Over my career, one of the activities we’re all taught about is brainstorming. In some quarters I’m aware this is taken as a term which is not sensitive to those who suffer conditions in the brain where electrical impulses go on overdrive and effectively hyper-charge the brain. There are other terms I’ve heard used – ‘thought showers’, ‘ideation’, ‘creative thinking’, ‘etc’. I don’t wish to be offensive, yet I’m hard struck to use a term which does not fit the purpose of this post better.
The thing is, we’re not taught how to brainstorm well. What we’re told is some other form. Make a list of all the things you can think of. Put all your ideas down on a piece of paper and we’ll select the best. In pairs discuss the best way to do this and present a solution. Everyone come up with one idea that we’ll share.
Oh. The. Pain.
The essence behind any form of idea generation, is to find a bit of inspiration that drives something forward. There are good ways of making this happen. Like this:
Belief in good ideas coming from anywhere. Just because you’re the leader of a team, and you’re initiating the brainstorm, doesn’t make you the best placed to come up with the best suggestion. If you’re asking the team for some misguided notion that you’re engaging the team, and you’re not willing to take their ideas on board, then you’re not actually engaging them. You’re belittling them. If you believe that your team might have a better solution than you, then be open to what they have to say.
Judgements are best left at the entrance. This is true of life, but sadly we’re not all geared that way. You need to lay some groundrules/principles that help people to understand that it doesn’t matter what they suggest, it won’t get dismissed. It may not get used, and it may not be given the time of day, but it won’t be judged.
Together we’ll get there. Collaboration is just bloody brilliant. I’m a big believer in better things being possible because we help each other get there. If one person makes a suggestion, others can and will suggest some variation. It’s motivating when it happens like this.
As the facilitator, recognise every contribution. The best way for this to happen is to write it down where everyone can see it’s being added. Even if your team members only suggest one thing, at least they’ve suggested something. And when they see you’re including on a long list of other stuff, they’ll know they were part of building a solution. Hurrah!
It has to be a long list. Brainstorming and coming up with three things to discuss is so self-defeating you may as well not have bothered. Only from a long list can you see where the nuggets of gold lie. Inspiration will come, but only when you see what ideas people have.
There are many techniques for actually carrying out a brainstorming session, and that’s for another time to discuss. If you follow the above, you’ll see that the techniques make little difference because you’ve already enabled everyone to bring their best.