Brainstorming is probably the method most widely used by groups for generating ideas. Too bad it doesn't work as well as most people believe.It has a long and storied history. First designed in 1940 by Alex Osborn, of advertising and marketing fame, it provides a structured method for creative collaboration. But beginning even before the invention of brainstorming, psychologists had been uncovering significant inherent limitations in group collaboration, especially for knowledge work. And beginning in the early 1990s, they have been finding strong evidence that brainstorming, in particular, has serious weaknesses. The evidence suggests that the risk of brainstorms producing results that omit superior ideas, or which include some truly inferior ideas, is unacceptably high.
And that's when brainstorming is done "right," according to Osborn's design. Unfortunately, because most brainstorm sessions don't follow Osborn's design, they can be even more susceptible to the defects psychologists have uncovered.
What can we do about this?
This program surveys the weaknesses of brainstorming, and proposes approaches that mitigate those weaknesses.
For longer format programs (half-day and full-day) we conduct actual brainstorming sessions to exhibit the risks of brainstorming and to demonstrate methods for mitigating those risks.
This program helps people who solve problems or who want or need to assist others who solve problems. As it turns out, that's just about everyone in the knowledge-oriented workplace. Participants learn:
- How (and why) organizational leaders influence results even when they don't directly participate in brainstorm sessions
- The sources of risk that brainstorming might fail to produce broad arrays of high-quality ideas
- The place of brainstorming in the overall problem-solving process
- The effects of cultural and language differences
- The effects of group size
- How personal preferences affect one's ability to contribute
- How to mitigate the effects of intragroup and organizational politics
- How to mitigate and then exploit the effects of cognitive biases
- How to use personal differences to enhance results
- Alternatives to conventional brainstorming
Participants learn to appreciate the sources of risk in both conventional "strict" brainstorming, and the informal forms of brainstorming as commonly practiced. Most important, they learn strategies and tactics for generating ideas using a method based on brainstorming, but enhanced so as to manage these risks.
Program structure and content
We learn through presentation, discussion, exercises, simulations, and post-program activities. We can tailor a program for you that addresses your specific challenges, or we can deliver a tried-and-true format that has worked well for other clients. Participants usually favor a mix of presentation, discussion, and focused exercises.
Whether you're a veteran innovator, or a relative newcomer to high-pressure problem solving as a workplace practice, this program is a real eye-opener.
When we learn most new skills, we intend to apply them in situations with low emotional content. But knowledge about how people work together is most needed in highly charged situations. That's why we use a learning model that goes beyond presentation and discussion — it includes in the mix simulation, role-play, metaphorical problems, and group processing. This gives participants the resources they need to make new, more constructive choices even in tense situations. And it's a lot more fun for everybody.
Innovators and problem solvers at all levels, including managers of global operations, sponsors of global projects, managers, business analysts, team leads, project managers, and team members.
Available formats range from 50 minutes to one full day. The longer formats allow for more coverage or more material, more experiential content and deeper understanding of issues specific to audience experience.
- Trips to Abilene
- When a group decides to take an action that nobody agrees with, but which no one is willing to question, we say that they're taking a trip to Abilene. Here are some tips for noticing and preventing trips to Abilene.
- Staying in Abilene
- A "Trip to Abilene," identified by Jerry Harvey, is a group decision to undertake an effort that no group members believe in. Extending the concept slightly, "Staying in Abilene" happens when groups fail even to consider changing something that everyone would agree needs changing.
- Design Errors and Groupthink
- Design errors cause losses, lost opportunities, accidents, and injuries. Not all design errors are one-offs, because their causes can be fundamental. Here's a first installment of an exploration of some fundamental causes of design errors.
- What Groupthink Isn't
- The term groupthink is tossed around fairly liberally in conversation and on the Web. But it's astonishing how often it's misused and misunderstood. Here are some examples.
- Preventing Toxic Conflict: II
- Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each other, we can all help prevent trouble.
- Virtual Trips to Abilene
- One dysfunction of face-to-face meetings is the Trip to Abilene, which leads groups to make decisions no members actually support. It can afflict virtual meetings, too, even more easily.
- Holding Back: I
- When members of teams or groups hold back their efforts toward achieving group goals, schedule and budget problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior?
- Conversation Despots
- Some people insist that conversations reach their personally favored conclusions, no matter what others want. Here are some of their tactics.
- Allocating Airtime: I
- The problem of people who dominate meetings is so serious that we've even devised processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
- "Rick is a dynamic presenter who thinks on his feet to keep the material relevant to the
— Tina L. Lawson, Technical Project Manager, BankOne (now J.P. Morgan Chase)
- "Rick truly has his finger on the pulse of teams and their communication."
— Mark Middleton, Team Lead, SERS