Brainstorming – work or no? What’s it really all about?

mario_hammerHad a call yesterday with a distributor of mind mapping software who tried to convince me that brainstorming doesn’t work.  Made me think he was telling me something as inane a hammer doesn’t work.

Brainstorming is a tool; the craft and art of using the tool influences the success of using it, as does the skill, wisdom and openness of the people involved in generating ideas or perspectives for new thinking.

Speaking from experience here, its easy to pinpoint other brainstorming  influencers as well:  mood in the room, pressure on participants, how the space is used, how the participants ‘get along’ be it personality style, personal agenda for participating, degree of collaborative attitudes and supports, where people are in an organization – using Barry Oshry’s terms – Tops (in charge), Middles or Bottoms.  The colour on the walls has influence, the time of day, the food people eat, their physical comfort and state of health, the pharmaceuticals they are taking, the air quality and circulation, yes, I can go on. If there are windows…

The skill of the facilitator as a curator of appropriate mood-setting-imagination-spurring activities, behaviours, tools, and methods also plays a key role. The facilitator’s deftness to design the flow or, as I like to call it, the choreography, influences how willing and able people are to share their thinking; the design informs engagement and quality of outcome. There’s much more to the art of facilitating brainstorming than meets the eye, and good facilitators are aware of them including the dynamics of the people in the room as they experience a variety of highs, and lows throughout the session.

Conversations about the efficacy of brainstorming can be tiresome when its meaning is understood, assumed and experienced uniquely from person to person; that is, when it’s definition is muddy the arguments keep the water murky.

  • To some, brainstorming describes an array of techniques and thinking tools that let loose new options; unleash considerations for new potential.
  • To others, brainstorming is one tool among many.

I’m from the first camp – brainstorming describes different kinds tools used to crack open new thinking to create new futures; and inferred within the term brainstorming, are guidelines for divergent thinking which allows for exploration before making a decision.  The brainstorming rules, or guidelines put forward by their creator, Alex Osborn, include:  Defer judgement, Go for Quantity, Hitchhike – build on others’ ideas, Freewheel.  One I’ve added is: All ideas are welcome.  This phrase replaces the statement many like to use to welcome new thinking.  ‘There’s no such thing as a bad idea’, they say.  Try passing that sentiment along with full integrity to realists, like me.

Why this blog post?  It’s in response to a recent article in Fast Company. From Alex Osborn to Bob Sutton: A Meeting of the Minds to Build a Better Brainstorm.  It’s a wonderful piece showing different points of view on brainstorming you might find interesting.

Bottom line: Does Brainstorming work?

It doesn’t matter. If it works for you, keep it; if it doesn’t, use something else that gets the job done. What’s most important is this:  new ideas, new decisions, new actions create new futures.

If you are using brainstorming, or idea generating methods and want to get better at it, let’s talk – I can coach you to lead amazing  sessions, and teach your team skills to upgrade their capacity for innovative and creativity-thinking.

Marci Segal, MS, Creativity and Change Leadership; Freeing leaders thinking to create new futures.

Related Posts

In a Brainstorming Quandary?  Get over it and get on with generating ideas

Idea Generating Intelligence lacking… study

The Man Who Taught Brains to Storm – About Alex Osborn, the one who brought brainstorming to life




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