The Brainstorm Champions Blog

The Eight Dimensions of a Brainstorming Session

Most people think brainstorming sessions are all about ideas -- much in the same way Wall Street bankers think life is all about money.

While ideas are certainly a big part of brainstorming, they are only a part.

People who rush into a brainstorming session starving for new ideas will miss the boat (and the train, car, and unicycle) completely unless they tune into the some other important dynamics that are also at play:

1. INVESTIGATION: If you want your brainstorming sessions to be effective, you'll need to do some investigating before hand. Get curious. Ask questions. Dig deeper. The more you find out what the real issues are, the greater your chances of framing powerful questions to brainstorm and choosing the best techniques to use.

2. IMMERSION: While good ideas can surface at any time, their chances radically increase the more that brainstorm participants are immersed. Translation? No coming and going during a session. No distractions. No interruptions. And don't forget to put a "do not disturb" sign on the door.

3. INTERACTION: Ideas come to people at all times of day and under all kinds of circumstances. But in a brainstorming session, it's the quality of interaction that makes the difference -- how people connect with each other, how they listen, and build on ideas. Your job, as facilitator, is to increase the quality of interaction.

4. INSPIRATION: Creative output is often a function of mindset. Bored, disengaged people rarely originate good ideas. Inspired people do. This is one of your main tasks, as a brainstorm facilitator -- to do everything in your power to keep participants inspired. The more you do, the less techniques you will need.

5. IDEATION: Look around. Everything you see began as an idea in someone's mind. Simply put, ideas are the seeds of innovation -- the first shape a new possibility takes. As a facilitator of the creative process, your job is to foster the conditions that amplify the odds of new ideas being conceived, developed, and articulated.

6. ILLUMINATION: Ideas are great. Ideas are cool. But they are also a dime a dozen unless they lead to an insight or aha. Until then, ideas are only two dimensional. But when the light goes on inside the minds of the people in your session, the ideas are activated and the odds radically increase of them manifesting.

7. INTEGRATION: Well-run brainstorming sessions have a way of intoxicating people. Doors open. Energy soars. Possibilities emerge. But unless participants have a chance to make sense of what they've conceived, the ideas are less likely to manifest. Opening the doors of the imagination is a good thing, but so is closure.

8. IMPLEMENTATION: Perhaps the biggest reason why most brainstorming sessions fail is what happens after -- or, shall I say, what doesn't happen after. Implementation is the name of the game. Before you let people go, clarify next steps, who's doing what (and by when), and what outside support is needed.

 

Ask For Permission to Facilitate

Here's a useful tip for you the next time you find yourself standing in front of a group of people and about to facilitate a meeting of any kind.

Before you begin, ask people to give you permission to facilitate.

This may sound like a complete waste of time, especially if you've been brought in by the powers-that-be to facilitate the meeting, but it's not. It's essential. Here's why:

If your meeting is anything like the other 11 million meetings being held each day in corporate America, chances are good that there will be a time during your gathering when at least one person -- bored, cranky, distracted, or angry that they weren't asked to facilitate, will do something (consciously or unconsciously) to derail the session.

This something can take many forms -- everything from incessantly checking email under the table... to returning late from breaks... to ranting on any number of topics that have absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand -- moments that will require a skillful and well-timed response from the facilitator.

If you haven't bothered to ask for permission to facilitate, people will resist (or ignore) your spontaneous interventions every step of the way. And if they don't resist you every step of the way, they will silently retreat into their own private Idaho, perceiving you, in their fevered mind, as an invasive, disempowering, or egomaniacal facilitator.

Bottom line, you will lose them.

And, if the people you lose should happen to be "tribal chieftains" of any one of the many feudal kingdoms represented in the room that day, you will lose a bunch of other people, as well. Their minions.

This is not the outcome you want -- an outcome that will lead you to triangulating to third parties or wishing you had gone into your father's dry cleaning business.

The way out of this mess? Simple.

Within the first five minutes of your meeting, after establishing a few simple ground rules, let everyone know that you need their permission to play your facilitator role -- that there may be some times, during the meeting, when you may have to ask someone to hold a thought or shift their behavior in some way ... and that unless you have their permission to do so, they will likely end up resenting you or feeling mistreated when, in fact, all you are trying to do is ensure that the meeting is a productive one.

