The brainstorm (or thought
shower as some people now call it) is the most popular group creativity
exercise in business. It is quick,
easy and it works. But many
organizations have become frustrated with brainstorms and have stopped using
them. They say brainstorms are
old-fashioned and no longer effective.
But the real reason for the frustrations is that the brainstorms are not
facilitated properly. A well-run
brainstorm is fun and energetic.
It will generate plenty of good ideas. But a poor brainstorm can be frustrating and demotivational. Let's look at some simple ways to ruin
your next brainstorm meeting.
1. Having no clear objectives
A brainstorm with a vague or
unclear purpose will wander and lose its way. So set a clear objective. The purpose of the brainstorm is to generate many creative
ideas to answer a specific goal.
It is best to express the goal as a question. A wooly objective is not helpful. 'How can we do better?' is not as good as 'How can we double sales in the next 12
months?' However, the parameters
of the questions should not be too detailed or it can close out lateral
possibilities. 'How can we double
sales, through existing channels and with the current product set?' is probably
too constrained. Once the
question has been agreed it is written up clearly for all to see.
It is worth setting
objectives for the number of ideas to be generated and the time to be
spent. 'We are looking to generate
60 ideas in the next 20 minutes.
Then we will whittle them down to 4 or 5 really good ones.'
2. Too homogenous a group
If everyone is from the same
department then creativity can be inhibited and you may get 'group think'. Choose the group carefully. The best size is somewhere between six
and twelve. Too few people and
there are not enough diverse inputs.
Too many people and it is hard to control and retain everyone's
commitment. Sprinkle the group
with a few outsiders from other areas or even from outside the business -
people who can bring some different perspectives and wacky ideas. A good mix of people works best - varied
ages, men and women, experienced and fresh in, etc.
3. Letting the boss act as facilitator
Beware of having an
autocratic boss with his or her team.
They can inhibit or shape the discussion. If the boss is present then it is better to have a good
independent facilitator - someone who can encourage input from everyone and
stop one person from dominating.
The worst formula for a brainstorm is generally the department manager
leading the meeting and acting as scribe and censor at the same time.
4. Allowing early criticism
The most important rule of
brainstorming is - suspend judgment.
In order to encourage a wealth of wacky ideas it is essential that no one
is critical, negative or judgmental about an idea. Any idea that is uttered - no matter how stupid - must be
written down. The rule about
suspending judgement during the idea generation phase is so important that it
is worth enforcing rigorously. A
good technique is to issue water pistols; anyone who is critical gets squirted.
5. Settling for a few ideas.
Don't get a handful of ideas
and then start analyzing. Quantity
is great. The more ideas the
better. Brainstorming is one the
few activities in life where quantity improves quality. Think of it as a Darwinian
process. The more separate ideas
that are generated the greater the chance that some will be fit enough to
survive. You need stacks of energy
and buzz driving lots of wacky ideas.
Crazy thoughts that are completely unworkable are often the springboards
for other ideas that can be adapted into great new solutions. So keep the crazy ideas coming -
you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find one prince!
6. No closure or follow through.
Don't stop the meeting after
generating lots of ideas with a vague promise to follow up. If people see no real outcomes they
will become frustrated with the process and lose faith. You should quickly analyze the ideas at
the meeting. One of the best ways
is to divide the proposals into three categories - promising, interesting or
reject. If any of the promising
ideas are real no-brainers - so good that they should be implemented straight
away then give them to someone as an action item immediately.
You should categorize and
collect the ideas. On a separate
flipchart write all the promising and interesting ideas which are marketing
ideas say and on another chart all the sales ideas etc. This process of rearranging the ideas
can help you see new combinations and possibilities. Some people use post it notes at this stage so that they can
easily move ideas around.
If you are pressed for time
then an alternative method of selecting the best ideas is to give everyone five
points. They can allocate points
to their favorite ideas in any way that they want. They can give one point to five separate ideas or all five
to one idea. Then you total the
points and select the best for further action.
Close the meeting by thanking
everyone for their input. Mention
again one of two of the best, most inventive or funniest ideas. Then see which ideas you can implement
- even if they are small things.
People enjoy short, high-energy brainstorms that
lead to actions. These meetings
can motivate people, improve efficiency and drive innovation.