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The Eight Key Principles Of Truly Thunderous Brainstormings

I was going to write this post as a "cool thing of the day" on the Father of Brainstorming, Alex F. Osborne, but then found a really interesting article on the theory behind the practice from Businessweek back in 2006 that I thought might be valuable to share with you.

The author, Robert Sutton, performed an ethnographic analysis on the renowned innovation consultancy IDEO and found eight useful principles (paraphrased, and expanded upon, below) to be true.

1. Use brainstorming to collect, but also to extend and to build on, good ideas. I've witnessed this one myself -- the "suggestion box" mentality pales in comparative value to robust and transparent conversations around topics of real importance.

2. Corporate culture (and by proxy, team culture) makes a huge difference -- creativity cannot flourish in an environment of fear. Again -- not surprising, but what is surprising is the innovative spirit one can witness on certain high-performing teams even within the most caustic corporate environment. Leadership and trust are key.

3. If possible, facilitators should give participants an early preview of the problem so they can bring something to the table. (This doesn't happen enough, and because creativity isn't like a lightswitch, often brainstorming sessions miss out on the contributions of the brightest bulbs in the room.)

4. Brainstorming shouldn't exist in a vacuum -- both for the reasons that Sutton states (it should be combined with research, prototyping etc.) but also because participation in ideation sessions can be a powerful motivator to employees. I've even seen the ability to participate in brainstorming sessions be used as an incentive to reward above/beyond behavior.

5. A well-facilitated brainstorming session is an example of both an art form and a learned skill -- training of which should be properly resourced in every forward-thinking organization

6. Don't shy away from the right kind of competition -- as Sutton states "In the best brainstorms, people feel pressure to show off what they know and how skilled they are at building on others' ideas. But people are also competitive in a paradoxical way. They "compete" to get everyone else to contribute, to make everyone feel like part of the group, and to treat everyone as collaborators toward a common goal."

7. Use what you create -- and let your brainstormers know when, how and why you're using it. This loop-closing activity keeps the creative and engaged employee coming back.

8. Follow the Father of Brainstorming's original four rules. As Sutton recounts, "Alex Osborn's original four still work: 1) Don't allow criticism; 2) Encourage wild ideas; 3) Go for quantity; 4) Combine and/or improve on others' ideas. To steal from IDEO, I'd add "One conversation at a time" and "Stay focused on the topic," as both help save groups from dissolving into disorder."

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TAGS: Innovation
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