How to brainstorm so that you ACTUALLY get some new IDEAS?

Yesterday (22.7.15) I was conducting a Creative Problem Solving workshop for a client. How can you have a session on creativity without discussing Alex Osborne’s #brainstorming technique? So I launched into the same, sharing the cardinal rules of brainstorming:

  1. No criticism or debate. Criticism will just stem the flow of ideas.
  2. Quantity is more important than quality at this stage.
  3. The wilder the idea the better as it is easier to tame wild ideas than the other way around.
  4. Build on others ideas. Use ideas as launching pads.
  5. Each idea is equal no matter who suggested it.

I reminded them that brainstorming is a divergence tool and should be used such. From prior workshops, I knew that group discussion was the organization’s primary tool for problem solving. So I asked them do they follow all the cardinal rules in their brainstorming sessions. The answer was a resounding “NO”. They shared that most of the time judgments were passed as soon as ideas were expressed; also the person requesting brainstorming already had his/her pet idea and would shoot down any other idea. Now, others quickly realized this fact and not wanting to face embarrassment people start to mirror that idea and soon the brainstorming session concludes. Hmm…this is not brainstorming.

The participants were curious and asked some questions about how a session should be conducted. We then went into how to conduct a brainstorming session:

  1. Plan a meeting with a group of 4-8 people.
  2. Write out the topic that you are brainstorming up front.
  3. Review the issue and ensure understanding amongst the group
  4. Review the cardinal rules.
  5. Decide norms of the meeting i.e. following the rules. Penalties for not following rules
  6. Have someone facilitating to enforce rules and write down all ideas
  7. Generate ideas
  8. Conclude the brainstorming session

So far so good. This was by the book…

And then we launch into why organizations pay facilitators like me. You could see the wheels churn furiously in the participants’ minds.

A participant shared her experience. She had been part of a brainstorming session of peers and she saw the free flow of ideas. They came up with very innovative ideas, selected one and actually built a computer program for it. However, she had also attended brainstorming sessions by her team including ones that she ran and the ideas were basically recycled ones.

That set off a discussion around how should a person overcome this issue? Some ideas we came up:

  1. The boss (person with maximum positional power) should remain silent and let others speak. In no manner should he/she divulge what idea they prefer.
  2. Get an external facilitator for the session. You need not get a consultant (and the fees), you could have an informal agreement between 2 team heads. You facilitate my team’s brain storming sessions and I facilitate yours.
  3. We considered another technique “Brain Writing” and then crossed it out because it was very tedious. However, we adapted the idea: Get everyone to write out his ideas before coming. The sheets should be anonymous and put into a box. Then we will take them out and build on each idea. First we thought handwritten and then to ensure total anonymity, we thought of word processed lists.
  4. After a brainstorming session, we conclude the divergence stage. Take a break and then reconvene for a convergence session. This is to ensure that people can differentiate between the 2 processes clearly.

By going through this process I demonstrated the use of the tool: Brain Storming. Am looking forward to success stories from the participants (when they try to apply and succeed).

Happy brainstorming!

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Contributed by: Lovely Kumar, Chief-Projects, Larks Learning Pvt. Ltd.

For customized workshops and psychometric assessments call at 91-9899108659