“Hey Bert, let’s sit down and brainstorm about what we can do to improve our client service.”
“Sure, I’d love to brainstorm. I’m willing to do whatever we can to make sure we provide the most value possible to our clients.”
You’ve likely been asked to sit in a brainstorming session at some point in your career. After you’ve accepted to help in the brainstorming session, you’ve thought of several ideas to bring up in the session.
During the session, though, what happens to your ideas? Ideas can be received in the following four ways:
Acceptance – “Wow, Bert! That’s a great idea. Tell me more.”
Denial – “Bert, what were you thinking? That won’t work.”
Possible – “I can see how that might be possible. Let’s dig into that some more.”
It’s an idea – “Thanks for your input. We’ll put it on the list.”
Naturally, everyone wants their ideas to be in the Acceptance category. You wouldn’t bring up an idea if you didn’t think it had some credence.
You’d prefer your ideas be put into the Acceptance or Possible categories. However, the first three categories above are not appropriate for a brainstorming session.
A brainstorming session is to come up with ideas. The ideas should not be vetted in any form in the session. Therefore, they should not be accepted or denied or even commented on as to their possibility for implementation.
The overarching purpose of a brainstorming session is to create a list of all possible ideas. The ideas are just that…ideas. No idea is good or bad. All ideas are equally as good as all others during a brainstorming session.
Unfortunately, brainstorming sessions turn into put down sessions in many cases. Whomever is facilitating the session uses the first three categories above rather than just the fourth.
All ideas need to be vetted but not in the brainstorming session. There should be separate sessions after the brainstorming session to review the viability of each idea received. This is when ideas can be thrown out as crazy or invalid.
The problem with vetting ideas during a brainstorming session is that it reduces creativity and openness. If someone’s idea gets shot down, that person will likely not present another idea in fear it will get shot down.
To receive the most of a brainstorming session, use the following seven steps:
1. Participants – Certain personalities or positions should be asked to not participate in a brainstorming session because they may stifle creativity and openness. Be cognizant of who is asked to participate.
2. Define the purpose – Obviously everyone does not have the same understanding of what should be accomplished in a brainstorming session or else I wouldn’t be writing this. So, the facilitator should define the purpose and the rules:
a. All ideas are valid ideas
b. No idea is too crazy to be presented
c. Any discussion on an idea should be for the purpose to get other ideas
d. Everyone can openly participate
3. Assign a scribe – A single person should be assigned to write down the ideas. This person should not be the facilitator. The scribe should not try to clarify points except for the purpose of keeping the points concise and short.
4. Limit the time – Brainstorming sessions could go all day if you let them. Set a time limit to present ideas. Time limit boundaries have been found to increase creativity.
If you really want to brainstorm quickly and efficiently, make it a rapid-fire session. Take 10 minutes, everyone blurts ideas, the ideas are written down and you’re done.
5. Distribute the list – After the brainstorming session is complete, distribute the list to all the participants and ask for clarification or additional ideas.
6. Analyze later – Set up a subsequent meeting with selected persons to analyze the validity of the ideas.
7. Present best ideas – The team analyzing the ideas should come up with a list of the top ideas for possible implementation. These ideas should then be presented to the management team to determine which, if any, of the ideas should be added to the strategic plan.
Follow these seven steps if you want to receive better ideas, more ideas and quicker buy-in from your personnel. If you skip any of these steps, you will regret it.
I’ve been involved in brainstorming sessions for years and the good meetings ALWAYS follow this pattern.
What have your experiences been with brainstorming sessions? Have you had an idea shot down and then you shut down? Have you had a great experience with a brainstorming session? Let me know by commenting below.