Every one of us has experienced failed brainstorming sessions.
It could have been because one of your vice president disapproved of every idea until after a short while everybody kept their mouths shut.
Or because 250 ideas were posted on a wall and nobody knew what move to take next.
Or because at the end of a long day at the office you could only recycle old ideas and nothing new was unveiled.
But do not get discouraged. The perfect brain storm does exist - just like the perfect storm.
So, what finally gives that feeling of WOW? I've discovered that this simple question cannot be answered easily. I do not think there is one dominant success factor. It is much more the right interplay of many small factors. It’s all in the details.
Perhaps the metaphor of a puzzle is most fitting. There are many small pieces needed, and if you lose one, the puzzle is worthless. In my practice, I have found 25 pieces needed to create perfect brainstorming:
- Define a relevant subject, which is a challenge for the organization and the people you invite.
- Create with the sponsor a concrete and s.m.a.r.t. brainstorming or innovation assignment.
- Create momentum for brainstorming. Something important must happen now!
- Invite people for whom the assignment is personally relevant.
- Invite people for both content as well as decision-making capabilities.
- Include outsiders and outside-the-box thinkers.
- Include an even mix of men and women, young & old, et cetera.
- Invite the internal senior problem-owner (CEO or vice president) to participate.
- Look for a special and harmonious venue.
- Create an (emotionally) safe environment where you can be yourself.
- Don’t allow iPhones and iPads to ring or flash.
- Never - and I really mean NEVER - do any brainstorming at the office.
- Allow at least two days for effective brainstorming to reach concrete new concepts.
- Spend twice as much time on the convergence process as on the divergence process.
- Plan and prepare an effective combination of idea-generating techniques.
- Be open to suggestions from the group to adapt the process.
- Make sure it is enjoyable. Fun promotes good results.
- Time box. Make sure everybody is aware of the time limits- and sticks to them.
- Hire a storyboard artist or cartoonist to visualize the results
- Keep up the pace; otherwise it becomes long-winded and boring.
- Appoint an (internal) expert facilitator, who stays in the background and exercises light control.
- The facilitator should reflect the opposite energy of the group. If the group is too active: exert calmness.
- The facilitator mustn’t lose sight of sub groups; constantly monitoring their progress.
- Make the output very concrete and clear to anybody.
- Creating concepts together with your colleagues generates maximum internal support.
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Gijs van Wulfen is the founder of the structured FORTH innovation method. He recently published : "The Innovation Expedition, A Visual Toolkit to Start Innovation". Available at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Photo credits: Flickr / Khalid Albaih