Brainstorming is everybody’s business – A practical guide to realize your streak of brilliance

Brainstorming Cups
The  brainstorming cups. There has been a lot of research done on the efficacy of brainstorming and how it needs to be conducted in the recent years. I think it is one of the fundamental social aspects of information, both inside and outside workplaces and in the coffee shops of the world. It is ingrained in our popular culture. I drew the above sketch using Artflow. It is available on Android.  

The conference room was buzzing with activity. It was the monthly idea generation meeting for gathering ideas and identifying the promising ones for the company wide cost reduction program. The program was gathering steam and the pressure was looming with approaching deadlines. Everyone is expected to contribute. Importantly, the idea generation and the subsequent project delivery activities are bundled into their performance objectives.

This is a typical scenario in many of the offices of the large global corporate companies and even smaller companies. Some of us can relate to this scenario. A colleague at some point, a fellow operations manager retorted ‘How do we expect us to be so creative in generating promising ideas with tight deadlines, my team is spent’

Many of us would contend with this typical scene and would have participated or facilitated it as leaders. Readers, we are talking about a ubiquitous process called ‘brainstorming’. A process that gets unfolded day in and day out in countless conference rooms, meeting halls, workshops and sometimes even virtually across the globe with a diverse group of people across different cultures participating in it.

I think the conference rooms around the world would die, lack lustre without them.

Brainstorming, as a social exchange of information is an age-old process. The mutual sharing of discoveries, knowledge and making connections is a prerequisite for our evolution.

This social exchange of information and a spontaneous contribution of ideas whether creative or not had existed even in historical times between the King and his council of ministers and in other places of congregation. In modern times, just like other social science terms it has taken the garb of ‘brainstorming’, a term used in modern workplaces. Thanks to Alex Faickney Osborn who first coined the word in 1953 along with a set of practices and principles.

We find vivid pictures of brainstorming in all forms in our popular culture. From the talk sessions that happen in the grand dining hall with floating candles in the Harry Potter series, to the ‘anything can happen over coffee’ coffee shops and tea shops around the world, we as people, whether strangers or not, unconsciously indulge in brainstorming. We are hard-wired to do it and it is ingrained in our popular culture.

It is not chaos nor it is madness but there is a method and rhythm to it. We will discuss it. There is an occasional ‘brilliance’ and other times it turns out to be a damp squib.

Nonetheless, we all embrace it affectionately as  brainstorming. Literally, brainstorming does not mean to ‘storm the brain’. It is far from it. It seeks a certain harmony and rhythm. On the contrary, when you rest your brain, you perform better.

Being one of the most important ‘Social aspects of information’, there are criticisms as well as improvisations.

Most of the criticisms on brainstorming stems from the idea of looking at it as a standalone idea factory for churning out ideas on demand. Brainstorming is a holistic activity intended to deliver path-breaking results over a sustained period. It is high time that we looked at the process and not the problem.

There has been a lot of research done around the world on brainstorming since it was first popularized in 1953.

Researchers have done many experiments and written research papers and books on the efficacy of brainstorming. Some have prescribed better techniques and solutions. I have tried my best to include most of them in this guide.

I have also included some best practices from world-class companies as well as my own experiences of brainstorming on the job.

In this guide, we will explore and look at the following,

Content areas

What is Brain storming?
The challenges
The building blocks or good habits
Techniques and approaches – Keep it simple
Steps and checklist
An example technique for introverts and extroverts alike
Evaluation, selection and closure

You can return to the main content areas by clicking on the link at the end of each section.

Note: I have cited and referenced the content through inline links placed at appropriate places through out the content. In my opinion, it is one of the fundamental essence of the WWW.

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The Bitcoin is a social money network and is as scarce as gold

bitcoin
The value of Bitcoin has gone up from zero to 120 billion USD in 9 years since its inception in 2008. Nobody knows who created the ‘Bitcoin’. The creator has handed over and disappeared since then and goes with the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto”. As part of its creation, the world’s first ‘Block Chain’ database was devised. Image credit: Pixabay

Podcast special feature

“Bitcoin is a social movement” says The New York Times technology reporter, Nathaniel Popper, and author of a book on Bitcoin called ‘Digital gold’.