Invariably, meeting participants will gladly give their permission for you to facilitate, even if they chuckle, under their breath, while doing so. And if they just sit there, silently, after your request -- bumps on an analog -- all you need to do is ask them to give you some kind of visible indication that they agree -- either by standing up or giving you the "thumbs up".

This simple act of people visibly giving you permission to facilitate is often the difference between success and failure -- especially when, later in the meeting, someone starts acting out or marching to a drummer from another planet.

Armed with the permission they gave you at the beginning of the meeting, all you need to do is reinforce the ground rule that's been forgotten and remind them that all you're doing is playing the role they gave you permission to play in the first place.

Works like a charm every time.


Get the Right Question!

There's a simple reason why so many brainstorm sessions are a waste of time. The problem statement being pitched to participants is the wrong one.

This is not surprising -- especially when you consider how little time most facilitators put into preparing for a session.

Here's what happens: The person who calls the session is usually scrambling -- overwhelmed, over-caffeinated, and running from one meeting to the next. Out of breath, they pitch the topic to the group, but the topic is either vague or secondary to a more essential challenge that remains unspoken.

G.K. Chesterton, one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century, distilled the phenomenon down to 13 words. "It's not that they can't see the solution," he said. "They can't see the problem."

Then, of course, there's also the phenomenon of perception bias.

Pitch a challenge to an IT person, and it will be seen as a technology problem. Pitch it to a CFO, and it will be seen as a financial problem. Pitch it to a marketing person and it will be seen as a branding problem.

Or as a wise man once said, "When a pickpocket meets a saint all he sees are pockets."

If you plan on running an ideation session any time soon, don't just stumble into the room and pitch a vague topic to the group. Do your homework. Make the effort to identify the REAL issue before asking for ideas. If it's the WRONG QUESTION you present, no amount of idea generation is going to make a difference.


10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into Their Creativity

If your job requires you to lead meetings, brainstorming sessions or problem solving gatherings of any kind, chances are good that most of the people you come in contact with are left-brain dominant: analytical, logical, linear folks with a passion for results and a huge fear that the meeting you are about to lead will end with a rousing chorus of kumbaya

Not exactly the kind of mindset conducive to breakthrough thinking.

Do not lose heart, oh facilitators of the creative process. Even if you find yourself in a room full of 10,000 left brainers, there are tons of ways to work with this mindset in service to bringing out the very best of the group's collective genius

1. Diffuse the fear of ambiguity by continually clarifying the process
Most left-brain-dominant people hate open-ended processes and anything that smacks of ambiguity.

Next time you find yourself leading a creative thinking session make it a point to give participants, early is the session, a mental map of the process you'll be using. Explain that the session will consist of two key elements: divergent thinking and convergent thinking

In the divergent segment, you'll be helping people consider non-traditional approaches. In the convergent segment, you'll be helping people analyze, evaluate, and select from the multiplicity of ideas they have generated.

If participants are going to get uneasy, it will happen during the divergent segment. Your task? Periodically remind them of where they are in the process. "Here's our objective," you might say. "Here's where we've been. Here's where we are. And here's we're going. Any questions?"

2. Get people talking about AHAS! they've had
No matter how risk averse or analytical people in your sessions may be, it's likely that all of them -- at some time or another -- have had a reall great idea. "Creativity" really isn't all that foreign to them (although they may think it is). All you need to do to get them in touch with that part of themselves is help them recall a moment when they were operating at a high level of creativity.

Get them talking about how it felt, what were the conditions, and what preceded the breakthrough. You'll be amazed at the stories you'll hear and how willing everyone will be, after that, to really stretch out.

3. Identify (and transform) limiting assumptions
One of the biggest obstacles to creativity is the assumption-making part of our brain -- the part that is forever drawing lines in the sand -- the part that is ruled by the past. Most people are not aware of the assumptions they have -- in the same way that most drivers are not aware of the blind spot in their mirror.

If you want people to be optimally creative, it is imperative that you find a way to help them identify their limiting assumptions about the challenge they are brainstorming. "Awareness cures," explains psychologist Fritz Perls. But DON'T get caught in a lengthy discussion about the collective limiting assumptions of the group. This is often just another way that left-brain dominant participants will default to analyzing and debating.

