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Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your twice-monthly newsletter on creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
As always, if you have news about creativity, imagination, ideas, or innovation please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103. Your comments and feedback are also always welcome.
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Brainstorming as a term has been around since the 1940s, when it was coined by Alex Osborn. It was later formulated into creative problem solving (CPS), which I wrote about here a few months ago (see http://www.jpb.com/creative/cps.php). Over the years, brainstorming has come to mean any kind of group idea generation activity. It has also become controversial, with some experts swearing by it – and others swearing at it!
In truth, brainstorming can be effective if performed properly. Let’s take a look at it. But, if you are not familiar with CPS, do read the article cited above before continuing.
What Is Brainstorming?
Brainstorming is the traditional way to generate lots of ideas on a specific issue and then determine which idea – or ideas – is the best solution. Brainstorming is most effective with diverse groups of 8-12 people and should be performed in a relaxed environment. If participants feel free to relax and joke around, they'll stretch their minds further and therefore produce more creative ideas.
A brainstorming session requires a facilitator, a brainstorming space and something on which to write ideas, such as a white-board a flip chart or software tool. The facilitator's responsibilities include guiding the session, encouraging participation and writing ideas down.
Brainstorming works best with a diverse group of people. Participants should come from various departments across the organisation and have different backgrounds. Even in specialist areas, outsiders can bring fresh ideas that can inspire the experts.
Assuming you are familiar with CPS (see article cited above), you will have a well defined creative challenge ready and waiting for ideas. You should announce the challenge to the participants in advance so they have time to think and research the issue.
Creativity exercises, relaxation exercises or other fun activities before the session can help participants relax their minds so that they will be more creative during the brainstorming session.
In a traditional brainstorming session, the facilitator writes the challenge on a whiteboard and then invites all participants shout out solutions while the facilitator writes them down on the whiteboard. There must be absolutely no criticizing of ideas. No matter how daft, how impossible or how silly an idea is, it must be written down. Laughing is to be encouraged. Criticism is not.
Typically, the aim should be to generate as many ideas as possible within a set time frame such as 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can set a target number of ideas, such as 100.
The Problem with the Traditional Approach
The traditional approach to brainstorming has been around since the 1950s and is still used frequently today. However, there is a slight problem with this approach. It has been proven again and again not to work for a number of reasons:
One way to avoid these problems is to have participants spend 10 to 15 minutes generating ideas on their own. Then put them in pairs, have them compare ideas and add any more that come to mind. Then combine the pairs into bigger groups in order, again, to share ideas and add more. Continue in this way until you have one group that comprises the entire brainstorming team. At this time, put all existing ideas on the whiteboard. Combine similar ideas and avoid repeating ideas. Then finish off with a 15-20 minute traditional brainstorming shouting match to catch any ideas inspired by the collection.
Throughout this process, ensure that there is no criticism and no squelching. As facilitator, be sure to compliment every idea equally.
Another approach to brainstorming is to avoid verbalising ideas and focus on creating them, through images, construction toys (such as wooden building bricks or Lego) or other non-verbal means. For instance, rather than asking a group of people to shout out new product ideas, you give them a huge box of Lego and ask them to build their ideas in collaboration.
I have had some success with this approach. You can read more about it here: http://www.jpb.com/creative/visual_brainstorming.php
There are a variety of other approaches to brainstorming, such as the Post-It method. Here, participants write ideas on Post-its and stick them to a wall. Then the facilitator leads a discussion in which similar ideas are combined. This is typically followed by a second round of idea submission, where participants are inspired by ideas from the first round. This avoids some of the flaws with traditional brainstorming. However, it also sometimes lacks the energy and collaboration of traditional brainstorming as people are generally working alone.
Other facilitators have created variations on these approaches. Inevitably, such approaches follow CPS methodology.
There are a handful of issues to avoid in a brainstorming session.
For the best results in a brainstorming session, invest in a professional facilitator. Her fees will probably be less than the costs of staff time invested in the activity and, if she is good, will show an impressive return in terms of idea quality. However, before you come to an agreement, ask her how she overcomes the brainstorming problems we’ve covered here.
If you really must do your own brainstorm facilitation, at least practice on a trail group or two before running a real event. This will help you hone your technique and build confidence.
Brainstorming can be an effective and enjoyable means of generating creative ideas through collaboration. However, it is important to bear in mind the inherent weaknesses of traditional brainstorming techniques and find an approach that overcomes these problems.
STRENGTHS, FATAL FLAWS AND ALLOWABLE WEAKNESSES – A WHOLE BRAIN STRATEGY
As you can see Brian’s and John’s thinking preferences are in the top left quadrant whereas Tom’s are in the bottom right quadrant. Each is not going out of their way to upset the other – they just think and do differently and neither understands that. Or if they do neither knows what to do about it.
But what about fatal flaws?
We don't want to forget that Zenger’s and Folkman’s research also uncovered five "fatal flaws" or career de-railers. These are behaviours that we should change or stop doing. The fatal flaws include:
What is interesting about the five fatal flaws, according to Zenger, is that these traits reflect a "pattern of inactivity." "It is not the pattern of someone who is doing too much of something, but the pattern of someone doing way too little."
Using Your Whole Brain for a Change.
Go back and have a look at the four quadrants. In which one would you place yourself? This is a quick guide to your thinking preference and should not be taken as a complete indication of your preferences but it gives you an indication of:
So how do you use your whole brain? Work to your strengths. Find people who are strong in the areas where you display weakness. Enlist their help in those areas. Delegate those tasks and activities that suit their strengths.
Buckingham, M. & Coffman, C. (1999) First break all the rules: What the worlds greatest managers do differently. Simon and Schuster.
Buckingham, M and Clifton, D. (2001) Now, discover your strengths. Free Press.
Folkman, J. & Zenger, J. (2002). The Extraordinary Leader: Turning good managers into great leaders. The McGraw Hill Companies.
About the Author
Wayne Morris is the director of Future Edge Ltd. He specialises in whole brain thinking applied to leading, learning and creating. He is the New Zealand Agent for The Whole Brain Thinking Network, the distributors of the Neethling Brain Instruments [NBI], the worlds most comprehensive suite of brain profiling instruments. For more information or to contact Wayne, please visit http://www.future-edge.co.nz
Steven Johnson has just published a book entitled Where Good Ideas Come From, which looks at the collaborative nature of creativity and the evolution of ideas. You can read a fascinating interview with him in the Guardian Newspaper at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/oct/19/steven-johnson-good-ideas
Jenni innovation process management software is probably the best idea management software on the planet.
Jenni enables your managers to launch ideas campaigns to generate, develop and evaluate ideas that solve their business problems and enable them to achieve goals through innovation.
Unlike other idea management software products which capture a lot of ideas, but do little else, Jenni provides you with a structured process for idea generation, evaluation and implementation according to your strategic business needs.
For more information, see http://www.jpb.com/jenni/ or reply to this newsletter.
If you have been reading Report 103 for a while and have begun to wonder what sort of chap I am in real life, you can visit my newly created personal web site at http://www.ungodly.com. It contains some artwork I have created recently (I am hoping to digitise older work soon) and a rather unusual blog.
You can find this and every issue of Report 103 ever written at our archives on http://www.jpb.com/report103/archives.php
Report 103 is edited by Jeffrey Baumgartner and is published on a monthly basis.
You may forward this copy of Report 103 to anyone, provided you forward it in its entirety and do not edit it in any way. If you wish to reprint only a part of Report 103, please contact Jeffrey Baumgartner.
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