Brainstorming that Works Requires Two Sessions
The thing I hate about brainstorming is the lack of follow through.
Brainstorming, without follow through, is an irritating braindrizzle.
Nothing kills a “what might we do” conversation more than adding “how might we do it.”
Brainstorming begins with a commitment to inaction.
Divide and conquer:
Successful brainstorming requires two meetings.
The first meeting is a “What might we do” meeting. The second is a “How might we do it” meeting.
Separate “What” from “How” to maximize creativity and follow through.
- Limit the focus of your first session to one important question.
- Create focus by explaining what you aren’t doing.
- Focus on “what” not “how.” Let your team know that the “How” conversation is next week.
Brainstorm in small groups:
#1. Form small groups, but stay in the same room so people can hear each other. Set a limit of five for each group.
Small groups create environments of participation and ownership.
#2. Give each group seven minutes to brainstorm around the question.
#3. When seven minutes are up, have each small group report their results to.
#4. Send everyone back to their small group for another short brainstorming session. Give them six minutes to extend their list of ideas. Report and record results.
A feeling of competition between groups keeps creative juices flowing.
#5. Include everyone in a ten minute brainstorming session.
- Don’t defend any ideas.
- Protect against the “How.”
- Celebrate wacky ideas.
Several short bursts of creativity are better than one long.
Send everyone away with a simple assignement, “Choose five ideas and write three ways they might work.”
- Record the ideas that each person chose to expand.
- Watch for over-lap.
- Choose the top three ideas. Ask, “What’s the next step?”
- Look for someone to champion each idea.
- Define what follow through looks like.
What strategies make brainstorming successful?
**This post is inspired by a coaching call I had yesterday. We discussed, “UNSTRUCTURED BRAINSTORMING IS AN OFFENSE TO CREATIVITY.”
truth, we all start out strong and excited but the lack of rounding back kills it. thanks for all of your inspiring articles. Be Blessed
Thanks Anita. I can’t see any reason to have a brainstorming session if we aren’t ready to change something. 🙂 Cheers
Helpful, especially as I’m hosting a brainstorming session tomorrow. 🙂
Thanks Stuart. Here’s to success! Cheers
We encourage thinking with our Square Wheels framework. The Round Wheels do exist!
But the reality of thinking is such that we cannot choose if we are unaware of possibilities. Often, the best performers in a workplace simply choose to do things differently (for some reason) and those behavioral choices generate better or optimal performance, all things considered.
The average performers have no such “considered alternatives,” so any discussion of performance can include some discussions of those ideas and choices of the exemplary performer(s), and those choices COULD become part of the behavioral repertoire of the average and below average people.
Yeah, brainstorming without context or peer support or leadership or resources like time and money CAN be a total waste of time. On the other hand, if one person might choose to do something differently and that has some impacts, it pays for itself.
If we continue to do things the same way with the same ideas, we can pretty much expect to continue to get the same results.
Thanks Dr. Scott. “Do something differently” … dang I love that. I’m glad you shared your insights today.
Got any ideas for doing this remotely? I have 9 people (including me) who are just right for the conversation and our only communication vehicle is going to be a conference call (too many to fit on video chat). Thanks!
Thanks Tavieallan. I don’t have experience with this. It seems like prepwork might be helpful.
Could you divide the group up for private calls. Give small groups the question. Then hold an all group de-brief call?
9 people on a call feels like too many.
Here’s another idea, Have each person come to the call with three ideas, then break into smaller conference calls to add to the list, then join back up in 15 minutes…
My thought is that it’s better to shift between smaller and the whole group.
I’d love to hear what you decide to do.
You could do that as a webcast or in Google Hangouts. CAPTURING the ideas and doing things visually would add a lot to the experience. Doing it as a phone call? Toooo many potential distractions to generate full engagement, IMHO. (It would not work at all if I were a participant…)
I recently attended a Kellogg School of Management Executive Scholar program where I learned about a free online website and mobile app (Apple only right now) called Candor to help with brainstorming. You still need to complete the process as Dan discusses, but this may get the ideas out there and flowing. I especially like the ability to ability to freely contribute ideas. There are many times when brainstorming session follow a thread and less creative ideas are never shared. Check out usecandor.com for more information.
See my comment below, Tavieallan. I replied in the wrong space 🙂
Hi Pam! I’m now at the point of planning my brainstorming session and I found your suggestion of usecandor.com to be VERY helpful. I’m incorporating it in next week’s session and believe it will really help with the logistics of getting ideas in one place – thanks!
