mistakes.

One of my favorite brainstorming activities is the 180 degree experience. Instead of trying to think of the BEST name, you try to think of the WORST name. If that sounds like a grand waste of time, trust me: it is a great paradigm breaker. You will discover all sorts of things -- including a host of new approaches -- if you do this.

The central problem in brainstorming is always the same: we think in ruts. We have preferred, personal solutions to every problem. When we ask ourselves questions, we have instant answers.

I would venture to say that all of your "data"-based names are in this category. For obvious reasons, you love love love "data." It's safe. It's scientific. It's the one thing you feel distinguishes your service maybe.

But you're in a data-demented rut. Is "data" sacred? Hardly. You can't predict what it might mean to your potential client base.

It might sound kind of old. "Datatron. Bringing you the discoveries that make the 1950s so great."

It might sound kind of unfriendly. "Data? Wasn't he the Star Trek guy who couldn't feel?"

It might sound kind of leaden. "Would anyone like another slice of data?" "No thanks, Marci. That last slice went down like a rock."

Hey, there's a 180 degree name for you: I Hate Data, Inc.

Let's pretend the one word you can't use is "data." It's radioactive. It totally sucks. It's been outlawed in 50 states. Now what are you going to do?

How to brainstorm. You choose a key benefit, any key benefit. You write that in the middle of a blank page. Then you free-associate.

Let's say the key benefit is "true learning." I write that down. Now I draw a short line from the word "true" and at the end of that line I write my first free-associative thought: "real." Then I draw a short line from "real" and write another freely-associated word: "honest." Hey, now I have a new name:

Honest Ed's School Testing Service.

And yet, rather than taking a double dose of strychnine because that result is SO horrible, I press on. Filling several pages with free associations, until I've gotten "data" out of my system, and have instead dozens of new ideas.

In one of my brainstorming books I learned that the thing that distinguishes Nobel prize winners in the sciences is not their IQs (which can be fairly normal), but rather the number of solutions they have to any one problem. Their creativity distinguishes them. They do not settle for the first or obvious or predictable solution. They have a dozen, two dozen, a hundred solutions. That's where the breakthroughs happen.

Copyright © 2005-2015 & ∞, by Tom Ahern and Ahern Donor Communications, Ink. All rights reserved. Cool portrait photo: Jonathan Feist
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