How do you feel when you get asked to attend or run a brainstorm session? Eager to get your amazing ideas shared and out there? Curious about what other people will come up with? Or annoyed that yet another brainstorm is going in your diary? Maybe cynical that there’s going to be a lot of hot air and not much to show for it?
I think some unhelpful myths get in the way of a good brainstorm:
Myth #1: ‘There’s no such thing as a bad idea’
Utter nonsense – we’ve all sat mutely whilst someone spouted forth some real stinkers. The thing is to allow them all to be heard, rather than derided and greeted with, “Yes, but…”, “We tried it before and it didn’t work…”, or some other put-down. I think it’s vital to have ground rules about the ‘no idea’s a bad idea’ point, for example that put-downers will be penalised (I once heard of a M.D. who was banished for nay-saying. How wonderful). However it’s also vital to clarify upfront that there will be a session of evaluating the ideas and not all of them will get through.
Tip: separate the idea-generating phase from the idea evaluating – the objectives are different.
Myth #2: ‘There are more ideas generated in a group’
Not necessarily – depends on the group, the weather, the venue, biscuits and a whole host of other variables. What’s more, some people can shut down and clam up in groups. Others can dominate, leading to only the ideas from those who shout loudest being captured. Group dynamics can restrict thinking.
Tip: vary the composition of groups and the formats for brainstorming.
Myth #3: ‘The more the merrier’
Just get heaps of people in the room and you’ll get heaps of ideas, right? Not always, if at all. If you have more than 12 people all working on the same thing, it can become unwieldy and ineffective. You probably won’t get equal contribution from each participant.
Tip: divide larger groups up into say 5 or 6 people. Keep mixing them up throughout the session and moving them around the room. Invite different people each time to avoid ‘brainstorm fatigue’.
Myth #4: ‘It’s great to put people under pressure; that way they generate more ideas’
Not always they don’t: some poor souls can curl up and quietly die inside when the pressure is on them to perform, unprepared and in front of colleagues.
Tip: write a brief and send it round beforehand. Some people would far rather take a little time to prepare before the session (and those who prefer ad hoc will probably not fully read the brief anyway).
Myth #5: ‘Getting a good scribe ensures you capture all the ideas’
Oh no it doesn’t – usually it ensures that you have an on-site editor, paraphrasing and (often unwittingly) altering someone’s contribution as they write stuff on the flip chart. And that’s if they get hear and write up all the suggestions.
Tip: Vary the ways in which people can generate and capture ideas. Post-It flurries are an obvious one but there are many more, such as group Mind Maps, team-generated visuals and games.
You may find this blog post useful: Great creativity tips from the author of Change your mind
Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.