Putting the Brain back into Brainstorming

I think the time has come to kill the word brainstorming.  The word has become so butchered, methinks it has little or no meaning.  Or, if it has a meaning, it can be any one of the following:

  • A called meeting with no real agenda
  • Voting to decide which direction to go in next
  • Writing on a flip chart with colored makers
  • AA for business types
  • A be-ah-ching-with-no-solutions-expected session

 Maybe killing it is too harsh – after all it’s not its fault. Maybe the real solution is to put the BRAIN back into brainstorming.

Let’s first try these things before we decide brainstorming’s final fate:

1)   Have a concrete expectation on the outcome of a brainstorming session.  When the brainstorming session is over, what do you want to walk out of the room with?  [The answer can only be one simple sentence.]

2)   Publish the topic, problem statement, and expected outcome prior to the meeting.  Everyone should be on the same page before walking in the door.

3)   Do plenty of research BEFORE the event and expect others do the same.

4)   Have a method to control the flow of information.  Don’t allow the talkers to dominate the session and the deep thinkers to keep quiet.

5)   Define the problem concisely and groupthink possible causes.  Once you understand the why of the problem, the solution should be fairly straightforward.

a)    If the team brainstorms solutions first, the cause of the problem can easily be overlooked.  By brainstorming the solutions first, the problem-solving process gets short-circuited.

b)   Agree on the problem’s cause before talking about solutions.  If the team can’t agree on the cause, they will never develop a coherent solution.

6)   Keep the team focused on the problem statement.  Avoid non-productive diversions and conversations.  Minimize side bars and one-on-one conversations.

7)   Develop an action plan before you dismiss the group. What, who, and when must be assigned.

8)   Decide who will be responsible for following up on the action items.  (It will probably be you, since you are now the one who knows how to effectively brainstorm.)

Talking through problems as a team, investigating potential causes, and conceptualizing possible solutions are all part of traditional brainstorming. We often fall into the trap of assuming that a brainstorming session will automatically solve the problem.  But not so.  Brainstorming is just a part of the problem-solving process.  Use it wisely and you will succeed.

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1 Comment

  1. Neil

     /  January 30, 2011

    Excellent. Ha, there are a thousand things I could say but you probably know most of them already.


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