Unstructured Brainstorming is an Offense to Creativity
Meetings that neglect results and don’t impact behaviors are a colossal waste of time. Poorly run brainstorming sessions are the biggest waste of all.
An invitation to an unstructured brainstorming meeting is an offense to creativity.
The next time someone invites you to toss some ideas around, tell them you’re busy, unless three things are present.
- Guidelines for the conversation.
- Limitations that enable focus.
- Commitment to actionable outcomes.
5 guidelines for brainstorming sessions:
#1. Begin with a question.
Craft an interesting question that sparks an open conversation.
- Outcomes establish focus. What do you want to accomplish?
- Focus requires limitation. Explain what you aren’t trying to accomplish.
- Use values and feelings to introduce the question. What’s important and why does it matter?
- Explore how the question meets a challenge or seizes an opportunity.
#2. Determine who should attend.
Don’t invite anyone to a brainstorming meeting until you craft a powerful question.
The question you craft points to the participants you should invite.
- Diverse perspectives. Include agitators and mischief-makers.
- Front-line employees.
- Diverse ages.
- Diverse gender.
- Diverse backgrounds.
Above all, invite people who trust each other.
Distrustful relationships limit creativity.
#3. Record and build on responses. Go with, not against.
#4. Monitor and follow energy during the conversation. Lean toward high energy topics.
Avoid rushing to action items. Include, but delay, doers. Identify action-items only after exploring ideas.
Ideas inspire action – action clarifies ideas.
#5. Focus on imperfect steps forward.
- Choose ideas worthy of execution.
- Perfection is fear’s justification for staying the same.
- Use current resources, not wished for.
- Short-term goals work better than long. What’s going to be done in the next two weeks?
- Choose a path with obvious milestones so you can track progress.
- Identify champions who shepherd ideas forward.
- Set a follow-up meeting.
Meetings have value in proportion to the follow-through you create.
What suggestions might you offer for useful brainstorming sessions?
And brainstorming as a group isn’t always the best way to get ideas anyway. Can I just be alone for once. 🙂
Thanks C. Your comment really made me smile. Love it. Here’s to some alone time.
So very important; thanks as always!!!
With regard to the starting question, one strong suggestion: Make sure the question doesn’t include any possible options to address the situation. It will almost certainly limit the brainstorming!!!
An illustration: In an actual case, a hotel was being remodeled extensively. After the remodeling was completed, there were significantly more guest complaints about slow elevators. Note there was nothing done to the elevators. Some might suggest the question should be “How can we make the elevators speed up / work better?” But that wasn’t the ‘real’ question of interest; remember, nothing was done to slow down the elevator service either. AND ‘speed up / work better’ includes one option to address the situation.
The real question was / is: “How can we address the guest complaints?” In the actual case, it turns out that one remodeling effort was to ‘declutter’ the guest floor hallways. Hence, at the elevators, there was nothing but bare walls and the elevator doors. If the elevator didn’t arrive almost instantly, guest thoughts turned to ‘Why is the elevator taking so long?’ The owners had framed mirrors, restaurant menus, and ‘What’s happening today’ lists put up near the elevators. The guest complaints stopped… And with no real cost – such as more elevators / faster elevators!!!!
Thanks John. Brilliant story and important idea. I find that when questions include answers (leading questions) the people involved have other issues to consider. If the person asking the question has more power/authority, am I willing to risk disagreeing, is one.
Frankly, a really good question is incredibly difficult to craft and may sound deceptively simple when it’s heard.
Thanks for adding so much value
Good evening Dan;
Your list of three components to achieve the maximum effect of brainstorming are on target.
Brainstorming that lack guidelines cause confusion and a lack of focus which results in stagnation, or if your lucky, maybe an interesting conversation, but sadly little to no
In my opinion the secret to sucsessfull brainstorming sessions is the work and time we put in long before the session begins. When you make it a priority to brief all who will attend so that each fully understand required end results with guidelines that maintain focus that does not inhibit outside the box thinking. You prepare your people, teams, and organizations for meetings and brainstorming sessions THAT PRODUCE RESULTS.
P.S. Been awhile since we’ve done breakfast my friend…
Thanks SGT. Great hearing from you on this cold day in PA.
Your focus on prep work is important. The trouble with prep work is when it’s done well, you don’t really notice it. You just think things went well.
In my experience, very few things go well by accident. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your insights. I still eat breakfast …
I think this is very clever stuff. I’ve noticed that for a lot people, “structured creativity” is a contradiction in terms, basically because they don’t really understand creativity.
Thanks Mitch. You nailed an important assumption of this post. Creativity, at least in meetings or on teams requires structure and planning. 🙂
I’m thankful you dropped in. Cheers
First, thank you Dan for another excellent post. Second, thank you to John for the elevator story. FANTASTIC. It illustrated his point brilliantly of asking the right question and to not include a potential solution in the question.
Lastly, the Six Hats process authored by Edward de Bono is a fabulous tool for facilitating more effective brainstorming sessions with solid structure to them. We have been following his approach for many years and our team is grateful for it.
Thanks R. I appreciate you affirmations. They help create a tone that facilitates trust.
I’m a fan of de Bono. Thanks for bringing him up for this conversation. For any interested, here’s a link that explains the 6 hats.
Very timely topic – thanks for the boost to get back to a task on my list but do it better than I would have! 🙂
One thing that’s helpful is to let the team know the down-the-road results of the team’s brainstorming session. If you brainstorm about a spot campaign and the campaign brings great results, then remind the team that their efforts helped make those great results possible.
How would you describe good preparation?
In my experience, one of the biggest challenges is to define what is the problem at hand. If it is not done properly, action items may be addressing the symptoms, not the root-causes.
In this context, I would understand good preparation as gathering relavant information available that may allow meeting attendants to prepare in advance and come up with their theories about what is the problem, to be validated at the meeting.
Love # 5 – 2 & 3: Perfection is fear’s justification for staying the same and Use current resources, not wished for.
I’m working with a group who is stuck in these two right now – suggestions to get out of this rut?