There are two ways to spread light. Be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
Brainstorming An oft abused technique being used by all and sundry in the corporate world today. Countless hours get consumed — marathon meetings sans decisions, frayed tempers, escapism, procrastinating the inevitable and astute storytelling is the new order of the day.
The dictionary meaning of brainstorming is unrestrained offering of ideas or suggestions by all members of a group meeting, as in a business planning conference. Simply put its using the brain to storm a problem not people out.
Core stress is in using the brain to storm a problem out. The process extends intelligence by including imagination, intuition and inspiration.
It was kick started in 1938. Historical evidences suggest it was practiced by Hindu teachers over 400 years ago. If used appropriately, brainstorming is the easiest, fastest, most effective and deceptively simple way of exploring solutions to the vexed challenges being faced.
Technique is simple — a group of people get together to toss ideas around. They choose a leader who has two important functions:
- To encourage the greatest quantity of ideas possible
- Ensure suspension of judgment during the all important first phase.
Gathering inspiration and energy, from each another, they build on one another’s ideas until enough information is assembled to make a list. From here, the second phase takes over: choices are analysed and broken down to a manageable cutting out the unworkable, leaving only the best.
Remember many ideas grow better when transplanted into a mind other than the one where they sprang up. Let’s examine the three key elements of making Brain storming effective:
People Get set to collaborate with people possessing varying skills with different backgrounds, a heterogeneous mix. The more diverse the group, the greater the chance for the perfect idea. Seek help of a creative consultant — involve a painter, musician, singer, sportsperson.
Place Physical space needs to be comfortable, free of distractions, no interruptions. If the concentration of the meet up is hampered, precious time is consumed to regain original focus. Cork board, paper, tacks, writing instruments should be available in sufficient quantities.
Storyboard A presentation of ideas so all concepts are viewed together. The walls of my office are covered with corkboard on which one can pin 3″x5″ index cards with ideas about whatever project we are working on presently. Sometimes there are scores of them – colour-coded and strategically placed. By glancing at one of the walls, I can continue refining and building on ideas from previous brainstorming sessions.
Everyone in the group can see all the ideas on the wall at one go and relate to their relationship to one another. Each person can the take in and process the information as a whole and offer his /her perspective.
Look for the second right answer What is half of eight – 4 but what’s the second right answer.
- Cut the number in half across the middle and you have zero.
- Divide the number half lengthwise and you have 3.
- Take away half the curves and you have an S
There is always more than one right answer. Everyone wants to be right. In this process of idea generation, one must challenge assumptions yet be flexible. It’s always important to respect other’s ideas, and is a critical necessity when it comes to brainstorming.
Rules for quantum leap brainstorming
Gems are found by sifting through tones of useless rocks
Personally, I desist rules, regulations, directives yet sometimes I have to admit they are necessary, not absolute. Let’s examine the idea generating phase
- Go for quantity Purpose of first phase of brain storming is to generate the largest number of ideas/ alternatives possible in the designated time available.
- Don’t criticise Passing judgment , means blocking the other, dampening the creative spirit. Judgement creates fear, and fear drives away the creative spirit into hiding. Leader must halt any jokes, jeering, criticism, no matter how illogical or absurd it may sound
- Freewheel No matter how bizarre or absurd an idea seems, express it. This is a no holds – barred session.
- Hitchhike Take a ride on someone else’s idea. Inspire each other.
- Be playful Keep the atmosphere light. Studies establish that play and humor enhance the creative process, stimulate ideas, speed up problem solving, increase learning and in general make life more interesting.
- Take a break Plan intermission for diversionary activities. Recommended two 45 minutes freewheeling, idea generating sessions. Pause for an hour. Taking a break provides an incubation period to allow the ideas to settle.
Encourage the group to do something playful and different. Play cards or video games. Throw darts. Take a walk. During the evaluation phase. be clear on:
Avoid cynicism Eliminate negative thoughts. Give every idea a fighting cause
Be practical Eliminate unusable suggestions and storytelling. Dreams, fantasies and wishful thinking is good to hear yet more critical to forget on immediate basis. Explore executable ideas.
Play devil’s advocate Take opposite stands to get the most out of every evaluation. Observe contrasts, study them, know them, must be aware of your enemy and his strikes beforehand.
Focus Choose the most attractive ideas and examine them very closely. Its business in the end and any wrong move is unforgiving.
Ask questions Who. What. When. Where. Why. How – are the new buzzwords for all.
Your call now, folks!
The author is an executive coach and mentor, Excalibre