Instead, lead a process that will help participants identify and explore their limiting assumptions. Then, time allowing, help them transform each of these limiting assumptions into open-ended "How can we?" questions for brainstorming.

4. Encourage idea fluency
Dr. Linus Pauling, one of the most influential chemists of the 20th century, was once asked, "How do you get a good idea?" His response? "The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away."

That's why "Go for a quantity of ideas" is the first rule of brainstorming. You want to encourage people early and often, to go for quantity. This will short circuit participants' perfectionistic, self-censoring tendencies -- two behaviors that are certain death to creativity.

5. Invite humor
The right use of is a great way to help people tap into their right brains. Indeed, "haha" and "aha" are closely related. Both are the result of surprise or discontinuity. You laugh when your expectations are confronted in a delightful way.

Please note, however, that your use of humor must not be demeaning to anyone in the room. Freud explained that every "joke" has a victim and is used by the teller to gain advantage over the victim -- a way to affirm power. And when a group finds itself in the realm of power (and the yielding of power), it will undoubtedly end up in left brain territory.

You don't want to feed that beast.

Instead, set the tone by telling a victimless joke or two, or by your own self-deprecating humor. But even more important than "joke telling" is to allow and encourage a free flowing sense of playfulness.

6. Do the right brain/ left brain two-step
Brainstorming for 3, 4 or 5 hours in a row is unusually exhausting, resulting in the "diminishing returns" syndrome. Creative thinking, like life itself, follows natural laws. Day is followed by night, winter by spring, inbreath by outbreath.

That's why the design of your creative thinking session needs to alternate between the cerebral and the kinesthetic -- between brainstorming and some kind of hands-on, experiential activity. By doing this two-step, participants will stay refreshed and engaged.

7. Periodically mention that chaos precedes creative breakthroughs

Left-brained, logical people are rarely comfortable with ambiguity, chaos and the unknown. It seems messy. Disorganized. Downright unprofessional. Indeed, much of the Six Sigma work being done in corporations these days is to reduce variability and increase predictability.

Paradox alert!

If you want to get really creative, you will need to increase variability and help participants get more "out of control."  Picasso said it best, "The act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." Tom Peters said it second best, "Innovation is a messy business."

So, when you sense that your session is filled with ambiguity-phobic people, remember to mention how it's normal for ambiguity to precede a creative breakthrough. You may even want to mention how you will be purposefully infusing the session with moments of ambiguity, just to prime the creative pump.

8. Establish criteria for evaluation
The reason why ideas are usually considered a dime a dozen is because most people are unclear about their process for identifying the priceless ones. That's why a lot of brainstorming sessions are frustrating. Tons of possibilities are generated, but there is no clear path for winnowing and choosing.

Let's assume, for example, that the session you facilitate generates 100 powerful, new ideas. Do you have a process for helping participants pare the 100 down to a manageable few? If not, you need one. Ideally, the criteria for selecting ideas will be clarified before the session and introduced to participants early in the session.

Please note that there is some debate amongst brainstorm mavens as to when to offer the criteria. Some say this should happen at the beginning of the session (to help assuage the left brain need for logic and boundaries). Others suggest delaying the identification of criteria until just before the idea evaluation process. Either way will work. Your call.

9. Be a referee when you have to
No matter how many ground rules you mention about "suspending judgment" or "delaying evaluation," you are going to have some heavy hitters in the room just waiting for a moment to doubt your approach or "the process."

Indeed, one of the favorite (often unconscious) strategies of some left-brainers is to debate and question the facilitator every step of the way. While you want to honor their concerns and right to speak their truth, you also want to hold the bar high for the intention behind the brainstorming session -- and that is to challenge the status quo, entertain the new, and create space for imaginations to roam.

Don't be afraid to be firm with participants who want to control the session. At the very least, ask them to suspend their need for "convergence" (i.e. evaluation, judgment, decision making) to the end of the session when there will be plenty of time to exercise that very important muscle.

10. Consult with the tough people on the breaks
Every once in a while, a really opinionated person shows up in a session -- someone who is probably very smart, competent, experienced, with a big BS detector, and just enough arrogance to make you feel uncomfortable. These people can really affect the group, especially if they hold positions of power in the organization.

