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.

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Infographic – Social collaboration tips for Brainstorming

Social collaboration tips

We have compiled a list of Social collaboration tips as an Infographic. The transcript for the Infographic is below. Hope you find it useful.

(You can freely embed this URL, the way you like it)

Embed URL:  Brain Storming tips

 

Social collaboration tips

 

Transcript

1.Keep the group size to a minimum

Keeping the group size to a minimum number of members required will reduce topic digression and unproductive loafing.

2.Use a facilitator

Good Facilitators know how to keep the audience interested and generally conduct ice-breaking sessions to avoid social inhibition.

3. Encourage Diversity

Having diverse group members from different fields with complementary skills generates newer ideas and increases innovation.

4. Have a culture of innovation

Fostering an environment which nurtures collaboration and innovation are important. Brainstorming should be innate and a way of life.

5. Alternate with frequent breaks

Keep a balance by allowing the group to alternate from productive group work to individual activity including taking breaks.

Some useful tips on the history of Brainstorming

The Wikipedia describes the ‘Brainstorming’ process as a group creativity technique where the group arrives at a list of ideas spontaneously for an impending problem.

The word was first coined by one Advertising executive Alex F Osborn. Alex worked on creative problem-solving way back in 1939 and hosted several group thinking sessions. During these group thinking sessions, he observed several of his employees were able to solve problems creatively and they came up with new ideas. He, later on, wrote a book called the “The creative power” where he outlined all his methods.

Please read our blog post article on Brainstorming, Brainstorming spontaneously

Alex Osborn’s methods are outlined on the following two principles. They are

1. Deferring judgement
2. Going for quantity

By following these two principles he was successfully able to host group thinking session among his employees and which later on spread to the rest of the world. His principles of Brainstorming brought a positive change in removing inhibitions of the participating members, increase creativity within the group and excite idea generation as a habit among the group members.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

Successful brainstorming tips: Being spontaneous and passionate helps

Brainstorming, being spontaneous and passionate

In my opinion, the ability to see fresh beneficial opportunities from challenges and deep entanglements, is one of the proven and established benefits of brainstorming.

But how much of it, is realized by working professionals is left to be seen. Perhaps, delving a bit into this activity and highlighting few tips would help.

It was interesting to read about an Arthur Anderson Survey that more than 70% of business professionals brainstorm and they do it at-least once in a month.

That is a good number.

But then, there is a general notion among professionals that “they have seen it all” and they don’t care much about brainstorming.

The good part is brainstorming facilitates, better collaboration and better innovation.  There is no lone genius. Good ideas and insight are produced through successive iteration of ideas. It happens over a period of time  through collaboration and group think among team members.

Brainstorming is all about exercising your mental muscles and keeping it sharp. Each and every time, again and again.

Just as we exercise to keep ourselves fit and healthy, it is good to regularly brainstorm.

Is there a right way to stimulate brainstorming and make it engaging and result bound not only for us but also for others?

The answer is – Yes!

Is there an online environment yet?  Probably not.

We haven’t seen it much happening on online social media collaboration platforms on the consumer side. There isn’t much focus either.

So what is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is an opportunity and an activity for the team to produce new ideas spontaneously to solve a difficult problem.

There are two key words in the above statement, which emphasizes and plays a critical role in making brainstorming very successful. They are: 1. Team 2. Spontaneously. We will try to explore on them.

Useful note:  Brainstorming as a term was popularized by Alex. F. Osborn in the 1953 book “Applied imagination”. Even earlier, Osborn, conducted many group thinking sessions and outlined his approach in his 1948 book, “Your creative power”. He wrote with clarity in his book, on how to organize a team to produce great ideas.

There are many approaches and methods to brainstorming. We will pick and choose some of the best practices around the world. It is nevertheless a challenge, to apply it within a social media collaboration context.

IDEO, an international design firm for the past 20 years have been at the forefront for spreading best practices in brainstorming, organizing and bringing together motivated teams for the same. There is ‘Brain Trust’ sessions from Pixar, to learn from as well. Pixar is the celebrated movie production and animation company, loved by people all over the world. Pixar conducts brainstorming sessions among its senior leadership team and other team members.

As we discussed earlier, two critical factors play a big role namely: Being spontaneous and motivated teams.

Here are some simple practical tips, which could help you cultivate these vital areas for successful brainstorming.

Being spontaneous and passionate helps for brainstorming

 

Brainstorming in progress
Brainstorming session in progress

Focus:  Before getting into the meeting with your team members, it is important that everyone comes in with a clear mind. A clear mind with no distractions aids in airing the right ideas on the table without bias and misconceptions. Clarity in the mind on the problem would naturally help in bring in spontaneous ideas.

One way to go about this, is to ask the team to spend about 30 minutes to an hour outside the office, before the session. Probably, a good walk in the park or around the office building would do.  The focus should be on critiquing the ideas and not the people. It is good to set aside the top-down hierarchy and go along with the dynamics of the group for initial idea building.

A good takeaway from the “Brain Trust” meeting session from Pixar is that, the group would always consist of senior people who are experts in their field. They would work individually on their ideas, at their desks and then gather for brainstorming. During the brainstorming session, the experts would air their ideas and problems openly and ask for feedback. Their ideas would be critiqued, suggestions would be offered and problems are seen from a fresh perspective.

Build and Jump: It is encouraged to build as many ideas as possible. There is no limit. As long as the team finds enough possible ideas, they would go at it. But then, when they reach a point, where they cannot go any further on a topic, it is advised to branch out and start building again.

Go for quantity:  It is always encouraged to have as many wild ideas as possible. There are no good ideas or bad ideas. All ideas are good. Go for the quantity. It is only on the successive iteration of ideas that new insight happens.

Physically think through objects: A good takeaway from IDEO is that, they always encourage their employees to bring in physical objects during the brainstorming session. Props help in looking at the problem from a different perspective. It allows team members to build fresh ideas on flaws of earlier designs. It also allows the team to talk about a problem or a great design in one object, relative to another.

Put it in writing: It is a good idea to put all the ideas in writing. When you write, you will remember and come back to it later. It is a good idea to put all the ideas on a post-it slip and stick it on the wall for everyone to see.

Build trust: Trust is one of the very important factors. Only when there is trust, will people in the team open up. It is important for the leadership team to foster a culture of trust in the organization. It is good to give everyone a free hand in the contribution process. When team members feel and see that their ideas are valued, it builds trust.

Bring in diversity: It is good to have a diverse set of team members in the brainstorming session. Diversity in subject matter expertise, experiences and gender allows to look at problems from a fresh perspective and brings in Wisdom. The ability to see fresh opportunities in long held challenges is one of the greatest benefit of having a diverse brainstorming team.

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