Stop the brainstorming madness!

Photo of wire trash can with crumpled paper ballsBrainstorming for creativity, idea-generation, and problem-solving has been around for a long time.

But I’ll bet that, at least some of the time, it makes you – and your team – uncomfortable. And I’ll also bet that, maybe most of the time, you don’t get the results you’d hoped for.

There are good reasons for this.

To work well, brainstorming requires vulnerability. So unless your team feels one hundred percent – no, let’s say one billion percent – comfortable and safe with you and with each other, they’re going to pre-judge every idea before they say anything to make sure they won’t sound stupid or open themselves to criticism.

The ground rules, of course, say there’s “no such thing as a bad idea,” and “just put it out there – say whatever comes to mind,” but we all know it doesn’t work that way. And that’s been proven – as if we needed proof – by multiple studies.

Which all adds up to un-creative, trite, and not-very-helpful ideas as everyone tosses out nice safe suggestions.

Here are two options for a better way.

But first, clarify the question

What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? Define it clearly and in detail.

Option One: Individual work

Then send everyone away to write out their ideas by themselves.

Give them a time frame – say, 30 minutes – to generate as many ideas as possible.

Then reconvene, and hand all the lists to the facilitator, who collates them for discussion.

Option Two: Individual team work

This sounds like an impossibility – how can it be both individual¬†and team? – but it’s actually an interesting approach. Known as the “6-3-5 Brainwriting” technique, it really does combine both individual and team efforts in a unique and productive way.

Six people write three ideas across the top of a page in no more than five minutes – thus, 6-3-5.

(You can do this with four, five, six, or seven people; fewer than four, and there won’t be many ideas; more than seven, and it becomes unmanageable.)

At the end of the five minutes, everyone passes their page to the person on their right.

They then have another five minutes to write three more ideas. They can either piggyback off what’s already on the page, or come up with new suggestions.

The process continues until everyone has written their ideas on all the pages.

And as for Option One, the ideas are collated, evaluated, and discussed in the group.

Idea-generation is crucial

Businesses can’t evolve, much less innovate, without generating ideas.

Problems won’t be solved without generating ideas.

Let’s focus on the best possible way – instead of the most uncomfortable, groupthink-inviting way!