In the best of all worlds, these people would always be on your side. They won't be. Be careful about playing to these people in a neurotic attempt to get their approval. You won't get it. But DO seek them out on breaks and engage them. Get them talking. Pay attention. See if you can pick up any useful feedback or clues about revising your agenda or approach.

Even though you wouldn't choose to be trapped on a desert island with them, these folks may turn out to be a huge blessing -- because they are carriers of a particular sensibility that needs to be honored. More than likely, some of the other people in the room are feeling the same thing, but have been too polite to show their true colors. So, don't be afraid of these people. They can be a very valuable resource.


Why You Get Your Best Ideas in the Shower

During the past 25 years, we have asked more than 10,000 people where and when they get their best ideas. We get all kinds of answers, but the one that has always fascinated us the most is "the shower" -- maybe because we also get so many of our good ideas there.

And so, at the risk of overstating our case, we hereby offer you 20 reasons WHY the shower is so conducive to new ideas.

1. Showering signals "a new day" or "new beginning."

2. You're usually alone, with time to reflect.

3. Interruptions are rare.

4. The rush of water creates a kind of "white noise" that makes concentration easier.

5. Shower stalls look like little incubation chambers.

6. Water is associated with "contemplation" (i.e. sitting near a river, lake, or ocean.)

7. Showering is a metaphor for "getting rid of the dirt" -- the stuff that covers up what's beneath.

8. Showering is a ritual. Lots of creative people like to have little rituals to get their head in the right place.

9. You can write your ideas on the walls with a water soluble pen.

10. There's not a lot of judgment or analysis going on in a shower.

11. A hot shower opens the pores -- and by extension, maybe the mind.

12. Showering wakes up you. It makes you more alert.

13. Showering is a relaxing and stress free experience. With nothing to stress about, your mind is free to roam new territories.

14. If you shampoo, you're massaging your head. That's gotta be good.

15. It's hard to check your iphone or Blackberry in a shower.

16. Albert Einstein also did his best thinking near a shower. ("Why is it I always get my best ideas while shaving?")

17. Water is associated with "flow." Being in the "flow state" is often a precursor to creative thinking.

18. There is no deliverable expected of you.

19. If you shower with a friend, and he/she happens to be in a brainstorming mode, lots of great ideas get sparked.

20. Showering is easy. Not a lot of thinking is required to make it happen, which frees your mind to think about other things.

Any other possibilities come to mind?


The Musical Dynamics of Brainstorm Facilitation

A well-facilitated brainstorming session is like a symphony -- or, at the very least, a really good performance of any kind of music.

Embedded in its DNA are dynamics (i.e. "variation and contrast in force and intensity") -- the skillful modulation of elements that fully engages a person's attention.

The opposite? Muzak.

Next time you listen to a piece of music, be aware of dynamics -- the various ways in which the composition holds your interest (i.e. rhythm, pauses, crescendos, harmonies, solos, and multiple variations of soft and loud).

As a brainstorm facilitator, you need to do everything in your power to keep the session as dynamic as possible so participants remain fully engaged -- poised and ready to respond.

If the session is boring (or takes a "dip" after a brief period of engagement), your chances of succeeding decline exponentially.

Towards this end, think of yourself as a "conductor" -- the one who guides a group of individual contributors ("soloists") through an artful process that ensures a quality experience and a meaningful outcome.

50 Awesome Quotes on the Power of Ideas

1. "If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it." - Albert Einstein

2. "If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself." - Rollo May

3. "An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all." - Oscar Wilde

4. "Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." - John Steinbeck

5. "The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away." - Linus Pauling

6. "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come." - Victor Hugo

7. "Ideas won't keep. Something must be done about them." - Alfred North Whitehead

8. "A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man's brow." - Ovid

9. "All achievements, all earned riches, have their beginning in an idea." - Napoleon Hill

10. "You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere." - Lee Iacocca

11. "No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

12. "Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged." - Thomas Edison

13. "It is the essence of genius to make use of the simplest ideas."
- Charles Peguy

14. "Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have." - Emile Chartier

15. "I had a monumental idea this morning, but I didn't like it." - Samuel Goldwyn

16. "An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself." - Charles Dickens

