Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No "Blamestorming" Allowed

When was the last time you held a brainstorming session . . . a REAL brainstorming. Most people who hold group brainstorming do it wrong. “Huh”, you say? “All it is is throwing out ideas and weeding them out.” That’s pretty much true. However, most people go at it the wrong way. It's not the appropriate time for blame or criticism.

All comments on participant's ideas should be held until the end! Brainstorming is allowing participants to put out their ideas with no pressure to hold them back. Here’s what a good group session should look like:
  • The facilitator presents the problem and gives further explanation if needed.
  • The facilitator sets a time limit and asks the group for their ideas.
  • All participants present their ideas, and the person documenting records them.
  • Participants may elaborate on their ideas to ensure clarity.
  • When time is up, the facilitator organizes the ideas based on the topic goal.
  • Categorize ideas.
  • Review the whole list to ensure that everyone understands the ideas.
  • Remove duplicate ideas and obviously unfeasible solutions.
  • THEN discuss.

If you want a more effective group brainstorming session – don’t make the boss the facilitator. In fact, don’t even let him in the room. That’s a sure way of intimidating your more timid participants.

The biggest reason group discussions don’t work is because participants feel too much pressure or are intimidated. Research at the University of Texas (Arlington) and Texas A&M University have found that traditional brainstorming is not as effective as other techniques because of social pressure – the fear of looking foolish among peers and superiors, or even being afraid of saying something that will offend someone.

The next time you want to brainstorm, try the individual approach. Most of the research performed shows us that people working by themselves will come up with more ideas than when they’re in a group. They just don’t have that group pressure. Individually, they can be more relaxed and take a little more time to think or maybe get ideas elsewhere, like books or the Internet.

Brainstorming IS a very effective technique of producing new ideas and solutions, IF you perform it properly. So next time you think of brainstorming, take a few minutes to plan it out.

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