Clients occasionally ask me about motivating people to contribute more freely in brainstorms. Motivating contributions might be a useful strategy, but only if we're certain that we've addressed all likely demotivators, because caution and reticence can limit the creativity that makes brainstorms productive. In that spirit, I offer this little catalog of phenomena that can make brainstorm participants reluctant to contribute. In this Part I, I explore preparation before the brainstorming session.
- Issues outside the session
- Participants might be preoccupied by an intense or chaotic situation developing outside the session. For example, a reorg might be underway, or rumors of layoffs might be rampant.
- If the external situation is distracting, reschedule the session. If you can't reschedule — as might be the case if the session is about that distracting issue — do what you can to relieve contributors of anxiety about their own personal situations. For example, if a reorg is in progress, resolve the contributors' positions to the extent possible before the session.
- Issues with the issue
- By design, every brainstorming session is (or should be) focused on a clearly defined issue. If the issue statement is unclear, or difficult to understand, or requires context the contributors lack, or is too general or abstract, then contributors might have difficulty generating ideas. If they have differing ways of understanding the issue statement, they'll have difficulty building upon each other's contributions.
- Test the Motivating participants in brainstorm
sessions is one strategy for
enhancing output quality. Another is
addressing whatever demotivates them.issue statement before the session begins. Ask several people what they think it means. Refine it until you're satisfied with their responses. At the start of the session, verify that the statement of the issue is clear.
- Some contributors prefer alternative settings
- Some people are more creative when they contemplate the issue alone than when they're part of a group. Some prefer working with one or two particular partners rather than a group.
- Design the session to accommodate alternative creativity preferences. For example, break a group session into alternating segments of group format and alternative formats more closely aligned with participant preferences. People who prefer working alone or who prefer working in smaller groups can do so. People who prefer working over a coffee in the lunchroom can do so. Impose only one constraint. In the alternative formats, they must continue the brainstorm. No email checking or Facebook updating.
- Feelings of futility
- If the ideas generated by past brainstorms were never implemented, or worse, were never passed along to people who could have implemented them, participants eventually notice. They wonder, "Why bother brainstorming?" If they can find "legitimate" excuses not to contribute, they don't.
- Conducting a brainstorm session requires a commitment to do something with its output. Rejecting all output does happen from time to time, but a pattern of rejection poisons the well.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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