It’s important for brainstorming to be successful that “new brainstormers” are introduced properly to the process by seasoned brainstormers who understand the system and follow the suggestions you have mentioned as a group. Having facilitated many sessions, I know how important it is to get buy-in from first-timers and make sure grizzled veterans don’t discourage or prejudge input as it will set the tone for current input and future sessions. First-timers are often reluctant and suspicious of the system so proper facilitation is as critical as the contributions. Thanks for the post, Dan.
Thanks SGT. Your addition of grizzled veterans cp. first-timers is so useful. When new comers are present, it’s a great opportunity for veterans to listen and “go with” rather than going against.
You reminded me of an important dynamic that needs to be considered. I’m thankful you joined in.
Brainstorming, Mapping whatever term someone chooses to use requires an uninhibited free flow to its extracting. Yes a certain level of structure is required, but a free flow of encouraging is a must. That is the responsibility of the Group Leader- to extract, build on , minimize inhibitions pursue the quandary resolution
I lieu of this supposed 7 minute time frame the urgency of extraction is once again that Leader’s responsibility. When the process seems to hit a closure or impasse, that Leader then pursues any other input.to allow people to momentarily digest what has been displayed. Why? Another brainstorm might be divulged when someone says, I didn’t see that but it has me thinking that this process/event/issue also has ………..
For brainstorming to be successful the free spirit of thought must not be corralled into 7 minute snippets
Thanks Jon. I respect you contribution and concern about short time lines. The idea of a short timeline also facilitates small groups rather than one big discussion with the big group.
Having said that, your introduction of a skillful facilitator can’t be minimized. I’m still a fan of creating structure and limitations. Creativity thrives when limitations are present.
Thanks for offering important insights and disagreeing. Cheers
Good morning Dan
Hold on a minute I’m getting a vision… ‘there it is’. I’ve been part of Brainstorming sessions that spawned ‘Fantastical, Stupendous ideas’ that would save the day if not our world and possibly the entire Univerce at large. (THEN) , nothing.
A lot of different and unexpected obstacles can cause second quessing which goes hand in hand with lack of comittment. This routinely occurs with even the best ideas, inovatiins, and solutions. Wise Leaders plan and prepare for the inevitable second, third, forth, or who knows how many Brainstorming sessions. If the issue is worthwhile, then its worthy of attention. Reconvene, identify the challenges, make adjustments where nesassary taking into consideration Organizational, Team, & individual capabilities,skills and talents
. Then utilize those indivual skills and talents where partucular expertise and experience create the very best potential of over all sucsess.
Got to go Dan. Just broke my spectacles the other day. Picking up my new ones in a bit. “An ‘old-dude’ without glasses is like a tree without leaves,,, “what’s the use!”
Cheers my friend
IMPLEMENTATION. A whole different species of things than ideas. An alien species from a different planet, as seen in some un-empowered and un-engaged workplaces.
Brainstorming is one way to play at the front-end of possibilities. And possibilities are at the front end of any sort of change or innovation process.
But there is a LOT of research that would suggest that implementing any kind of improvement is a real and difficult endeavor. Small change is even resisted, as we all know (“Change if good, You go first,” is how Dilbert framed it.)
90% of corporate strategy initiatives fail to some degree; research says that a pretty much complete alignment takes roughly THREE YEARS to achieve results. Three years is pretty much a benchmark for improvement initiatives, Success in one area sometimes even inhibits success in another area if too much is made of that initial success — it causes people to be more careful, apparently.
“Getting there from here” is a very difficult thing to accomplish, in actuality. But nothing can really start without an idea, and I have yet to find a group of people that did not have an idea for improvement… (I refer to it as continuous continuous improvement, from the Department of Redundancy Department. The reality is that the Round Wheels of today become the Square Wheels of tomorrow.)
Thanks SGT. I’m with you. The implementation is the whole reason to begin the process in the first place.
I get a feel from your comment that ongoing brainstorming might be a way to keep the ball moving forward.
I sure hope you find your usefulness again. 🙂
A fascinating research and discussion about “Brainstorming” is in John Lehrer’s book Imagine: How Creativity Works. Brainstorming as a group as Alex Osborn proposed has been shown to be problematic and inefficient.
Thanks James. I’ve read the ideas about how we come up with ideas on our own and find them useful. However, some of us, seem to come up with new ideas as we interact with others.
I think one other complaint about brainstorming is that we generally don’t lack for ideas. We lack for ways of choosing the best ones and moving them forward.
Thanks so much for joining in.
Both the ‘double’ brainstorming sessions and the small-group breakouts (I’ve actually used them in my classes) are great refinements to your previous brainstorming post last week!
Great insight and distinction between the what and how meetings! Thank you. If creativity is a powerful and beautiful stallion, this distinction is the bridle needed to harness that power. I will use this in brainstorming meetings from now on.