If you work in a big organization, small business, freelance, or eat cheese, there’s a good chance you’ve participated in at least a few brainstorming sessions in your life.
You’ve noodled, conjured, envisioned, ideated, piggybacked, and endured overly enthusiastic facilitators doing their facilitator thing.
You may have even gotten some results. Hallelujah!
But even the best run brainstorming sessions are based on a questionable assumption — that the origination of powerful, new ideas depend on the facilitated interaction between people.
You know, the “two heads are better than one” syndrome.
I’d like to propose an alternative for the moment: “two heads are better than one sometimes.”
For the moment, I invite you to consider the possibility that the origination of great, new ideas doesn’t take place in the storm, but in the calm before the storm… or the calm after the storm… or sometimes, even in the eye of the storm itself.
Every wonder why so many people get their best ideas during “down time” — the time just before they go to sleep… or just after waking… or in dreams… or in the shower… or in the car on the way home from work?
Those aren’t brainstorming sessions, folks. Those are braincalming sessions. Incubation time.
Those are time outs for the hyperactive child genius within us who is always on the go.
Methinks, in today’s over-caffeinated, late-for-a-very-important-date business world, we have become addicted to the storm.
“Look busy,” is the mantra, not “look deeply.”
We want high winds. We want lightning. We want proof that something is happening, even if the proof turns out to be nothing more than sound and fury.
High winds do not last all morning. Sometimes the storm has to stop.
That’s why some of your co-workers like to show up early at the office before anyone else has arrived. For many of us, that’s the only time we have to think.
“The best thinking has been done in solitude,” said Thomas Edison. “The worst has been done in turmoil.”
I’m not suggesting that you stop brainstorming (um… that’s 20% of our business). All I’m suggesting is you balance it out with some braincalming. The combination of the two can be very, very powerful.
HERE’S A FEW WAYS TO GET STARTED:
- In the middle of your next brainstorming, session, restate the challenge — then ask everyone to sit, in silence, for five minutes, and write down whatever ideas come to mind. (Be ready for the inevitable joking that will immediately follow your request). Then, after five minutes are up, go “round robin” and ask everyone to state their most compelling idea.
- Ask each member of your team to think about a specific business-related challenge before they go to bed tonight and write down their ideas when they wake up. Then, gather your team together for a morning coffee and see what you’ve got.
- Conduct your next brainstorming session in total silence. Begin by having the brainstorming challenge written on a big flip chart before people enter the room. Then, after some initial schmoozing, explain the “silence ground rule” and the process: People will write their ideas on post-its or flip charts. Their co-workers, also in silence, will read what gets posted and piggyback. Nobody talks.
It’s your decision, at the end of the idea generating time, if you want the debrief to be spoken — or if you want people to come back the next day for a verbal debrief.
“Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of “Awake at the Wheel”, as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.