First and Last Lens

31.05.2017 |

Episode #5 of the course How to lead a productive and creative brainstorm by TD Haines


There is a well-known fable about some blind men and an elephant. They are instructed to touch the elephant (all of them at different places) and describe what they felt.

• The man holding the tail thought it was rope.

• The man touching the leg thought it was a column.

• The man feeling the ear thought it was a big fan.

• The man holding the trunk thought it was a tree branch.

When we only rely on some information, we don’t get the whole picture. That’s why over the next few lessons we’re going to talk about applying different lenses.

Different lenses allow us to see our problem from a new point view. Putting different lenses together helps us get a clearer, big-picture idea.

Some lenses can be swapped in and out. The ones we’ll start with today, though, I strongly encourage you to keep in. In fact, I encourage them to always be first and second in your plan. They serve more purposes than just shifting viewpoints.


Lens: First Instinct

Let’s be honest. Your participants are coming in with two bags. One is filled with ideas they’ve already had, and the other with the status quo. It’s not their fault. It’s just human nature. However, as long as these bags are packed, they will impact all of their ideas.

So let’s unpack their bags right from the get-go!

Here’s how it works. You will say “Ok, again our problem is ___. What is our organization’s first instinct on how to solve this? What’s a typical way we would solve this?” Give them their thinking time, and then work your way through the speaking order.


Lens Process (Use for All Lenses)

• Question

• Thinking Time

• Speaking Order for 30-Second Summaries

• Go Around to Add On; “Yes And…”

• Repeat Until You Feel This Lens is Spent

This lens is pure magic. They will spill every “tried and true” tactic for solving problems that your organization always uses. They will suggest things that are doable, likely, and at best called “sustaining innovation.” These ideas aren’t bad. They are just unlikely to be disruptive. Taco Bell wasn’t disruptive by remixing the same ingredients into tacos, burritos, or quesoritos. Taco Bell was disruptive when they added Doritos flavoring to their shell.

The best part is that they have unpacked their pre-existing ideas and status quo constraints in this first question. Their brains will be ready to really think differently. That’s when you hit them with the next lens….


Lens: Last Instinct

Now we’re going to make them think disruptively for disruption’s sake. This lens is the last thing you organization would ever do to solve this problem. You can attack that from two paths. 1. “We’ve tried everything else, this is our last hail Mary pass down the field before we accept defeat” or 2. “Ideas that are the opposite of our brand. In fact they may conflict with some of our core values.”

This lens can be a blast. Let people be crazy. Nothing is off the table because this is a doomsday scenario.

The trick for you as a facilitator will be to keep them from shooting down last instinct ideas. These are contrary to your organization, so extra care and guidance from you will keep them on the “Yes and…” path and off the “No but…” path. Encourage them to really find a way to make it work.

In the short timespan to go from the First Instinct lens to the Last Instinct lens, you’ve stretched them creatively from their comfort zone out to a point beyond the organization’s structure. You may get some great ideas here, but you’ve undoubtedly set them up for the next set of lenses to be amazing.



• Set up your first and last lenses on your brainstorming plan.

• Save room to collect people’s ideas per the speaking order.

• Write down the core values and missions of your organization. These will be good to have on hand as contrast for the Last Instinct lens.


Recommended book

Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono


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