Brainstorming is a creativity technique by which a group tries to find a solution for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members. The term was popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in 1953 through the book Applied Imagination (an oldy but a goody). While the idea has been around a long time, may people seem to dismiss it as an approach whose time has passed.
Why is this?
It seems to me that we are all way too mesmerized with the idea of the new “silver bullet”, tool or technique that can solve a problem for us. We covet the idea that we imagine has eluded all smart people throughout time. We want to be the first in our company to introduce the latest and greatest thing. Well, sometimes old ideas are really good ones. (For example, you want to read about Strategy? . . . start with the ancient writings of Sun Tzu – while they are 2500 years old, many people are still pretty impressed by his deep insight.) Often, we are too quick to dismiss ideas which we try for a time, and then discard when they fail to produce immediate good results. Perhaps the fault lies more with the fact that we didn’t do our homework, didn’t really understand the concept before we started, or applied the ideas poorly.
Brainstorming is a simple idea. At the time Osborn released his book, there were multiple studies conducted confirming his postulation that brainstorming is more effective than individuals working alone in generating ideas.
Whether you use Business Process Engineering, Six Sigma, Lean, or other techniques to drive innovation and problem solving in your organization, all these methods involve:
- Defining a problem
- Analyzing it (collecting data to better understand it)
- Ideation (using the newly gained insights to develop creative ideas about a newer (better) future state)
- Evaluation (culling the list of many possibilities in to the few or the one)
- Execution (making it happen)
In my view, the third step, “IDEATION”, is most crucial in developing innovative ideas to help you r organization. Ideation (trendy new word) is really about Brainstorming,
Here are some points to consider from a recent article in Inc Magazine called 5 Ways to Kill a Brainstorming Session
According to Josh Linkner, “the invitation ‘let’s brainstorm about that’ typically leads to a gathering in a conference room where the convener asks for ideas then shoots them down as fast as they come up. And brainstorming sessions have come to resemble any other meeting—veering off topic, sucking up time, and causing impatience or boredom. That’s in part because brainstorming has been compressed and made more efficient—killing its real purpose in the process.”
He offers a prescription: At all costs, you should avoid these five behaviors:
1. Passing judgment or commenting. Let the ideas flow unfettered by common sense or judgment. The evaluation stage must come later.
2. Tidying up. Keep your left-brain in check. Don’t worry about format, spelling, or punctuation. Just let the ideas flow – sloppy and uninhibited. (Clean-up comes later).
3. Thinking ahead. (Don’t even think about execution or the inherent problems during Brainstorming – there is plenty of time for this later).
4. Worrying. (Fear is the single biggest blocker of creativity. We were taught to fear starting in Kindergarten – I think – so tell your people that every idea is a good one and invite others to build on those already up on the board.)
5. Wandering. (When the right brain is unleashed, it does get possible to get lost in the weeds and lose site of the main problem or issue. Make sure your facilitators are adequately trained to set overly-diverting ideas aside for the time being.
Want To See Good Brainstorming In Action?
Google is often touted as one of the most innovative companies on the planet. Here is a clip of a portion of an actual brainstorming session. Watch it for what you think they did well, and also what you think could have been improved. (Just click on the picture to the left).
Whether you choose to call it Ideation or Brainstorming – it is a key survival skill in a rapidly changing world. We need to become better at it, and it may help to revisit the tenets of what makes good creative thinking happen.
Here is another resource you may find helpful – MindTools.com. Go create.