Is Brainstorming Dead?

I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve attended where teammates have been asked to brainstorm ideas. Everyone comes prepared with some thoughts, everyone listens to all the ideas, and the best ideas rise to the top, right? This is democracy in action, the crux of collaboration, yes?

Not exactly.

An article in July’s Fast Company in July cites the inefficiency of brainstorming, and when you read the piece it makes complete sense. Ever notice how the people who share first tend to be the ones whose ideas are heard most loudly? Does conversation then tend to die down or start to form around the original idea?

Think back to your last brainstorming session and reflect on whether everyone’s ideas were actually heard or acknowledged. It’s not that brainstorming is a bad idea, it’s just that there’s a better one: they like to call it “brainwriting.”

Essentially, the idea is quite simple: everyone formulates their ideas ahead of time and then comes together collaboratively. All the ideas are drawn on the wall without names attached, and the concepts are discussed as a group without any bias. Genius, right? It makes sense, and it can work across a multitude of concepts.

Thinking to our current workforce structure, this actually makes virtual workplaces incredibly agile. If all the concepts are presented ahead of time, the ideas can be reviewed on the call as a central presentation where everyone can record their thoughts in real time both verbally and written as comments. You don’t have to have everyone in the same room to get the benefit of expertise, and brainstorming sessions become wide-open discussions where everyone is finally heard.

Once the winning ideas are chosen (or a mixture of ideas, which I like even more,) those responsible can come forth and take credit, quite possibly taking it one step further to form a team that can collaborate and bring the idea to life. It’s a great way to move teamwork to the next level. Added bonus: people whose ideas weren’t accepted don’t have to be publicly acknowledged. Everybody wins!

When I think about my clients and their teams, one of the great challenges tends to be gathering ideas around strategic direction and doing creative thinking around mission, vision, and corporate goals that step outside hard data. Asking a group of C-suite executives “Who do we want to be in ten years?” can create a pretty quiet room. I love this idea of asking everyone to free associate words and ideas when it comes to thoughts around corporate identity. If no one knew it was you, you’d come forth with some of the wildest ideas ever, wouldn’t you? Some of them might be quite brilliant, and you’d rest assured you were heard.  It also alleviates bias in face-to-face meetings, say for example between seasoned and less-tenured staff. I’m all for this idea. How about you?

As a seasoned HR executive who now coaches other teams to high performance, I quite like this idea for my clients, and I’d love to speak with you about how to tailor it for your work environment. Contact me today so we can get started with your business transformation. You never know what a little brain work could do for you and your company, and I’m just the person for the job.

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