In 1941 Alex Osborn, an advertising executive, found that conventional business meetings were inhibiting the creation of new ideas and proposed some rules designed to help stimulate them. To “think up” was originally the term he used to describe the process he developed, and that in turn came to be known as “brainstorming”. He described brainstorming as “a conference technique by which a group attempts to find a solution for a specific problem by amassing all the ideas spontaneously by its members”. The rules he came up with are the following:
- No criticism of ideas
- Go for large quantities of ideas
- Build on each other’s ideas
- Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas
He found that when these rules were followed, a lot more ideas were created and that a greater quantity of original ideas gave rise to a greater quantity of useful ideas. Quantity produced quality. (Source: Brainstorming.co.uk)
In the project management context brainstorming is one of most frequently used avenues for idea generation, planning or the discovery phase. Over the years with globalization and growing complexity of projects, the effectiveness of brainstorming has come under a lot of scrutiny. According to an article on Harvard Business review: A meta-analytic review of over 800 teams indicated that individuals are more likely to generate a higher number of original ideas when they don’t interact with others (Source: HBR).
I am however in favor of it and stand with the majority who believe in the power of the format. When done rightly, it can spark creativity, collaboration and better collective decision making. In this blog, I will be sharing 5 tips for making brainstorming work.
1. Determine if brainstorming is the right way to go
One of the reasons the effectiveness of brainstorming has been waning is because it is being overused and probably in situations where the format is not very relevant. Brainstorming as defined by Alex Osborn, is meant as a mechanism to crowdsource ideas for a particular objective. Therefore it will be most effective in scenarios such as ideation, project discovery and strategy planning. So before sending out a brainstorming meeting invite to a huge group of people, you might want to figure out if it is the right format.
2. Setting clear objectives and outcomes
Once you have decided to go the brainstorming route, it is imperative to set clear objectives for the session and list down tangible outcomes you expect from the session. Given that brainstorming is mostly an unstructured method of conducting meetings, it is important to have some overarching themes or boundaries to keep it on track. As a matter of fact, this applies not only to brainstorming but for all kinds of meetings and group interactions.
Also read: 7 Hacks for Effective Meetings
3. Getting the group dynamics right – moderator
When it comes to brainstorming the outcomes are only as good as the participants. Relevance, Seniority, Decision making prowess, adjacencies with the objectives and skills & expertise are some of the criteria used to select the participants for the session. If the group is too large, it makes sense to break the topic into streams and create subgroups to work on them. The other factor most organizers overlook is the importance of a good moderator to lead the meeting. With so many different points of view, the brainstorming session could quickly turn into complete chaos. A seasoned moderator knows how to guide the conversations and keep the discussions on track towards outcomes.
4. Focus on Logistics
One could easily undermine the importance of meeting logistics but I believe it can completely change the color of the meeting. Imagine constant interruptions or delays caused by request for notepads, non-functional markers, incorrect screen sharing links and likes of that. That could easily eat up at least 30 minutes of crucial meeting time. Be it face to face or virtual or a combination of both, having a checklist for meeting logistics and ensuring they are all covered is a must for a successful brainstorming session.
5. Streamline blue sky thinking & stay on course
Ideation, as glamorous and easy as it sounds, is actually a pretty complex process. One of most common challenges is coming up with ideas within a certain boundary. And with a group of diverse profiles and personalities, things can go completely off track in no time. So it is really important to have a reference framework for staying on the course and aligning the blue sky thinking to set outcomes.
6. Capture learnings and chart further course of action
Brainstorming session participants often cite lack of visibility on actions and post-session progress. Not knowing how the ideas contributed to the initiative and lack of progress towards outcomes can be more frustrating for the participants than the organizers itself. Capturing insights and actions from the session are crucial for the effectiveness of the session and it can go a long way it aiding key decisions.
During the course of my research for this blog, I came across a lot of articles that proclaimed that it was time to kill brainstorming as a concept. A psychology focused publication even said that brainstorming doesn’t really improve productivity or creativity. I am not technically equipped to refute that claim but I can say this; There is nothing that a group of focused individuals cannot achieve. If brainstorming wasn’t effective, there would be no use for governments, jury, councils, industry forums or committees. I believe that for something to work, it needs to be done right and improved on consistently. Happy Brainstorming!
By Nikhil Daddikar, Co-Founder, Celoxis Technologies
About Celoxis: Celoxis is world’s leading online PPM software, rated among 3 best project management software tools in the world and is deployed by more than 2000+ customers globally, from mid-sized enterprises to Fortune 100 companies, across industry verticals. To know more visit www.celoxis.com.