In the below embedded podcast radio talk, heard on ‘Fresh air’- NPR, Terry Cross talks to Nathaniel on how Bitcoin has emerged from an underground currency to a system where major financial institutions and banks are looking at using its decentralized network. Thanks to NPR org.

Please find the essence of the talk below. For those of us who do not understand what Bitcoin is, the below essence of the podcast can be helpful.

Bitcoin can be understood on a number of layers, says Nathaniel.  From its initial journey, where in participants were able to buy drugs, do black-marketing, shrouded in privacy and secrecy to its current recognition as the world’s decentralized cryptographic digital payment, Bitcoin has come a long way.

It is pointing to a direction where money is going; or needs to be.

Its origins can be traced back to the late 2008. Scientists, worried about the then internet privacy and the distrustful central financial institutions, created an anonymous digital currency for the public good.

Bitcoin is a digital token. It consists of a vast network of decentralized computers and it lives inside it.  People can use this digital token to buy, sell, and transact on the internet with a network of widely accepted places, just like any other currency.

It is a legally accepted digital currency in almost all the countries, except for a few. It is an independent entity and anyone can freely transact and support Bitcoin.

There is no central administrator and as such, the network  gives incentives to people to join it. People can volunteer to keep financial records and earn some Bitcoins. The transactions are transparent. A new block of Bitcoins are released every 10 minutes into the network and there are somewhere around 13,000 interconnected nodes to support it.

“A year ago, a Bitcoin was worth less than  $1000″ says Nathaniel and now it could be much more.  He says “it is not a bubble” and there is much speculation that its value will be much more in the future.

Just like gold, Bitcoin is created as a scarce asset, only about 21 million of Bitcoin can be released, and it is going to be only until 2140.

Cheers.

 

How context based social networks can bridge the gaps in organizational silos

Dolphins leap and have friendly interaction
Dolphins are very intelligent and highly social creatures. They bridge the gaps by teaching, cooperating and helping others. They frequently keep leaping over waves to save energy as there is less friction in the air. This helps them to explore their environment. Image credit: Pixabay

The National Geographic channel, was airing an hour-long program on what actually led to 9/11 or ‘The September 11 attacks’. Though it was aired several times in the past, I did happen to get a chance the other day to watch it until the end. Very interesting.

The program narrates a sequence of events that led to the attack. The prior intelligence that was available to the government agencies could have thwarted the attack (See Wikipedia).  However, it did not happen.

Why?

Clearly, there was no communication between the agencies. They agencies did not collaborate and they operated in silos. Even on the day of the attacks, there were gaps in communication and the right information was not with the right people.

Such gaps do exist in modern global corporations as well.

There is huge potential at the juncture of the business units for social collaboration to thrive and help. Nevertheless, is anyone taking notice?

With the constraints of history, cultural norms and work practices most of the established companies are not able to utilize the benefits of social networks in the workplace. The once siloed business units of these established companies are finding a way to harness the collaborative power of social networks that lie in the gaps.

Moreover, in the gap lies the panacea.

The authors, in their article  titled “Practical social networks“ published in the Harvard Business review, prescribe a very practical approach on how to derive value from social networks based on the nature of work performed within an organization. You can find the article here.

It could be a panacea for us to be more practical and move away from our constraints of cultural norms and history to look at collaborating with each other in new light. Though the solution is practical, it does offer a way out and move a step towards or navigate the murky waters for a more coordinated behavior for achieving our goals.

There are other benefits from an employee perspective, which cannot be based on the nature of work performed such as building social capital and the sense of belonging to be part of a community. Moreover, they cannot be ignored. Such aspects of social networking for employee interaction in workplaces are important to boost employee morale.

Still there are others, which are more critical from the organizational standpoint such as knowledge sharing within a context based on social interactions, collaborative problem solving, and the successive iteration of ideas leading to insight cannot be overlooked.

Having said this, the leadership team needs to think clearly on what goals they want to achieve through social networks, the pattern of connectivity and collaborative behavior that best suits their current nature of work.

