Let's dissect the word "brainstorming". Brain is to supposedly use one's brain in some act. In this case the act of "storming". Storming is the act of having a violent weather occurrence. This could imply lightning, rain, snow, thunder, hail, wind, etc.
That kind of weather can make the brain tired and weary. Not a good thing in and of itself...
I would call brainstorming the act of polite confrontation in order to bring about an idea worth putting time and effort into. If the idea is mush and pap and everyone thinks what a great thing they've done, then that kind of brainstorming is akin to looking at a mirror when you're completelyt sunburned with your skin peeling off in huge splotches and saying, "Wow, I look great!"
Back in the 80's, I learned brainstorming from a manager at Marsh & McLennan. He said if we don't have fire we can't bake a cake. The cake, in our case, was the idea or process we were trying to make better. We had contentious, fun, tough and very productive sessions. Everyone got a chance to be heard but only if they had something intelligent to say. Not all ideas are worth listening to and the ones who throw random thoughts out without the ability to defend or validate them are just wasting everyone's time.
The goal was not to shut people up. No, it was to force people to think critically and not just throw out idiocies. Ideas or recommendations were questioned and not always gently. The more outlandish an idea the more they would have to prove its relevance and validity.
And, let's not forget that in business, unlike government, ideas matter. Costs are not unlimitted and we have to earn our keep, not collect it. A very different mindset and one I've taught to public employees for many years in my consulting.
Ideas need fire in order to make them real and cooked. Without fire we simply have a meeting of agreement as to the fact that nothing of worth will probably get done.
Some rules for a brainstorming meeting:
- Invite people into the meeting who have a clue or a reason for being there. Just because the air is free doesn't mean everyone should be invited. The exception may be to train someone in the art and cooking of a brainstorm.
- Never be rude or violent. But do be aggressive in your questioning or defense of an idea. If you're not willing to defend it as the idea maker, and the stake-holder is not willing to question toughly, nothing much will be accomplished other than praise for the non0involved when nothing happens.
- Keep the meetings short, 30 minutes or less. Long meetings waste everyone's time and people lose track of why they're there in the first place.
- Have someone assume the role of "devil's advocate". Make that person the questioner, the challenger of ideas. This is the person that puts a little heat in the oven. The cake will either rise or collapse. It's much better to have a cake collapse up-front before you try to sell it.
- Set clear goals and objectives for the session.
- Act on what was decided upon.
- Get back together and review the results, both good and bad.
I know some may be thinking, "This is barbaric!". Actually, it isn't. It is simply applying some energy in order to make something happen. Remember, you can't really cook a fried egg without heat. And, you can't have great ideas without energy, passion and intention.
And with that note, I close 2012, with a smile and a wish for all of you to have a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year. Don't be mediocre for that is just a living purgatory. Try to excel and enjoy the fruits of your knowledge and earnings. Cherish your friends and family and above all, live a good life that allows you to go to bed everynight thinking, "I did well today!"
See you all next year! Thanks for reading.