Brainstorming: hold a group discussion to produce ideas.
The concept of brainstorming was introduced by Alex F. Osborn in his 1948 book titled “Your Creative Power”.
There are four key guiding principles of a brainstorming meeting:
● Quantity over Quality: Allow as many ideas to come as possible.
● Withhold criticism: Don’t judge any idea too soon.
● Wild ideas should be welcome: Suspend assumptions. Don’t get into feasibility too soon.
● Combine and improve on ideas: Human memory works as a sequence of associations. So, ideas breed new ideas.
All of the above are easier said than done. We have all been to brainstorming meetings where we have not followed the above principles.
How do most people run their brainstorming meetings?
They schedule a meeting….. Maybe ask all attendees to come prepared to brainstorm on the topic…. Come to the meeting…. Start talking… Maybe the host of the meeting makes a brief introductory speech.
Some people start talking and presenting their ideas to the team. As soon as a few ideas come on the table that looks feasible the team moves into refining and finalizing one of the ideas. The Meeting very quickly moves from ideating to planning and executing. Many others who probably had some radical ideas in mind now starts judging their own ideas as inferior to the ones on the table and so they never put them on the table. Few others, seeing some progress being made avoid thinking of other possibilities. Meetings of this kind should be called groupthink meetings instead of brainstorming meetings. The outcome of groupthink meetings is “1+1=1”. The outcome of brainstorming meetings should be “1+1=3”.
When we analyse this situation most people find faults in the extroverts because they talk too much or the introverts because they did not contribute. But, really it’s no one’s fault. It’s a faulty process.
So what is the right process you ask?
Try out the below process:
● Allow each person to write down their ideas in private. This will ensure everybody’s voice is heard (or written down at this stage). This should also help increase the quantity of ideas.
● Now pass on the ideas to the next person. Still the ideas are not yet fully public. At this stage everyone gets a chance to comment and improve upon someone else’s idea and also come up with new derivative ideas that are inspired by the original idea.
● When each idea has made a full circle and gone through each person in private then open it up and have group discussion to combine ideas and discuss merit and feasibility of each idea.
This process is called brainwriting.
Here are few other tips:
● Share the problem ahead of time and describe the problem in great detail at the beginning of the meeting to make sure all participants understand the problem well.
● It has been seen that certain physical activities (like taking a shower, driving a car, taking a walk in private) help our brains generate ideas. So, one could take a break after the problem statement is explained to take a 10 minute walk and then come back and restart the meeting.
This blog would not be complete without noting that not all problems are best solved using brainstorming. Choose wisely. But, when you choose to run a brainstorming meeting run it well.