There are work practice challenges, which pose many questions. The question of whether employees would be able to keep up with the relationship demands of their colleagues, lingers on. Keeping up with the emails, phone calls and meetings can take a toll on their productivity leave alone creating distractions and draining their own energy.

Based on the above challenges, the authors’ argument is that social networks need to be implemented where it is needed in the organization and that uniquely benefits the organization.

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The components of a social network

Components of a network

Understanding how social network operates within the context of social collaboration requires understanding of an interdisciplinary framework consisting of subjects as diverse computers, mathematics, Sociology, Psychology, and Ethnography.

In effect, it requires the understanding of the inter-relationships between people, organizations, and societies as a whole.  We can consider individuals, organizations, or groups as separate units.  The key is to understand the ties and interactions that happen within these units.

Implementation of a social network with enabling technology is complex.  It is complex because, the interactions and the ties between the units is continuously evolving and self-organizing.

Let us consider a social network model called the Albert Barabesi model to understand this.  The model is the fundamental principle on which current day ‘internet’ works through its associative links connecting one web page to another.  The model works on scale-free networks.  Meaning, the networks can scale by associating themselves with each other in the network and grow exponentially.  Scale free networks correspond to power law distributions.  It is similar to how the inbound links on the internet websites operate.

The Barabesi social network model has two parts to it.  The first part is the number of new nodes attached to it.  Nodes could be people or groups.  The second part is the number of connections connecting the new nodes.

The greater the nodes and connections, the more likely the social network will grow.  It is like a catch 22 situation, when there is greater social collaboration; there is every chance that the connecting social network will also grow.

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The symbiotic relationships of the Coral reefs – A model social network for the future

coral

Coral reefs around the world are great tourist attractions. Nature provides some of its greatest lessons in some of its unlikeliest places.

The coral reefs are filled with immense bio-diversity with millions of distinct species of tiny organisms all living in harmony and teaching us the virtues of being altruistic, helping each other in difficult circumstances, to adapt and collaborate for mutual benefit and sustenance.

Back in the 1980’s a very popular television video series called ‘The undersea world of Jacques Cousteau’ was aired on television. The series was telecasted every Sunday. Some of us would know it. The legendary Jacques Cousteau, a filmmaker, explorer, and researcher, hosted it. Jacques had received several awards including the National Geographic special gold medal.

As a middle-schooler, I was biding time for my parents’ nod just to watch the television series. Watching an underwater film with explorers venturing the depths of the ocean was rare and a treat during that time. The videos presented an incredible view of the marine biodiversity of our planet and the content was excellent. It was educational, informative and at the same time awe-inspiring.

At that age, the term ‘Bio-diversity’ seemed alien to me and I hardly knew what it was. However, the pictures and memories are still vivid.

Now with knowledge, advancement and the internet, our awareness has only expanded. It was not just for the educational content, such videos at a very fundamental level helps us understand how the marine diversity of our planet influences it. It is intricately connected to the natural cycles of the earth and helps regulate our climatic conditions.

The clown fish is normally found in the Coral reefs
The clown fish is normally found in the Coral reefs. I used Sketchbook to draw the picture.

We all know that 2/3rds of the earth’s surface is covered with water. A vast number of marine organisms live in the ocean. Researchers are still not able to come to terms with their numbers. It is so complex that there are unexplored depths of the ocean. Some are obvious like the ‘fish’ and still there are others hidden at the edges of the ocean that perform marvelous jobs.

These marine organisms actually help in building new land and some even extend the shorelines (Like the Atoll) by just recycling waste.

We are talking about the humble Stony coral, which creates new land on the ocean through its own excretion. Although its use comes after its death, the tiny marine animal grows in vast colonies at the edge of the ocean.

A theoretical state called the ‘edge of chaos’ prevails at the edge of the ocean . A state neither too rigid nor too loose, enabling molecules to collaborate for new life to evolve. That is exactly what happened to the vast colonies of the Stony coral. They collaborated with other species and evolved.

During its course of life, the Stony coral builds a calcium-based exo-skeleton. This exo-skeleton is so strong and stable that it can remain pristine for hundreds of years even after its host organism; the Stony coral is long dead.

