Smart Steps to Successful Brainstorming
some point in your business career, it is very likely that you and
other key members of your affinity group will gather for an offsite
session or meeting convened for the express purpose of generating new
ideas. The sought-after ideas could be to solve problems, devise
strategy, build consensus, focus direction, or develop next generation
likely, your group will consider many different ideas by engaging in
the time-tested practice of brainstorming. While the brainstorming may
ultimately produce an incandescent new idea, all too often, the
session will deteriorate into anarchy or its close cousins:
contention, grandstanding, digression, or all of the above, and all at
once. But brainstorming, by its very nature, is ideally suited to the
exploration of new ideas, and it can work … if you follow these
seven smart steps.
territory. The human brain is divided
into left and right hemispheres that control different forms of
reasoning. The left side controls logical functions: arithmetic,
structure, sequence, ranking, and order; all of which proceed in a
linear progression. The right side controls creative functions:
concepts, music, images, and emotion; all of which are nonlinear in
nature, and occur randomly. Brainstorming is a creative process. Use
the right tool for the right job.
business people, being results-driven, try to jump immediately to a
logical conclusion while their right brains are still caroming around
in nonlinear mode. The left brain approach might let a new idea slip
through the cracks. Brainstorming, the right brain approach… and the
right approach… is an open process that recognizes, allows,
and encourages the free flow of ideas.
Appoint a facilitator.
Since anarchy is the major pitfall of brainstorming sessions, have all
the participants agree on one individual, either from your affinity
group itself or an objective outsider, who will run the session.
Set the context.
Before beginning the brainstorming, have all the participants agree on
the endgame of the session. Follow the second of Stephen Covey’s 7
habits of highly effective people, “Begin with the end in mind.”
Have the group agree on the goal of the session. An important
corollary to the setting the context is to set the time. At the
beginning of the session, have the group agree to the endpoint.
facilitator. Establish one critical
ground rule above all others: all discussion must be exchanged through
the facilitator. If there is cross-talk or side-talk, valuable ideas
might be lost. With the facilitator as the pivot, all ideas can be
shared by all participants. In addition, have the facilitator control
the equally important functions of managing the time and the traffic
as the participants speak up to contribute and share.
output. Conduct the brainstorming
session in a conference room with lots of whiteboard space on which
the facilitator can scribe ideas as they arise. Many creative
executives outfit entire walls of their conference rooms as
whiteboards. The scribing serves to crystallize the emerging ideas for
all the participants to see, as well as the more prosaic function of
providing a record. By directing all the traffic to the whiteboard,
the scribing also subtly gives control to the facilitator.
The whiteboard dry markers also allow color coding to
highlight key ideas. Now there are electronic whiteboards on the
market that not only provide all of the above benefits, but also
create a record of the brainstorming with the click of a mouse.
The physical act of assembling a group can, with the right ground
rules, produce cooperation. Cooperation produces consensus, a simple
concept that is the foundation of all diplomacy… and brainstorming.
“There is no
such thing as a bad idea” is the operating principle
on which all brainstorming sessions are based. But this very principle
can, and often does, backfire into the dreaded anarchy. But that only
happens when the first 6 steps are not implemented. Put all these controls into place and you just
might find that what seems like a bad idea at first, turns out to be
the very idea you were seeking.
the synergy of your group. Capture the free flow of their thoughts.
Find the breakthrough idea that might otherwise be lost in the
separate cubicles and minds of your team.
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