17. "Everyone is in love with their own ideas." - Carl Jung

18. "Why is it I always get my best ideas while shaving?" - Albert Einstein

19. "One's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

20. "The air is full of ideas. They are knocking you in the head all the time. You only have to know what you want, then forget it, and go about your business. Suddenly, the idea will come through. It was there all the time." - Henry Ford

21. "Everything begins with an idea." - Earl Nightengale

22. "Capital isn't that important in business. Experience isn't that important. You can get both of these things. What is important is ideas." - Harvey Firestone

23. "A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one." - Mary Kay Ash

24. "We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us."- Friedrich Nietzche

25. "I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent. Curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas." - Albert Einstein

26. "A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock when somebody contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind." - Antoine St. Exupery

27. "If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it." - Charles Kettering

28. "Right now it's only a notion, but I think I can get the money to make it into a concept, and later turn it into an idea." - Woody Allen

29. "Just because you're a musician doesn't mean all your ideas are about music. So every once in a while I get an idea about plumbing, I get an idea about city government, and they come the way they come." - Jerry Garcia

30. "I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else." - Pablo Picasso

31. "New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can't be done; 2) It probably can be done, but it's not worth doing; 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!" - Arthur C. Clarke

32. "Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are just produced." - Alfred North Whitehead

33. "Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they're looking for ideas." - Paula Poundstone

34. "You do things when the opportunities come along. I've had periods in my life when I've had a bundle of ideas come along, and I've had long dry spells. If I get an idea next week, I'll do something. If not, I won't do a damn thing." - Warren Buffet

35. "If I have a thousand ideas and only one turns out to be good, I am satisfied." - Alfred Noble

36. "Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life. Think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success. That is way great spiritual giants are produced." - Swami Vivekananda

37. "Money never starts an idea; it is the idea that starts the money." - William J. Cameron

38. "No idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered."
- Winston Churchill

39. "If you are possessed by an idea, you find it expressed everywhere, you even smell it." - Thomas Mann

40. "The ability to express an idea is well nigh as important as the idea itself." - Bernard Baruch

41. "You can kill a man, but you can't kill an idea." - Medgar Evers

42. "After years of telling corporate citizens to 'trust the system', many companies must relearn instead to trust their people and encourage them to use neglected creative capacities in order to tap the most potent economic stimulus of all: idea power." - Rosabeth Moss Kanter

43. "The man with a new idea is a crank -- until the idea succeeds." - Mark Twain

44. "To turn really interesting ideas and fledgling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years, requires a lot of discipline." - Steve Jobs

45. "An idea is salvation by imagination." - Frank Lloyd Wright

46. "I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones." - John Cage

47. "The great accomplishments of man have resulted from the
transmission of ideas of enthusiasm." - Thomas Watson

48. "The new idea either finds a champion or it dies. No ordinary involvement with a new idea provides the energy required to cope with the indifference and resistance that change provokes." - Tom Peters

49. "Our best ideas come from clerks and stockboys." - Sam Walton

50. "Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward: they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game." - Goethe

When Dogs Spark Big Ideas

During the past 25 years, we have facilitated more than 1,000 brainstorming sessions for a wide variety of heavy hitting organizations -- everyone from MTV to GE to government think thanks. We’ve worked with left-brained people, right-brained people, and reptilian-brained people.

As you might imagine, we've developed quite a few techniques to get people out of their heads and into a more robust realm of possibility. But the biggest breakthroughs we’ve seen have had less to do with our methods than they did with spontaneous occurrences.

Like the time a Porcelain Hotel Dog became the catalyst for a game changing product idea.

Here's the deal:

We were leading a daylong ideation session for a large telecommunications company when it was time for lunch. Everyone left the room, visions of tuna wraps in their head, when we noticed a peculiar looking porcelain dog, next to a plastic fern, in the corner of the room -- the kind of kitschy piece of Americana you'd walk by at a yard sale, mumbling under your breath that this was absolutely the last time you'd ever attend a yard sale.

Somehow, we found myself drawn to the dog and, being in a particularly playful mood, picked it up and placed it on a folding chair in the middle of the room.

Tickled by its absolute uselessness and lack of beauty, we put a hat on it's weird, little head, and went about our business of getting ready for the afternoon session.

