Have you ever had a really good guided tour of the weeds, often called a “brainstorming session”?
As the ideas churn forward, each one less practical than the last, participants are rewarded and encouraged to dream large and often improbable solutions to real-world problems. How can these sessions be managed into an effective process, one that allows for the necessary freedom of thought but also the guidance that delivers real and tangible results?
Separating real accomplishment from group therapy requires a facilitator who is willing to set up clear communication on what is expected. (I will assume that “Six Thinking Hats” and other resources are already in play for the group leader). Often what is missing is a clear objective for the session, and necessary details about the business challenge at hand.
In a brainstorming session, CONTEXT trumps CONTENT.
In other words, participants need to know a clear objective and framework for what is about to be discussed. We CAN think of lots of things, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. The best ideas will be the ones that fit the context most appropriately. It is a delicate balance to create an environment of trust and openness within a framework of objectives and results. However, that is part of the clear communication that is required before anyone goes deep into the potential abyss of “brainstorming”.
Setting the ground rules is key for an effective session, and all participants (operative word: “ALL”) need to understand that they will be expected to offer ideas. Effective brainstorming takes courage, and that requires encouragement from the facilitator. Oftentimes, the starting point is a version of “there are no bad ideas”…(ooh, I’ve had a few. There was the football bat, and the unicorn feeder…still convinced that all ideas are good ideas?) The key thing to remember is: Don’t get married to your ideas, but put them out there just the same. A good facilitator creates that environment and gets everyone to play in the sandbox.
If every idea is good, then none of them are. That’s why Edward de Bono’s book is so effective, because it breaks brainstorming into steps and facilitates cream rising to the top. For me, the first step is a clear and established context for ideas – only then can those ideas be shaped into results.
Judgments and comparisons must come after the brainstorming session, to separate the wheat from the chaff. The stack ranking of ideas and collation of valuable material must be handled with respect – but handled nonetheless. Brainstorming takes courage, a true willingness to bring your best ideas, and an ego-less attachment to the outcomes.