Brainstorming Reloaded20. Januar, 2011
Brainstorming?!! I have to admit that I lately wasn’t too excited about that any more. Luckily, I got a refresher and new impetus on how brainstorming can be done, and how powerful it can be. One of the many things I took away from my OUBS B822 Residential School Jan 7-9. Looking back, my appreciation of brainstorming probably diminished because this technique is often applied in a rather lax manner, which badly impacts its effectiveness.
You probably know situations like this from somewhere: In a meeting, everyone is mulling over something, and the chair suggests: “OK, so let’s have a quick brainstorming here”. Sigh, ok. You then have about 5 minutes to switch to ‘creative’ mode and spit out anything that comes to your mind. After there are 10 or so more or less mind-blowing suggestions on the wall, you stop and move on. If you’re lucky. Or even worse, ideas are immediately being criticized and/or one of the early ones that seems suitable is selected, and the meeting moves on…
A brief recap of the brainstorming rules below. This might be boring but helpful to be reminded from time to time. Do you (still) know all of them?
- There are no bad ideas (defer judgment).
- Quantity breeds quality (go for 100, not for 10 items).
- Freewheeling (dare to think wild, be crazy).
- Hitchhiking (stealing is ok!)
It is also good to know that in a brainstorming session the ideas / thoughts typically come out in three “waves”:
- the obvious, usual ideas (somewhat helpful but nothing out of the ordinary) ……….
- totally crazy, mostly useless ideas ……….
- still wild but also useful / more practical ideas (finally the really juicy stuff!)
Did you notice the little dots after the first two waves? That’s where the s-i-l-e-n-c-e comes into play. This is of course what makes the whole exercise a bit more interesting and nail-biting. And: this is where you as the facilitator can show you are of some value ;) First, let there be silence. (Diana Larsen recommended in her book to silently count to 30. Works brilliantly for me.) This will also help the more introverts to speak out. If there are still no creative outbursts in sight after a while: Consider ‘random stimuli’, e.g. postcards, every-day-objects that you gather from the office, or even a change in location (park nearby) etc. These will help your analytical mind to stand back and let your ideas and associations flow more freely.
Example: In our brainstorming session, we used a box of these marvelous postcards that you get in restaurants and bars for free. There are easy to keep in a corner of your shelf or in the meeting room. Just ask people to freely select a card and spit out anything that comes to their minds. In our case, a card with a portrait of Che Guevara spawned a whole new threat of thoughts around revolution vs. evolution, how far one is prepared to go, etc.
Thanks to Marc Innegraeve for putting new shiny sparkles on this somewhat rusty technique (what a metaphor)!
After some practicing and subsequent reflecting I noticed that I’d made one of the most common mistakes myself: I’d stopped too early in some of my brainstorming sessions. I’m glad I know better now, and I’m really looking forward to my next brainstorming now. I might even dare random stimuli (will go for the rather ‘safe’ option of postcards first). Give it a try, too, and tell me how it went :)