In effect, the Coral reef is a stable ground – building new lands at the edges of the ocean. Thus, millions of these calcium-based exo-skeletons joined to form a Coral reef.

We just need to take a step back and look at it from an inter-disciplinary point of view. These tiny organisms were actually building a scalable network, a dense structure for millions of other organisms to thrive and evolve. This remarkable structure happens at the edge of chaos and that too in ocean waters that are not rich in nutrients.

There are millions of distinct species, which live in these coral reefs around the world. The ‘Great barrier reef’ in Australia is the greatest and biggest organic bio-structure in the world.

‘The tiny organisms and plants that live on the Coral reefs actually recycle the nutrients’ says Steven Johnson in his book “where good ideas come from’. You can find the book here. Scientists have actually studied this seamless flow of energy within the Coral reefs Eco-system.

A symbiotic relationship exists between the Stony coral and the algae that thrive in these waters.

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What collaboration is and is not – it is a habit and not a rare species

collaboration what it is and is not

Collaboration is way of working with others with shared understanding to achieve mutual goals. Sometimes collaboration goes outside of our comfort zone to accomplish goals. It is critical to understand it to be more effective at it.

Collaboration helps us solve big problems this is a known fact but unfortunately we get confused sometimes and we get lost in a rigmarole of ‘thinking about its inefficiency’, we feel to it is ‘too risky’ to get out of comfort zone.

We might also have our concerns on the ‘unconscious’ signals we are sending to others on our over zealousness and sometimes we are afraid that our image and our relevance might take a beating.

Under such circumstances, it is essential that we clarify ourselves what collaboration is and is not.

It seeks to lay rest to our concerns and when the value of collaboration is clear, we will willingly seek out value added cross- functional projects to contribute and develop the necessary skills to effectively collaborate.

Here are some pointers to help us navigate the difficult waters.

What it is not

Knowing ‘what it is not’ helps us to come out our comfort zone fast. Knowing that we are not alone and there are others in the same boat as ourselves, helps us psychologically.

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How Becoming a Business Tutor Helped Me Collaborate with Some of the Top Business Talents in My Area

study and being a business tutor

When I first heard about business tutoring – I wasn’t fully aware of how beneficial it could be for my business.

I’d been quite successful in my area, and I wanted to give something back to those just starting out in the industry – so I was willing to volunteer some of my time to a few local business learning hubs and enterprise networks But I thought it was just going to be a one-way street. I was wrong.

My initial idea was that I was going to help out with a few up-and-coming entrepreneurs and that would be that. I didn’t realize becoming a business tutor could actually help my business. In reality, the process wasn’t just about sharing my knowledge with others – it actually helped me learn, and gave me a number of unique ways to collaborate and draw on a range of different skill sets.

How my collaborative efforts improved with the new network of talent I had access to

Because I was now working with a lot of motivated, inspired young-business people – the opportunities I had to collaborate on different projects skyrocketed. I was now drawing on a wide-range of talents and ideas – some of which I could use in my own business.

I was tutoring different people with different skills – and more than just sharing my knowledge with them, they were sharing theirs with mine. Not only did I collaborate with them to help on a few of their ideas and projects – but they actually helped me with mine. It was now a two-way learning street.

Local private tuition companies like Smile Tutor offer these collaborative opportunities in the Singapore area.

How becoming a tutor helped me learn new ways of doing business

I might have been the senior businessperson – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have things I could learn. Through our collaboration, I knew that some of my ideas were stuck in the past. I got some great new ideas that I could implement in my business.

I was actually tutoring someone who ran an online business and was very interested in social media. It was at a time when social media was just taking off, but I’d been so busy I’d sort of neglected getting involved.

He needed some help with more traditional aspects of his business, so we worked together so I could set him straight. While collaborating helped him immensely – it also helped me. I saw how powerful social media could be in promoting a new business (especially on a budget). It was so effective, I implemented it in my business and started seeing positive results. Through our collaboration – we both learned something to improve our skill set.

