Why that big brainstorming session you’re having will probably just be an intermittent drizzle.

Why that big brainstorming session you’re having will probably just be an intermittent drizzle.

by Kevin Endres, October 11, 2016

You’ve probably participated in the dreaded “Brainstorming Session.”

It starts with the awkward silence. There’s an idea or two. A few ideas are selected by “The Leader.” Then, mercifully, it’s over.

The highlight was probably the bagels or doughnuts as a reward.

Here’s why group brainstorming sessions are pretty useless. There are also a few thoughts on how to make them not suck.

•”Group Scare.” People are scared in a group. Do you want to get up and announce a “big idea” that is very personal and risk getting it shot down? Most folks don’t.

•“The Leader.” The Leader’s opinions influence the outcome of the session. Like all humans, the leader has likes and dislikes. On the flip side, the participants have certain opinions of the leader. Usually, what happens is, the ideas that move forward, are the ones the leader likes the most. Not the best solution to the problem.

•”The Boot-licking Toady.” Next to The Leader is “The Boot-licking Toady.” This person reinforces everything The Leader says and likes. The Toady builds up The Leader and shuts down other opinions. This action quiets most activity in the group leaving only a few hardy souls willing to participate.

•The “Head-Shaking Syndrome.” If you’re lucky, maybe a few people throw out some ideas. Some good. Mostly bad. But if The Leader or Boot-licking Toady get a hold of one, especially a bad idea, they’ll keep talking about it and slowly convince the rest of the group to come around to it. Watch. One person will shake their head in agreement, then another and another. Pretty soon you have a pretty stupid idea going up the flagpole.

•”He’ll Cover For Me.” Here’s the thought on this, “Since this is a group of pretty intelligent people, I don’t need to participate. I’m sure that Julie in Accounting will come up with a great idea, so I’ll just sit back and watch.” In short, if it’s not your responsibility, you don’t really care and can goldbrick your way through the entire session.

So how do you get past all this? Here’s how to open the skies to a storm of ideas:

•Don’t think as a group. The bigger the group, the dumber it is. Ever see a statue to a group? It’s individuals or small teams that get things done. So, pair everyone with a partner. People who don’t know each other are best. Two to a team. Three is okay. After that, you start getting into that group thing.  A partner builds confidence to come up with ideas. And presenting ideas. You’re not standing there naked. You’re naked with your partner and that makes it better. Working with someone also makes it fun and adds excitement. You push each other for more and better ideas.

•Give the problem to all the teams. Then let them work on it a while. Five minutes tops. Have everyone go for a lot of ideas, not great ideas. You’ll get quality through quantity. This gets everyone brainstorming. It makes each team responsible for the problem. Expect 20 ideas from each team. No goldbricking here.

•The manager or whoever set up the brainstorming session is not allowed to be the leader. Select someone else. And the leader’s duties are 1) Put the teams together; 2) Explain the problem; 3) Have teams come up and present their ideas (more on this in a second).

•So you’ve had five minutes of “team brainstorming.” Now each team is called on to explain their ideas in solving the problem. VERY IMPORTANT: Do not kill any ideas. The team that “wins” is the team with the most ideas. It doesn’t matter how dumb their ideas are (most great ideas are usually seen as dumb at first).

•Finish up by going through all the ideas. Here’s where you select the ideas (there should be multiple ones) that solve the problem. Thank everyone for coming and for their ideas. Then take the  ideas and go study and work on them yourself. See which ones are actionable, can solve the problem and are realistic. If they solve your problem in a new, exciting way, then you’ve really got something.

The one thing that you can keep from your old way of brainstorming is to make sure everyone gets a bagel or doughnut before they leave the room.

I’m Kevin Endres, Owner/Creative Director of The International Offices. TheInternationalOffices.com

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