Is there a right way to brainstorm?
March 16, 2011 1 Comment
Earlier today I received a call from a former colleague asking for pointers in conducting a brainstorm. In chatting with him, I began to ask myself, “Is there a right way to brainstorm?” My short answer is “yes!”
I’ve sat in my share of poorly run brainstorming sessions and you probably have too. You know, the type of brainstorming where… one person dominates the conversation, or folks are so anxious to get their ideas out they don’t listen to one another, or ideas don’t connect to a unified problem, or worse yet, the brainstorming doesn’t lead to an actionable outcome.
So, what’s the right way to brainstorm? Here are some tips:
- Appoint a skilled facilitator – this person will be responsible for controlling the tone and rhythm of the brainstorming session. He/she will work with the key parties before the brainstorming session to identify and hone the essence of the problem. The facilitator can help identify the key artifacts, or data, to bring to the brainstorming session so that everyone in the room starts out with sufficient context and background. A trained facilitator can also help level the playing field between extroverted personalities and introverted personalities. By reading the room and alternating between individual/group activities and speaking out loud/working quietly, the facilitator can create a conducive environment for all.
- Clarify the Problem – Although mentioned above, the importance of clarifying the problem cannot be overstated. Many times when brainstorming goes awry it is due to poorly constructed problem statements. In order to brainstorm, it is most productive to clearly articulate the problem you are trying to solve. This helps focus the brainstorming and prevent tons of ideas that are all over the map. While some folks think coming up with ideas helps solve the problem, it is really the other way around. Coming up with clearly articulated problems helps folks generate better ideas.
- Diverge and Converge – An all too common mistake in brainstorming is diverging without converging. Diverging involves thinking up ideas while converging involves choosing the most promising. During the diverging stage all ideas should be put on the table. It is important during divergence to listen carefully to one another and to build upon one another’s ideas. Ideas usually start out as kernels of poorly formed thoughts. Through true listening, fledgling ideas are strengthened. When divergence is complete, it will be time to converge. Though divergence and convergence should never happen simultaneously (ie. thinking up ideas and discarding them out at the same time), the brainstorming team must always converge on ideas. This is for practical reasons, as well as, to drive action. Practically speaking, it will be more difficult to move hundreds of ideas forward. However, honing in on a few ideas where the team has energy and ownership will make the process of bringing ideas to life much easier. By diverging, as well as converging, teams will have a better shot at creating robust solutions and identifying actionable next steps.
Hopefully these three tips give you a good head start. Feel free to reach out with questions or feedback.