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How to protect teenagers from the dark side of social media

Protecting teenagers from the dark side of social media

Everyone knows the brighter side of social media platforms, where users can interact with the people of different cultures and ethnicities. Long distance relationships are enabled to communicate with each other with the help of text messages, audio, and video calling by using different instant messengers such as Facebook, Tinder, Line, Vine, Yahoo, Snapchat, WhatsApp and plenty of others alike.

These social media tools are the best for online communication. People make friends online even whom they don’t know in real life. People use these platforms free of cost, without paying a single penny to these digital media services.

People have cell phone devices in their hands and they can get access to instant messaging apps. Having the brighter side of the online media, there is also having the darker side which is continuously influencing on the positive side.

The negative side of the digital media is progressing no time ever before and young kids and teens that are very fond of social apps are facing nightmares. Let’s take a look on the darker side of the social messaging apps.

The Dark Side of Social Media

Everything has its dark side, so the technological creatures are not pretty different. Young kids and teens use the social media apps without the consent of their parents. On the other hand, if parents are totally non-tech savvy, then there huge chances that young kids and teens get harm online by using the social media apps.  All the social media mighty messengers have become the safe havens for evils. Young kids and teens sometimes adopt these evils and most of the time becomes the victim of these evils.

Cyber Bullying

We all know about bullies and bullying, cyberbullying means bullies present in the digital world and bullied online to others by using technology. The technology can be used devices such as laptops, computers, and gadgets such as cell phones, tabs, and pads. It further added communication tools such as social messaging apps and websites, chats and text messages. Cyberbullies chase young teens online on different social media platforms and bullied them by using sexual language and by using sexual explicit photos and videos, with racist sentences and with many others. Once teens got bullied online, the results could be long lasted and swear such as depression, anxiety, and stress.

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Users and followers in a social network are your true Micro-influencers

Micro-influencer

Here is a small story of a dog, which became a micro-influencer to millions. It was in those years when there was hardly any social network on the Web and Television ad campaigns were popular.

It was in 2005 that the advertising campaign in TV for the Vodafone brand came out in India. Vodafone was called Hutchinson Essar then and it was a company buyout. In the ad, a small dog (a Pug) follows a small boy wherever he goes, to all the unlikely places, the barbershop, playground, bath and to the school. It was hilarious and at the same time touching. It caught the interest of the TV audience across the country. Vodafone used the analogy, “Wherever you go, our network follows” and conveyed it through the advertisement. Ogilvy and Mather the famous advertisement company was behind that TV ad campaign.

The ad was a huge hit. The pug raised the popularity of the Vodafone brand in India. The pug was so much of an influence on the Vodafone brand that when people saw it on the posters they immediately recollected that it was the “Hutch dog” brand. The sale of pug dogs also increased during those years. In fact, customers had even downloaded wallpapers of the pug on to their phone screens further creating an indirect endorsement. The pug dog was a good example of a micro-influencer.

Now fast forward 10 years and what we have is the latest band of micro-influencers, who are actually users of popular social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. The micro-influencers have thousands of followers, who send in their likes and comments for their posts.

Micro-influencers are different from celebrities. Micro-influencers in social networks are individuals with smaller fan base groups and they specialize in a specific vertical or subject area. There is usually high level of engagement on their activities from their fan base.

Infact, many of the digital marketing professionals agree that you cannot apply a blanket ad campaign across the entire population of the audience. Managing the millennial crowd is different.

What professionals say is that it would be more effective if the ad campaigns were used on smaller groups with ranging consumer interests and lifestyles. This is exactly where the micro influencers play a very effective and important role in spreading the word and their role is cut out in the world of digital marketing.

Product brands can leverage micro-influencers to their advantage. Offering free goods and services to your customers in return for good will is one excellent gesture. A restaurant on a brand awareness campaign can offer free dinners to couples on certain days. The couples most likely would spread the good word to their friends and relatives.

This simple gesture not only increases the brand awareness of the restaurant but also will have a strong positive impression in the minds of people in that locality.  It helps build a loyal customer base.

We have been seeing the increasing usage of micro-influencers for brand awareness campaigns. They are genuine and sincere and they connect with their audience unlike celebrities who may sometimes be passé with changing times.

Please do comment on your perspectives.

Cheers.

This article first appeared on Warwick blogs by the same author.