The idea for a brainstorming is simple:
Bring together 6-10 people, appoint a facilitator who outlines the challenge to be discussed, maintains focus and deals with participants who are either too dominant or too passive.
The facilitator may help everyone to relax and open their minds by conducting a few creative thinking exercises and will make sure the session stays on course and finishes on time.
At the end, there will be pages of ideas and suggestions which can be written up and circulated as necessary.
One major brainstorming weakness
For most brainstorming sessions, this method works well to a point. It has one major weakness though. Imagine a glass bowl of clear water. Add a drop of blue ink. The colour begins to spread. Add more drops and the colour intensifies until, eventually, the bowl is filled with blue water. This brainstorming technique works in a similar way: the first ideas dictate the boundaries of the discussion.
The reason for this has been explained by recent studies on psychology and brain science. As soon as you hear an idea, it serves as a subconscious impulse to search your memory for information related to that idea.
Pretty soon, everyone’s memory is being plundered for the same narrow range of potential solutions and the opportunity to reach unexplored territory has been lost.
There’s an easy way around this problem, though it does take a little longer than the older method.
First, bring the team together for the briefing or send out an email outlining the issue for discussion. Instruct each member to work independently and to submit three to six ideas, depending on the complexity of the task.
Now consolidate the responses into a single document and send a copy to each member. Still working solo, their next step is to study all the ideas, including their own, and build on them.
Now add in all the new inputs and bring the team together. If you have an abundance of material, you might want to have more than one group session, allowing plenty of time to discuss all the submissions.
At the first group meeting, kick out all the spurious or off-brief ideas and get the team to concentrate on two or three of the rest. Continue in this way until all concepts have been examined.
The key to the success of this system is the combination of solo and group thinking. There’s no tendency to grab the early ideas and wrestle with them to the exclusion of later, more considered options.
An abbreviated version works well, too, for other routine discussions. Before any meeting where real time input is required, instruct everyone to bring with them some of their own suggestions.
Advantages of this new way of brainstorming
In summary, these are the main advantages of this new way of brainstorming:
- Minimizes unworkable, time-wasting ideas
- Improves the quality of suggestions – each member builds on their own and other members’ ideas
- Cuts the risk of groupthink narrowing the scope of the discussion
- Suggestions are anonymous so there’s no embarrassment when an idea is discarded
- At the group stage, the team’s energy is focused only on ideas that have merit
- Saves the time and energy that’s spent in the early stages of traditional group discussions
If brainstorming in your business or organization has become a little ho-hum, this will breathe new life into your concept generation meetings.
Try this next time you’re looking for new ideas or opportunities and you’d like input from a variety of different viewpoints:
- If someone asks to meet with you about a particular problem, encourage them to bring some solutions to the meeting, rather than expecting your to do all the thinking for them.
- When you’re invited to a meeting, think about the issues beforehand and take ideas and suggestions with you.