Why I Hate Brainstorming

Posted: April 19, 2015 by Jim Friedman in Culture, People, Startup

JimFriedmanI hate to say hate, but … how else do you describe that nails-on-chalkboard spine shivering shrill chill reaction? I’ve stopped ignoring it. I vow to stand alone, if necessary, to right this creative wrong: I hate brainstorming.

It’s a daily occurrence. We have a problem to solve. The challenge has been identified. The project begins.

“Where do we start?” Someone always suggests brainstorming.

“Great, who has an idea?”

“How about this….” A couple of ideas are suggested… or, as is often the case, one idea is suggested.

“Good… let’s do that.”

Brainstorm completed. Meeting adjourned. Team moves forward ready to make an un-creative idea happen.

Well, we have a creativity crisis here. We’ve got trouble. Right here in River City. With a capital T and that rhymes with B and that stands for Brainstorm.

We don’t brainstorm. We braindump. You know, Braindump: {breyn-duhmp} noun | verb-phrase: To drop your first idea without considering additional innovative ideas that might be eagerly awaiting discovery.

We most often grab the first idea and move forward. The first idea is rarely the best idea. The first idea is rarely the creative idea. The first idea is what everyone else thinks of. It’s the easy way, the quickest way. The first idea is not how we’re going to stand out. It’s not how we are going to wow our bosses or our customers or our shareholders.

Our stakeholders demand innovation. They want us to pull away from the pack. They want products, services and ideas that will establish us as memorable. How are we going to do that? Well, maybe brainstorming. But let’s brainstorm correctly.

Confession time. I really don’t hate brainstorming. I hate what it’s become. I am ready to draw a creative line in the sand and ask you to stand with me so that we can reclaim the tool.

The term “brainstorm” as a creative tool was coined by Alex Osborn in 1953. It’s a specific tool with specific rules but it seems to have become a generic term like so many products and services from aspirin to zipper. Osborn created brainstorming with four very specific rules:

THE FIRST RULE: Defer judgment. That’s tough for most of us. We tend to live in judgment. Listen carefully next time someone shares an idea. What’s the reaction? It’s the attack of the idea killers…. “We don’t have enough time, money, people to do that.” “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” “They’ll never go for it.” “Are we allowed to do that?”   To brainstorm properly, save judging ideas for later.

THE SECOND RULE: Build on the ideas of others. We call this, the “yes, and…” rule. Too many times we hear an idea and say, “Yes, but…” That’s an idea killer. Keep your “buts” out of the brainstorm. Build on ideas. Add to them. Embellish, elaborate and encourage them. Try starting comments with “Yes, and…”

THE THIRD RULE: Go for quantity. This is critical. We need to move past the first, second and third answers. When people believe they are not creative, using first right answers may be why. Find more options. Find options others never discover. Stop looking for the first right answer. Find the tenth or the fiftieth or the hundredth.

I teach creativity in the Farmer School of Business at Miami University and conduct innovation sessions for companies around the country. It is not unusual for us to find more than 100 possible answers in less than 20 minutes. Brainstorming is exciting when practiced properly.

THE FOURTH RULE: Seek novelty. Seek the crazy idea. Suggest the undoable. It is often in the undoable idea that we actually discover the doable. Don’t judge that crazy idea. Have others build on it. With that, true innovation is not just possible, it is probable.

One final note… how do we start our brainstorm? Same place as always – with a question. The reason we are not creative is not because of our answers, it’s because of our questions. Weak questions garner weak ideas. Think about your last brainstorm. What was the starting question?   Was it…”Does anyone have any ideas?” Or,  “What do you wanna do?” Try starting your brainstorming process by brainstorming stronger questions.  Try “What could we do if time and money was not a factor…”

The quality of your question will determine the quality of your ideas. And the quality of your brainstorm will determine the impact of your innovation.  April 15 – 21 is World Creativity and Innovation Week. Celebrate with a great brainstorm and use these rules to keep your brainstorming strong all year.

 

 

 

 

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