|Getting the most from Brainstorming|
The idea behind brainstorming is to increase the productivity of meetings and to produce good ideas. New ideas - or new twists on old ones - are crucial to effective marketing and decision making.
How many times have you been given a piece of work or a task to do where you really weren't all that sure you could come up with the best answer? We are all different and a good work environment recognises that and allows us to excel in those areas where we stand out and support us in the areas where we are a bit shaky. Brainstorming is a good method to provide for that support.
The basic premise is to get a group of people into a room and have them discuss and record options, alternatives and possibilities. Brainstorming isn't intended as a method of solving problems or making decisions, it is more a forum where as many solutions can be identified as possible without getting bogged down in the details. One idea will lead to another and probably take you places quite outside the square. The analysis of which solution best meets the situation comes after that first, purely creative session and judging the pros and cons can stymie the creative process.
Spending all day at brainstorming is counter productive as talk just tends to go round in circles, and recently this has led to a trend of short, intensive sessions where people meet, talk for 15 minutes at the most and then move on to the next task. At some work places this method is teasingly called 'Speed Dating' and this ads an element of humour to the whole idea. An invite to go speed dating with the manager is sure to catch even the most jaded employee's attention.
There are some rules, though, that must be adhered to in order for a brainstorming session to be successful. It's also important to remember that we are all different and brainstorming isn't for everyone.
1. Send out advance notice of the subject matter beforehand. Even though your attendees may not be giving consious thought to the issue, their brains are busily working away at it behind the scenes.
2. Consider who you are inviting. Are they actually likely to understand enough of the issue to be able to offer valuable input or are you going to spend most of the session explaining background? Having said that though, there is value in including someone without preconceived ideas. Be careful of inhibiting junior / less confident employees by mixing them with strong personalities or management. Sometimes you might be better having two sessions rather than one dominated by one or two people.
3. Be quite clear on the purpose of the session. What is the issue or topics you are there to cover? Limit it to one or two main themes or you will either have to rush through or jump from topic to topic. Be clear about what you want to discuss and the order you are going to cover them in.
4. Have a rough outline of the individual issues you want to cover. A list of questions you are going to pose to the group is a good way of doing this and is a great way to get the group moving again when you hit a lull.
5. Have the technical side of things organised prior to the session. There is nothing worse than turning up and finding there is no whiteboard or the data show has a cable missing - or that the room wasn't booked!
6. Record the essence of the ideas that come up - a whiteboard with a printing function or a datashow / laptop combination are great and allow good records. Remember, if you don't write it down then and there, chances are you will lose it.
7. Set a time limit and stick to it. Those creative juices will eventually run dry and you are likely to get your best solutions quickly and spend the rest of the afternoon aguing over technicalities.
8. Set out the rules at the beginning of the session. Make sure everyone knows there are no wrong ideas and that browbeating or critising is unacceptable. Everyone is there to contibute and many people will stay silent if they don't trust that their ideas will get a fair hearing.
9. Have a communication channel in place for ideas that occur after the session is over and make sure everyone knows about it. Some people will simply not have the confidence to raise a possibily contraversial idea during the session and allowing them to bring them to you privately may mean the difference between you ever hearing it and the company going down the toilet.
10. Be prepared to referee. Strong personalities can overwhelm the whole session if you let them and you end up only hearing one or two points of view. Don't allow the group to get sidetracked or stuck in the details, keep things moving along. Don't allow people to talk over others but be aware that when inspiration hits, sometimes the words escape our best attempts to be polite.
And lastly, once it's all over, acknowledge the contribution of the attendees. Let them know the outcomes of the session and thank them for their help. After all, without them you would likely never have covered all the bases.
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