‘Brainstorming’ has been quite the business term or the ‘buzzword’ in the corporate world for decades now.
Whenever sales teams are faced with a dearth of ‘solutions’ to business problems; or looking to ‘generate ideas’ - the usual ‘rule of the thumb’ in the pursuit to a plausible solution is to say, “We’ll brainstorm on the issue/topic and get back to you ASAP!”
What follows after, is a hurried ‘team meet’ where every member walks into the meeting room ‘pumped up’ with a note pad and a strong cup of coffee in their hands; determined to wake and ‘fire up’ every ‘dormant’ neural circuit to deliver ‘stellar ideas’ in no time…
However, more often than not; these ‘brainstorming’ sessions end up with a couple of ‘lacklustre’ ideas generated through the ‘bickering’ of a few ‘important’ members in the room, while other participants either find themselves nodding their heads or taking a wad of notes to look busy; occasionally stealing glances at their watches..
Yes, a typical case of ‘brainstorming-gone-wrong’. Though ‘brainstorming’ started off as a term coined by an Advertising Executive, Alex Osborn, in as early as the 1940s to develop creative ideas for ad campaigns – the business world these days, is neglecting to adhere to the principles and rules that he claimed to contribute to the “ideative efficacy”…
The modern teams only seem to be simply working on the ‘raw’ assumption that - when more brains work on a problem/issue, breakthrough ideas are sure to be generated. And therein lies the flaw and the ineffectiveness of a brainstorming session.
Let's now go ahead and explore a few effective brainstorming techniques, which you can use to inspire stellar ideas from your sales team:
1. Designate A FACILITATOR
When many heads collide in bringing out new ideas for a topic or a problem; there's a high chance the session will veer off course, resulting in unrelated and unproductive discussion.
This is when the role of a ‘Facilitator’ comes in handy. It's important that teams designate a moderator or facilitator, days before the actual session takes place; so that he/she comes prepared for the role.
Primarily, a facilitator’s job is to make everyone feel at ease and help them loosen up, to bring as much engagement to the table, as possible. When a facilitator sets the rules and creates a ‘structure’ and ‘ambience’ for everyone to engage in a playful manner – more ideas will surface spontaneously from the participants.
A facilitator’s role should be focused on politely imposing the need for brevity when making comments; he/she should make sure one person speaks at a time and refrains from over-analysing or scrutinizing other person’s ideas – while stirring up the energy around the table to help bring out a healthy dose of authentic ideas from every participant.
The next 3 techniques relates to what Alex Osborn laid out as the rules required to stimulate idea generation and increase creativity of a brainstorming group:
2. Focus On Quantity Rather Than Quality
Only when participants feel comfortable to suggest whichever idea (good or bad) that crosses their minds – the brainstorming sessions will bring out enough colour to actually find few golden ideas to pursue.
A facilitator can always start by throwing a couple of irrelevant or ludicrous ideas into the ring; just to loosen up the group so they don’t worry about sounding stupid to pitch ideas, that are incoherent or aren’t well thought-out.
Sometimes it's best to keep-out personalities in positions of power (such as Department Heads or Executives) for the first half of the session – as staff/participants tend to feel apprehensive in their presence, resulting in poor participation and loss in productivity.
The idea is to come up with as many bad ideas as possible in the first 15 minutes or so. This brings an element of fun into the discussion and once you throw away enough bad ideas; you pave the way for good ones. Sometimes it takes 3000 raw ideas to come up with one successful one!
3. Withhold Criticism & Discourage Analysis
Human nature is such that, in any discussion or conversations per say, we tend to analyse and debate on the proposed hypothesis or the merits/demerits of any idea.
During a brainstorming session, it's only but natural to find the participants criticising and passing judgements on ideas they don’t agree with – this tendency needs to be discouraged as it only inhibits the flow of churning out ideas.
The facilitator instead should encourage participants to focus on ‘adding to’ or ‘extending’ the ideas being floated and reserve the ‘criticism’ for a later stage of the process, when every possible idea has been dropped on the table.
4. Make Way For ‘Wild’ or ‘Absurd’ Ideas!
Einstein said, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it!” – When it comes to brainstorming, this is one strategy you should always adhere to.
When participants suspend judgements, everyone can be nudged to think of ideas that are unusual, bold, humorous, absurd or downright stupid, or ‘silly’. If the room is bursting with bursts of laughter, people are ‘hi-fiving’ and cheering each other – then your session is definitely on track.
Sometimes however, it's not easy to conjure up an atmosphere of fun or one that allows for ‘spontaneous contribution of ideas’ – especially when the discussion follows a boring, linear trajectory, which will in no time zap the energy in the room and send people off for coffee refills, or worse; trigger contagious ‘yawning’ spells.
A facilitator should be quick to identify signs of such ‘downward spiral’ in conversations and be able to diffuse it swiftly, before everyone starts off on the wrong foot.
A neat trick is to plan fun exercises, which has nothing to do with the topic in question – For instance, you can ask them to work in groups to sketch a cartoon caricature of their friends; or build a futuristic car from the objects on the table, etc. Anything fun and silly will do, as it will induce laughter and stimulate the creative juices.
Sometimes even ‘out of the blue’ bad ideas, which previously were thought of as ‘going off on a tangent’ can spark new insights and steer the conversation into the direction that will end as a ‘million dollar’ idea!
5. Don’t Hesitate To Scrap It All
Another ‘deathly trap’ that many fall victim to with brainstorming sessions is that – At the end of a session, teams feel the compulsion to choose and pursue an idea, even though the session didn’t yield anything of value.
Most of it stems from the ‘pressure’ to meet a deadline or just to save one’s face – but such a choice could actually do more harm down the line, than good.
It's absolutely okay to ditch the ideas altogether, call it a day and reschedule another session sometime soon. However, it's good practice to reflect on the ideas that have surfaced; sort out the ones that are worthy of giving a second thought and regroup the team for a more focused drill.
Another way would be to present the same ideas to a completely new group or add more people to the existing group – you may be surprised to find that when fresh minds join the group the new ‘synergy’ could trigger the flow of stellar ideas.
Brainstorming can work wonders if the sessions are orchestrated well enough to extract the worst, absurd and best ideas from the participants – which is only possible if the minds around the table are free of inhibitions and their creative juices are stoked within friendly and fun-filled ambience!
If you'd like further assistance or would like to discuss anything covered today, we'd love to hear from you.
Call Andy Fox (me) on (03) 5249 5570 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Website is www.element7digital.com.au