Summer is here. Maybe time to kick back and solve some pressing problems that you didn’t have time for in the Fall and Winter. That’s where brainstorming can come in handy. It’s best to start with a well-defined problem that represents a specific need or service requirement.
After that brainstorming is a good choice for those hoping to generate a creative solution to their business dilemmas. But brainstorming is not a free wheeling free for all, it is a structured task that promotes the generation of novel ideas, solutions and products to solve pressing business issues.
According to the book, “The Art of Innovation. Lessons in Creativity” by Tom Kelley, effective brainstorming happens in smaller groups of three to ten people maximum and some ground rules pertain.
One of the most important aspects of effective brainstorming is ensuring that people are heard and critiques of ideas are non-existent. Hence deferring judgment about what is generated is key. It is important that participants in a brainstorming session are encouraged to generate risky, off-the-wall ideas in large quantities. Being playful and having fun with the task is paramount.
People being listened to is also important. If more than one conversation begins, the effect is to stifle the brainstorming momentum where everyone builds on everyone else’s contributions. Ideas are triggered in conversation and a crescendo of thoughts and options can be built.
To engage everyone, it is helpful to number the ideas as they show up. The reason is that when encouraging people to generate a lot of ideas, seeing the number grow is an incentive to keep the ideas coming. Engaging in a quick process of idea generation is important as is the willingness to look at the same ideas from different vantage points. Just because an idea has been looked at from a particular point of view doesn’t mean it can’t be recast in a different light.
Keeping track of the ideas generated is important. Appoint a recorder who is not the facilitator to put ideas on white boards or paper taped to the walls. Displaying all the ideas and gathering them together after the session for distribution to participants is important in choosing the solutions that best address the issue.
Brainstorming meetings can be ad hoc, but that’s not the most efficient way to get the job done. Priming the mental pump is important before the brainstorm. Depending on the problem at hand, this can mean stimulating thoughts by visiting places connected with the issue, looking at competitor’s efforts in the same regard or taking apart other solutions generated for similar problems. Once the group is ready mentally, brainstorming can be highly effective and efficient.
Just as there are ways to make brainstorming fun and capable of generating the solutions needed for a business conundrum, there are ways to stifle the creative process and stop innovation in its tracks.
The first thing to do if you want to gag a brainstorming session is let the boss speak first. Everyone will rush to agree with or come up with something similar to the CEO. Sometimes it is just better for bosses to not attend brainstorming sessions, allowing the staff the latitude to struggle with the idea themselves.
While it may seem fair, ensuring that everyone has equal air time can be arduous and limit the effectiveness of a brainstorming session. This is especially true when the group decides to give everyone a few minutes to speak and then rigidly adheres to this regimen. In this way, all 10 people get five minutes to speak but the effect is a stilted discussion that does not generate the hoped for free flow of ideas.
Who you choose to invite to the brainstorming session is important. If you choose only experts in that field, you could inadvertently hamper the breadth of ideas generated during the session. Having people with a variety of backgrounds engage in the task reduces group think. It also eliminates the tendency to generate ideas emanating from one field versus the effect of having many diverse people and areas of expertise represented at the table.
Reinforcing that brainstorming is a special activity that can only happen off-site or at fancy retreats is a creativity killer as well. Hold your brainstorming meeting at the office, great ideas can come to people in simple places and nothing else is required.
Beware the biggest brainstorm squasher — the boss who says the ideas have to result in something practical, useful and useable by the end of the day. It is tempting to believe that putting these parameters on the creative process will net the required results, but making the session about the process of idea generation and allowing the outcome to work itself out is key.
Make the session fun, think summer, easy going, let’s see where we end up, just letting it flow is the way to go. Try a brainstorm this summer on a particularly trying business problem, who knows you may get a really novel answer. If nothing else you’ll have a bit of fun with your colleagues.
Dr. Jennifer Newman is a registered psychologist and director of Newman Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development company. Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality. Dr. Newman can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.