March 28, 2010

How To Brainstorm and Not Tempest

Thinking “out of the box” is fundamental to free us from the prevailing status quo. Brainstorming can enable us to tackle problems creatively and open up new possibilities for the future.

An Insight piece from Psychology Today (February 12010) called “[How To] Brainstorm” by ChiChi Madu points to some of the typical challenges with brainstorming and offers a new approach to it.

The challenge: “A typical brainstorming session can involve clashing personalities, uneven contributions, hurt egos, and hours of precious work-time wasted.”

When people come together to brainstorm, there are two things going on—one is the brainstorming and the other is the interaction between the people. And if the interaction is not collaborative and is dysfunctional because of the pervasiveness of functional silos, groupthink, competitiveness, or power politics, then the brainstorming and overall problem solving is going to suffer as a result.

Let’s face it, productivity is in large part of function of people’s ability to pull together rather than push apart!

A new approach: One way to work more collaboratively comes from an approach called “brainwriting,” by Peter Heslin. Brainwriting works as follows:

  • Write—Everyone writes an idea, in a different color pen on a piece of paper and passes to the next person.
  • React—Each person reacts to the idea they received and adds their own idea—“feeding off the others.”
  • Review—Once the slips of paper have about five ideas, they move to the center of the table for “systematic consideration of each.”
  • Select—Everybody lists their favorite ideas and the most popular ones are selected.

What is great about brainwriting is that everyone has a chance to contribute ideas, to have their ideas considered by others, and for them to consider the ideas of their peers carefully and thoughtfully. Moreover, brainwriting actually facilitates ideas to be incrementally built and improved on by having group members feed-off of the idea they received, rather than just hastily dismissing them or talking over others. Finally, since everyone has to put ideas and reactions to ideas down on paper, no one can just “sit it out” and not participate—and the more earnest the participation, the better the brainstorm will be.

People can innovate amazing things, solve problems, and really work together constructively when: the underlying process facilitates information exchange, collaboration, and the freedom to say what they really think. If we encourage and facilitate more brainwriting activity and other constructive engagement between people, we will be able to take on and resolve the ever larger and more challenging issues facing our organizations and society.


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