For better Brainstorming, tell an embarrassing story
Leigh Thompson’s study into Brainstorming revealed that “candor led to greater creativity“. If participants of a Brainstorming session are each asked to describe an embarrassing moment that they once experienced, this team will generate “26% more ideas spanning 15% more use categories than their counterparts”.
Joining the many other approaches suggested for undertaking a Brainstorming session is this one from Jonathan Courtney. He was inspired by story mapping in agile development which applies structure and identifiable outcomes to feature planning. In his team’s approach, participants use Post-it notes to map out user journeys whose actions are then grouped together in more generalized buckets. Then the Brainstorming starts and the group is asked to “come up with ideas on how your product or service could affect or interact with the user’s life“.
While Jake Knapp’s article is primarily focused on heralding the advantages of his Design Sprint framework, he also does a great job in identifying many of the disadvantages of Brainstorming. He realized while working with teams at Google that there were rarely outcomes from group Brainstorming on which work was done afterward. And Brainstorming generally produced shallow ideas and opinionated decisions.
McKinsey believes that many brainstorming sessions are wasted by not initially defining the limits a company has to execute the resulting ideas. In a process that they call brainsteering (a verb we could probably do without), there are seven (there’s that number again) rules that will help you avoid problems such as producing groundbreaking technical solutions that your IT department wouldn’t possibly allow. They disagree that aiming for a lot of ideas will be productive and instead suggest you ask pointed questions to elicit creative responses. They also push you to limit certain questions to people who are experienced enough to answer them.
A great place to start looking for inspiration is at IDEO, a globally renowned product design firm whose business is to come up with innovative ideas. Their rules, as learned by Linda Tischler, are strictly enforced and include sharpening the focus on specific customer needs, allowing only one conversation at a time (and without criticisms) and agreeing on a set number of ideas to be created to force the group to think beyond the obvious, low hanging ideas.
Once you have your team in the room, you need to know what tools you’ll need and where everyone will sit. You know that some individuals will shy away from participating and some will try and dominate the discussion. So it’s a good idea to start with a roundtable around which the participants will sit. Then, as described by The Clever PM, you can provide the supplies required for the process; a clear wall for posting sticky notes, a pad of sticky notes for each person, colored dot stickers for each person for voting, sharpies and flip-charts.