Have you ever been stuck in a brainstorming session? You know, an open and engaging environment where people can discuss ideas in a safe place, free of any negative feedback.
Traditionally, brainstorming tends to follow a few standard rules:
- There are no dumb ideas
- Don’t criticize other peoples’ ideas
- Build on the ideas of others
- Focus on quantity, not quality
Yet despite its wide adoption, brainstorming doesn’t really work. At best, it facilitates group think and simple takes the range of the group’s creativity and averages it out. It is rare for a classical brainstorming process to provide any real innovation, and these views are fairly wide spread.
The reason may sound counter-intuitive, but its because the rules of traditional brainstorming run counter to the intention of brainstorming. Brainstorming is supposed to facilitate innovation by providing a free flow of ideas. Every idea deserves a chance to be explored, but sometimes, some concepts are dead on arrival. Other times, members of a brainstorming session may have some great insight into why a given concept might not work.
That doesn’t mean that brainstorming needs to be thrown out, just that the rules need to be changed slightly. Here’s my humble suggestion on how to modify the rules of traditional brainstorming to get the most out of your efforts:
- Focus on results and impact
- Leave your ego at the door
- Feel free to challenge ideas
- Be prepared to defend your concept
- Always separate a bad idea from a good person
Focus on results and impact.
Brainstorming typically takes place when a group is trying to solve a challenge or seize an opportunity. Always bear that in mind. Tangents and side-bar conversations can be helpful in spurring non-lateral thinking, but the conversation should always be drawn back to how an idea or concept can move forward in the short run.
Leave your ego at the door.
If you follow the first rule, this second rule should be relatively easy to bear in mind. Brainstorming is a group activity. It’s not a reality show where you are the star, and if you’re focused on delivering results and impact, then you should separate yourself from the equation and think of how the team can meet the objective above.
Feel free to challenge ideas.
Some ideas are great, but fail at implementation. Others seem far fetched but deliver amazing results. It’s ok to challenge ideas and push back when a concept seems weak. This need not be confrontational (actually, it should never be confrontational), but pressing forward on a concept helps to refine it and make it stronger.
Be prepared to defend your concept.
Ideas are only as valuable as their execution, and often times, lack of ownership and/or commitment is what causes a concept to fall apart. If you have an idea or concept that you want to share, and someone challenges you, be prepared to defend the concept you put forth. If you, as the originator of the concept, can’t be bothered to defend the concept, what chance does it have to being successful in your organization? Better to let an orphan idea die in debate than slowly suck time and resources before slipping into a coma.
Always separate a bad idea from a good person.
Brainstorming is a creative, innovative process. It should spark some of your inner creativity and passion. Sometimes these passions can be intense, especially when it comes to challenging and defending ideas. In these cases, it’s always important to separate the idea from the person behind the idea. Just because a concept is bad doesn’t mean that the person behind that concept isn’t good.
This isn’t meant to serve as a definitive guide to brainstorming or innovation. There is literally no limit to how far and wide the ideation process can go, but with a few simple principles in place, most companies can transform traditional group-think, eye-rolling meetings into innovative, genuine and honest sessions.