Reason 6


20121023_165303They Force You to Brainstorm

Okay, without judging any of your ideas and building on those you have already made, jot down all the reasons why the thought of another ‘brainstorming’ session makes you want to throw up. Go!!!

What’s most nausea-inducing about brainstorming is that we expect too much from it. Brainstorming is only a starting point; nothing more, yet it gets treated as more than this. As a starting point though, it works,no doubt about it. It’s still one of the best techniques for generating ideas within teams. The trouble is, what do you do with all those ideas?

The ideas produced in a good brainstorming session will include great ideas, bad ideas, creative ideas, ridiculous ideas, stupid ideas, profound ideas, useless ideas and useful ideas. Everything comes up, which may account for that feeling of nausea. So now the task is to narrow down the list and the quickest way to do that is with brutal, and objective honesty. The reason you need brutal and objective honesty is you have to switch gears from the subjective nirvana that makes brainstorming effective to the harsh light of organizational reality.

To do this just try asking the question “What’s really going to work here from this list”?  Likely a large portion of the ideas will be quickly discarded. Then you can have a really good fight over what remains and come up with a short list of the best ideas. If you’ve got people on your team that talk endlessly you can speed up the process by giving everyone three votes and they assign their votes to the ideas they think are best; often referred to as multi voting. Count up the votes and see which ideas get the most and go from there.  Keep in mind you’re not really going to know which idea(s) are best until you actually start to do something with them and that’s why you don’t want to take forever to narrow down the list. Usually it’s the taking forever to narrow down the list that makes you want to throw up and never use the word brainstorm again.

As you narrow down the list you may find there are a few ideas that are on the fringes; maybe good, maybe not. This usually occurs when a team doesn’t know enough about the idea or how to implement it. Don’t lose these ideas. Hold on to them and re-examine them once in a while as things progress. They may end up being valuable.

Don’t be a brainstorm slave either. Sure it works but it can be tiresome. Brainstorming is best used when a group is stuck in its thinking or its roles. You know you’re stuck when people are bored or experiencing a gnawing sensation that something is missing. Brainstorming is also good for groups that don’t know each other very well. With a team that has been around for a while and isn’t dysfunctional to any large degree, simply asking what ideas are out there usually gets to the heart of the matter pretty quickly. If you’ve addressed the first five reasons to hate work teams you can trust that your team knows what’s going on well enough to get the important ideas out on the table, and that’s what you’re really looking for.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. What is the best idea you’ve seen come out of a true brainstorming session?
  2. The shift from the more subjective nature of brainstorming to the more objective nature of narrowing the list can be challenging.  How have you helped groups do this?
  3. Usually, suspending the critical analysis of ideas during brainstorming is difficult.  How do you do this for yourself and how have you helped groups do this?

 

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4 Responses

  1. One way to help teams get comfortable with the shift from brainstorming to narrowing is to reassure them that all the good ideas generated will not be lost. For example, I participated in a brainstorming session with one team that came up with a long list of ideas on how to improve their work. At the end we acknowledged that it would not be feasible to tackle the whole list, and that it should be narrowed down to 5 items that the team could focus on. While this seemed reasonable to everyone, there were far more than 5 good ideas on the list! We agreed that the remaining ideas would be captured for future reference, so that we could re-visit the other good ideas after the first 5 were accomplished. This approach can help reduce the number of brainstorming sessions, and especially the kind where the participants are thinking in dismay, “What about all the good ideas I came up with last time?”

    • Sara, thanks for the comment and I think you make a good point about not losing those good ideas and making sure the group knows they will not be lost or forgotten.

      There can be a ‘watch out for’ here as well and it’s linked to Reason 5 about generating tons of extra work for the team leader. If the team leader is the one that gets stuck making sure ideas don’t get lost it can be problematic. One of the things I’ve done in these situations is to get people to ‘own’ holding one or more of those ideas that have been put aside to make sure they don’t get lost. In this way the responsibility is shared and since each person has less to focus on they can focus more intently on the idea they own and may find links to the ideas already being acted upon in novel ways.

  2. What I like about brainstorming or brainshowering as someone recently referred to it as is the energy it can create. Important to set up the ground rules and a couple that I find effective are, want to hear all the voices of the team system, everyone is right partially and lets have some fun.

    A couple ways to stretch the process is have them use metaphors as it gives deeper meaning. I’m always amazed at what comes out and it seems to take participants to a different place. Another fun idea is once the ideas are presented narrow them down and put the ideas out front. Write them on a piece of paper and have people vote with their feet. This really shifts the energy and generates some creative thinking. Ask a couple powerful questions and have them stand closer to the idea or further away if they don’t agree. I like it because it taps into the right hemisphere which helps us look at things more holistically.

    • Wendy, thanks for another great comment! Love the term brain showering! Not sure it that creates an image of more or less ideas coming forth or perhaps a different kind of energy in the process…

      I would like to hear more about asking the group to use metaphors. How do you position this and what is the process of working with them?

      Voting with their feet is a nice approach too I think. The physicality of it is what will also stimulate different brain networks and it is very visible and visceral so it is tends to make further discussion almost inevitable.

      One other point not so much related to your comment but your comment made me think of this and isn’t that the idea of brainshowering!?!

      The brainstorming process is very extroverted and one of the introverted equivalents is mind mapping. I have used both with groups as part of the same idea generation process to find some balance in these two preference areas and it works very well.

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