The Dos and Donts of Brainstorming

Well, to be honest with you, if I tried to cover everything I know about brainstorming in these pages, that chapter alone would be larger than this entire book. But I can give you a quick list of do's and don'ts that I'm sure will shed a good deal of light on this murky, misunderstood process.

Do: Set aside at least two hours (I prefer three) to make sure you get beyond the surface in your thinking.

Don't: Expect to blast in and find the holy grail of answers after taking a few minutes to just scratch the epidermal layer of thought.

Do: Invite 20 to 30 people to the meeting. The more people, the more ideas—to a point.

Don't: Expect three or four people to provide the energy, momentum, or mental leverage to make big leaps, or you'll be very disappointed.

Do: Invite a wide array of people to participate in your brainstorming session. The broader the cross section of players, the wider the variety of ideas.

Don't: Expect a group of people closely associated with the area being brainstormed to be the most freethinking bunch. In areas such as new product exploration, I often convince clients to keep their people out of the room altogether and assemble a group of customers or potential users of the product in question. The further away the participants are from the realities of marketing, the less encumbered the players are by what can and can't be done. Some great ideas have been discovered by people who didn't know "it couldn't be done."

Do: Divide the group into smaller teams of four to six people so you get more diverse thought and to dilute the negative impact of the troublemakers. (I sometimes identify the know-it-alls in advance and stick them in the same group to duke it out.)

Don't: Put eight or more people on one team. If you have eight people, have two groups of four. This is the biggest mistake groups make. (Too many cooks do not make creative soup; they make only a watered-down concoction we've all tasted before.)

Do: Some kind of a little creative thinking warm-up to help break the ice. Make sure the warm-up has nothing to do with the topic to be brainstormed. People are less self-conscious coming up with new ideas in areas where they have less attachment. The freethinking here will help them loosen up for the main event.

Don't: Just start people off on a grueling thinking adventure without stretching their mental muscles and loosening them up.

Do: Your brainstorming in bursts. Spend 20 minutes looking for ideas this way, then 20 minutes doing it that way. (This is a good place to use Intergalactic Thinking, using different galaxies for each burst of effort.)

Don't: Try to make the group chase after the prize without pacing themselves. People are much better running lots of small sprints than one long marathon.

Do: Have people jot down their own ideas (see "Jotting," page 143). I like the standard size sticky notes because they're small (you can't get too verbose in a 3" X 3" space) and modular, so you can move them around during the distillation process, like

_| The Lobotomy Files r

Three-Ring Brainstorming

When we conduct a brainstorming session using the Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy techniques, it's as if the circus has come to town. Before you know it our stodgy analyticals are flying like the trapeze artists, our grumpy, "that-won't-work" crowd is clowning around, and the aloof are clamoring to get a ride on the elephants and camels. This process helps bring out the best thinking in a group. And there are some real winners among the hundreds or even thousands of ideas generated.

Mike A. Ricciuto Director, Global Communications DuPont Crop Protection Lobotomized 1999

y pieces on a game board, and you don't have to waste time transcribing.

Don't: Have one person be a scribe. It eliminates that person's full involvement and sometimes diffuses the ownership of an idea that may later need a champion to keep it alive.

Do: Ask people to stand while they are ideating. People actually think better when they are standing. Cross-lateral activity such as walking, jogging, swimming, and biking stimulates the brain. Standing still is actually not an inert state at all, but a constant balancing act using cross-lateral muscle activity. I like to use pads on easels for posting the sticky notes with ideas written on them, or use the sheets from such pads taped to the wall. I also like to keep chairs at a distance to avoid the temptation to sit. Of course, pregnant women and octogenarians are excluded from the rule.

Don't: Have people sit comfortably around a table unless you're willing to supply a steady stream of coffee or pillows.

Do: Ask all players to say their ideas aloud as they write them down. It cross-pollinates the other players on their team and contributes to a level of chatter that gives the team some energy. When all teams are thinking out loud it adds group energy that is both competitive and supportive for the entire room.

Don't: Ask people to remain silent for most of the session. This can contribute to very low energy. There are times, however, when I ask teams or the entire room to spend, say, 5 or 10 minutes ideating in silence. I do this when I feel the group has been distracted from the main mission by digression or judgment, or even when the energy is getting low. Regarding that last point, rather than allowing low energy to be a negative element of the atmosphere, sometimes it's easier to go with the flow than to fight it and lose.

Do: Change the dynamics throughout the session. Push the group's thinking first this way, then that way, then some other way. Offcenter methods of thinking can become routine very quickly.

Don't: Keep pushing in the same direction. Creative thinking means finding surprising answers. You can't keep looking in the same place or in the same way and expect to find something different.

Do: Use toys, props, music, anything to alter the ambience, tone, and tempo. I like rock 'n' roll blasting one minute, classical music the next. I also use crayons, food, and games.

Don't: Expect a boring atmosphere to lead to exciting results.

Scientific discovery: Neckties don't inhibit creativity.

Have you ever heard, when typical business people want to be "creative," "We're going off site. And no ties."*t Okay, I buy some of this. The team will be putting in some heavy thinking. So we'll get out of the office. (Not such a bad idea. Change of environment.) But no ties? (Excuse me?) So it's neckties that have been inhibiting creativity in business all of these years? I don't think so. Documented, the most creative thinker ever in American history, Thomas Edison (with 1,093 patents), wore a tie to work every day. I mean, he even wore a tie to sleep. That is, he napped often during the day and didn't always take off his signature bow tie during nappy time. Well, Edison's habits are scientific enough for me to conclude that neckties do not, I repeat, "do not" inhibit creativity. Do you get my point ?

* Hint of sexism noted, with a hint of apology. t For our readers from California, a necktie is an article of clothing often worn by businessmen and by disgruntled teens at funerals.

Do: Find an interesting venue for the session. I like nature and kid-oriented locations; country clubs, yacht clubs, theme parks, children's museums, and such.

Don't: Book a room at the local chain hotel with the same carpeting as the last 10 meetings, and don't expect unusual thinking to soar in the company conference room.

Do: Keep pushing for quantity (see Chapter 7, "100 MPH Thinking"). Quality will surface.

Don't: Try to find the perfect idea. That's very hard to do, and it encourages too much judgment too soon.

Do: Distill the output periodically. When each group has 30, 40, 50 ideas, have them distill the field down to the cream and start another round.

Don't: Build up a huge mass of ideas that will be impossible to get your mind around to condense later.

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  • aamu luhtanen
    Do and don't of brainstorming?
    24 days ago

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