The terrible word of "Brainstorming"

Aircraft Carrier
Originally uploaded by Tolka Rover.

I just finished reading the letters to the editor for Business Week, Oct 23rd, 2006.

Don Smith of Rochester, NY, writes that brainstorming must take into account that participants must be mentally and physically loose enough to participate, where silly thoughts or ideas are just fine. One anecdote he recounts is the need to solve the issue of having a large aircraft carrier in port during a severe storm avoiding damage due to hitting its dock. One comical idea that came out from a idea generation session was to line up the crew members to blow against the ship to keep it from the dock. This "silly" idea turned into one that was implemented: aircraft are placed on the dock and the plane's backwash is used to hold the ship off the dock.

One of my biggest complaints about "brainstorming" sessions is that people never really practice. Most times it is in a forced setting during a crucial time of year, either near the end of the year or early in beginning of year, both looking to figure out what new products, services, enhancements, etc. will need to be created.

Most people experience a forced facilitation. A leader announces that this is a brainstorming session and that new ideas are needed. Many times the traditional rules are read (lots of sites with these: Six Sigma Brainstorming Rules, NASA, and Business Week). But just as many times the rules are rarely followed.

Brainstorming requires practice, regular practice, individually and in groups. The practice needs to be on a range of problems and challenges. Just like athletic teams practicing regularly, brainstorming needs to be practiced regularly. The practice will help get your mind in a prepared state so that when you need to generate ideas, you will kick into brainstorm mode automatically.

Here are some activities to help get started from the book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci:
  • A Hundred Questions: In your notebook (you have a notebook, right?) make a list of one hundred questions that are important to you.
  • Sharpen your question asking skills by asking simple questions with why, when, who, how, and where. Ask awkward questions

One activity that I practice is to list a challenge, even one that may already have been "solved", and force myself to generate one hundred solutions to address the problem. This is an extension to the A Hundred Questions above.

So what have you practiced today?


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