The Beauty Of A (Good) Brainstorm

With all the pressure of innovation in the workplace, the emphasis put on brainstorming sessions is on the rise in many organizations. But, in order for brainstorming to be effective, it has to be done right. Bet you didn’t see that brilliant piece of advice coming, huh?

It may sound obvious, but the reality is that more often than not, organizations do brainstorming sessions incorrectly – and it may be stomping out more new ideas than it creates. The reason? As a whole, we’re very quick to evaluate. As soon as an idea surfaces, we instinctively start to judge whether it’s good or bad, practical or difficult, affordable or costly, and whether or not it fits a whole slew of other criteria. This damages the brainstorming process, which is intended for idea generation, not idea evaluation.

In a recent article on Co.Design, Daniel Sobol wrote:

“But the idea behind brainstorming is right. To innovate, we need environments that support imaginative thinking, where we can go through many crazy, tangential, and even bad ideas to come up with good ones. We need to work both collaboratively and individually. We also need a healthy amount of heated discussion, even arguing. We need places where someone can throw out a thought, have it critiqued, and not feel so judged that they become defensive and shut down. Yet this creative process is not necessarily supported by the traditional tenets of brainstorming: group collaboration, all ideas held equal, nothing judged.”

The concept behind brainstorming is creating a safe environment for sharing ideas. But when the environment fosters judgment instead, team members are more likely to edit and censor their ideas before they ever see the light of day. Given that any single idea – or the conversation around it – could spark new possibilities from other team members, the brainstorming process can’t afford to be hostile.

Instead, set a predetermined amount of time for getting all of the ideas out in the open with the “no idea is a bad idea” mindset, and THEN go through an editing process. Based on what’s been generated, which options are the most feasible? How can the team make those ideas happen?

Brainstorming is still a powerful tool – but it has to be honest, safe, and judgment-free. Otherwise, it’s just a time consuming meeting that leaves the team feeling defensive and shut down.

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