Five minutes later, the head of HR walks into the room, takes off his power tie, and places it, with a chuckle, around the dog's neck.

Then an IT guy enters, removes his "Hello My Name Is" badge and sticks it on the dog's chest. A well-dressed marketing woman removes her necklace and wraps it around the dog's waist.

There, in the middle of the room, unleashed, unbarking, but no longer unloved, sits the perfect brainstorm session mascot -- a 3D embodiment of our collective mind at that moment in time.

The rest of the participants return soon enough and gather around the porcelain dog as if it was the Holy Grail. A Blackberry gets taped to his back, a scarf gets wrapped around his neck. Someone puts a bandaid over his mouth.

Something is happening that has absolutely nothing to do with our agenda for the day. A curious kind of creativity portal is opening up right before our eyes.

"OK!" we blurt, as soon as the last person returns from lunch. "What cool, new product ideas come to mind when you look at good ole' Fido here?"

Ideas start flooding the room. Big ideas. Bold ideas. Totally ridiculous ideas.

In just a few minutes, it is clear that a big idea is emerging -- an idea for a niche telecommunications market no one in this room has ever considered before -- animals -- more specifically, dogs who live with blind or disabled people -- the kind of dogs who could easily be trained to push a large red button on a one-button phone any time their Master was unable to -- what soon became known to all of us in that room, as the Paw Phone.

Pet idea conceived, we spend the next ten minutes fleshing it out, adding it to the list of the other big ideas to be presented at the end of the day to an independent focus group.

The funny thing? Of the ten ideas we pitched to the focus group that day, the Paw Phone was the third highest rated. Woof woof.

COMMENTARY

Good ideas can come from anyone at any time and any place. While it is impossible to predict precisely when and where the good ideas will manifest, it is possible to predict the conditions that will make it more likely for the good ideas to make their appearance.

In the Paw Phone session, one of these conditions was the spirit of playfulness and spontaneity that manifested itself so gloriously during the lunch break.

At that time, we simply followed our hunch that the porcelain dog, was, somehow, part of the creative process. We didn't know how things would unfold. We could only trust our instincts and past experience that, often, seemingly random catalysts are the DNA for breakthrough. That, and the fact, that when we manage to enter the state of not trying we often get the best results.

Carl Jung understood this phenomenon: "The creation of something new," he said, "is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct arising from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves."

Play! The creative mind plays with the object it loves! Yes!

And yet, in the corporate world, playfulness is often demonized, marginalized, and ignored -- branded "unprofessional" -- as if it was a symptom of the worst kind of anti-business slacker mentality.

Indeed, if you find yourself laughing on the job, many of the people around you will think you aren't taking your job seriously. No wonder 62% of all Americans characterize themselves as being dissatisfied with work.

The roots of this weirdness can be traced all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

What happened to Adam when he took a bite of the forbidden fruit? He was condemned, for life, to earning his living by "the sweat of his brow". The free lunch was over. Adam's spontaneity doomed him to a life of heavy lifting and we are the ones who have gotten the hernia.

It's time to shed the notion that work always has to be so serious -- that grunting and groaning is the preferred response and that laughter, in the workplace, means you're not working. Baloney. Untrue. Bogus. Cro-magnon. Insane.

This just in: Life is supposed to be fun. And since work is a part of life, it too needs to be fun -- especially when you find yourself in the middle of a brainstorming session, trying to originate the kind of ideas that will make a difference in the world.


FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, how serious is your workplace? The brainstorming sessions you attend?. And if it's 7 or more, what can you do to lighten things up?

BONUS QUESTION: What laughable idea of yours may have more merit in it if you just dig a little deeper into the essence of what that idea is really all about?


In Defense of Brainstorming

IdeaCircle.jpg

In the past few years, we have noticed a curious trend in the media -- one we can no longer ignore -- and that is the appearance of seriously derisive articles about brainstorming by self-declared pundits and freelance writers.

Citing selected research on the subject and paying brief homage to Alex Osborne the father of brainstorming, they make bold assertions about the ineffectiveness of the method, often claiming that "it does not work" and making grand declarations like "people are more creative away from the crowd" and "over 50 years of research shows that people often reach irrational decisions in a group."

