Storm in a Teacup
When it comes to corralling the talents and ideas of your team, the brainstorming session might be your best new business process. It’s a unique form of free-flowing thought and inspiration, all of it potentially priceless.
The brainstorm works because the right answer or best ideas are often deep in the collective minds of team members, and seeing not just what comes out of an informal look at a problem, but how it all fits together, can be the best way to find it. Everyone’s creativity and problem-solving ability comes together and forms an overarching look at the problem that no single team member might have considered.
The brainstorm is where you take off the filters, blinkers and preconceptions about a problem and let the collective wisdom of your people find the solution. Successful brainstorming is all about communication – if you feel your sessions are just colleagues all shouting over each other to be heard, you need to make adjustments.
Following these simple guidelines will ensure you get the best result every time.
There’s no rank and no boss. Nothing needs to be kept except the group ideas. While we’re brainstorming, we need to think freely and forget everything about the people with us apart from the collective creativity they’ll help us bring to bear.
Nothing keeps us more silent than the fear of ridicule or non-acceptance. Brainstorming should mean nobody is held astrictly to account for anything they say – good or bad. Everything is judged on how the group as a whole responds. A manager or executive who likes yes-men is the worst possible brainstormer.
It also means leaving our egos at the boardroom door. This isn’t about what we come up with as individuals. If you’re competing with everyone else to come up with the best possible idea, you’re in the wrong room.
Brainstorming for one
A great place to practice the brainstorming procedure is by yourself – if you’re a sole trader and won’t ever have a group to brainstorm with, it’s still a great skill to have.
It will give you practice on letting your mind wander over the problem and find the ideas on its own. You also won’t have to deal with some of the bad behaviours that can creep in when others bring their egos or biases towards colleagues.
Stirring the pot
Select a quiet and ordered place free of clutter and distractions. Don’t bring mobiles in, make sure everyone knows not to interrupt you with phone calls, and have plenty of brainstorm mediums like paper and pens, a whiteboard and coloured markers or whatever your workplace has to offer.
Get everyone on the same page by explaining the problem you’re trying to crack clearly and with focus. Defining the objective clearly will be half the battle to solving it.
With a few brainstorming sessions under your belt, you might find a bit of quiet time at the beginning is worth exploring. It might give everyone time to jot some initial impressions down or just doodle while they digest everything.
From there, the tap of a gavel (or pen) means ‘go’. Let everyone speak. Ask people for input. If it becomes a cacophony of voices, the good news is that everyone’s engaged and ideas are flowing.
The bad news is they might be just waiting for someone to stop speaking so they can say their piece instead of really listening. That’s when it’s up to the brainstorm leader (usually the person who outlines the problem or is in charge of the project) to guide the conversation and make sure everyone’s heard.
If the session has gone well, you should have a basic narrative of it on paper, diagrams or some written form. That’s good – the reason for a brainstorm isn’t necessarily to come up with the answer (if it has – great!). What you should have now is one or several directions that might need a little more analysis and finessing.
The answer to every business dilemma is in the same place – in the minds of your talent pool. A brainstorming session is one of the best ways to finding it.