What is brainstorming?
Brainstorming – A group activity undertaken in an attempt to come up with innovative solutions. For most, it is about receiving a meeting invite, then being stuffed into a meeting room with the rest of the department.
There are three stages to brainstorming. Idea generation, followed by idea collation and iteration, then lastly conclusion.
Idea generation – Anytime, Anywhere
Ever been to a medical examination where they require a stool sample from you? How many of you can produce the artefact on demand? I reckon not too many. Why? Because everyone perform differently under different circumstances.
I draw parallels from the above to a brainstorming session. There are many factors that affect a person’s ability to generate ideas. Some people work better in the morning, others need to be in a quiet environment. So why not let people generate ideas, as and when they are most comfortable doing so. After all, storing and transporting ideas do not possess the same logistical challenges that stool do.
Steve Jobs for example preferred to take a walk when he needed some creativity. If he had to do all his thinking in a meeting room, Apple wouldn’t be where it is today.
Drop the mental model of brainstorming; Specific time and place in a group setting. Doing so creates a potentially stressful environment, especially with certain cultures and personalities.
Idea collation and iteration
To collect as many ideas as possible, idea submission needs to be easy. With smartphones and SaaS solutions readily available, leverage on them to collect ideas. Besides, having electronic records allows you to track contributions easily.
If you choose to do idea generation in a brainstorming session, be mindful of challenges with idea collection, potential distractions and group think. The traditional approach of nominating an unlucky bloke to take notes while ideas are being tossed is not recommended. People speak faster than they can write. Either all ideas are going to be captured or people with ideas will wait until it’s their turn to speak. By then they are distracted or have already forgotten their ideas.
One of the key objectives of brainstorming was for people to build on their peers’ different way of thinking; To utilise individual experience to enhance and enrich existing ideas. However, be mindful of group think and potential prejudice against the contributing party. Office politics exists unfortunately. To manage this, consider anonymising contributions and get everyone to share their opinions confidentially prior to organising a group discussion.
Depending on the outcome of stage 2, some can conclude after a single session, while others might opt for more sessions.
While concluding immediately may seem more efficient, it implies expecting everyone to be able to evaluate and analyze ideas immediately. Like idea generation, everyone works differently. Shortlist the ideas and have them easily accessible for everyone to review and iterate prior to making a decision.
Also, if you made everyone generate ideas individually, you’ll be able to have a focused group session for evaluation. We all know how hard it is to find a mutual agreeable time for large groups.
The way forward with brainstorming
There are many different brainstorming techniques available and they are useful for good brainstorming. The point of this article is not to discuss techniques. It is to encourage you to look at brainstorming from a different angle compared to the traditional view as group session at a fixed place and time.
Given the collaboration technology available today, it is feasible to split brainstorming into different phases. You can generate good ideas individually too. Doing so will allow you to benefit from increased effectiveness and efficiency.
Enabling people with brainstorming techniques while promoting individual problem solving might just be what you need to build a proactive problem-solving culture in your organization.
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