While the previous two quotes do have some degree of truth associated with them, likening a brainstorm session to a "crowd" is not only a poor choice of metaphors, it is patently untrue.

And while many irrational decisions have been made in groups since the beginning of time, to assume that irrational decisions will necessarily be made in a brainstorming session is only more proof that the writers of the recent spate of anti-brainstorming screeds have either never participated in a skillfully facilitated brainstorm session or are hopelessly late for their next journalistic deadline, refusing to take the time to go beyond their specious all-or-nothing conclusions drawn from someone else's research -- some of which is more than 50 years old.

To blatantly conclude that brainstorming sessions don't work is as absurd as saying that marriages don't work because 50 percent end in divorce or tourists shouldn't visit New York City because sometimes the traffic is heavy.

What we’re guessing that brainstorming naysayers really mean is that bad brainstorming sessions don't work... or poorly facilitated brainstorming sessions don't work... or brainstorming sessions with the wrong mix of unprepared participants (marriage, anyone?) don't work.

Brainstorming critics like to cite a 1958 study, at Yale, that showed that students thinking on their own came up with twice as many solutions as brainstorming groups -- and their solutions were deemed to be more effective and feasible.

Fine. Good. Terrific. We're all for people thinking on their own in their dorm room... or Starbucks... or the zoo. That's a good thing. But as a replacement for a well-run brainstorming session? Why the either/or syndrome? Why not both?

Just because you had breakfast this morning doesn't necessarily mean you should skip dinner tonight, does it?

And besides, even a casual scan of the literature will reveal an extraordinary number of innovation-leaning people who joined forces with others to conceive something brilliant that none of them could have conjured on their own.

Think Jobs and Wozniak. Think Watson and Crick, Hewlett and Packard, John, Paul, George and Ringo -- and any number of less famous ad hoc groups of aspiring innovators, working in all kind of organizations, who came out of their corporate dorm rooms long enough to jam with other seekers of possibility to jump start bold new advances in just about every industry on planet Earth.

But wait! There's more!

The anti-brainstorming forces are also fond of asserting that creativity is stifled in a brainstorming session.

Hello! Earth to journalists on deadline writing about brainstorming for a flight magazine. To claim that creativity will invariably be stifled in a brainstorming session is like saying that creativity will invariably be stifled in a marriage... or in a school... or in an organization. Possible? Yes. Whenever two or more people with egos get together, creativity has the potential to be stifled. But inevitable? No.

On the contrary, creativity is often sparked in a group -- even groups that are cranky, competitive, and strong-willed. Indeed, "creative dissonance" is often the catalyst for breakthrough -- NOT lone wolf, ivory tower idea generators sitting alone in their room attempting to conjure up the next big thing.

Brainstorm detractors -- as least the ones we’ve read -- are fond of citing "social loafing," "social blocking," "free riding" and other group-centric sociological phenomenon as proof of why brainstorming sessions should cease to exist.

Yes, we agree that some people who work in organizations fit this slacker stereotype. But there is no room for this kind of energy-sucking behavior in a well-run brainstorming session -- one that has been thoughtfully prepared, the right people invited, and with a skillful facilitator catalyzing the creative process.

Would brainstorm detractors suggest that we get rid of cities because some of them are polluted, or get rid of marriages because some couples quarrel, or eliminate music because some people turn up their stereos just a little too loud when their neighbors are trying to sleep?

With all due respect (well, with at least some respect), we humbly invite the small, but very vocal anti-brainstorming faction to pause for a moment and contemplate any one of the following questions -- questions with the potential to spark the kind of creative thinking our small, but very vocal anti-brainstorming faction might have missed by not participating in a brainstorming session on this very topic.

1. How can brainstorm sessions be improved?

2. How can the facilitators of brainstorm sessions learn how to dependably spark creativity in others?

3. How can brainstorm sessions build on the good ideas generated by participants before the session begins?

4. How can team leaders or project managers ensure that the right mix of people attend their brainstorm sessions?

5. How can a group of brainstorm participants generate and abide by a set of guidelines that will radically increase their odds of generating breakthrough ideas?

6. How can brainstorming become part of a continuum of idea generation strategies in an organization, so its "idea eggs" are not all in the same basket?