This post is one in a series from a presentation on Creative Slip-Ups: The 11 Most Common Mistakes in Brainstorming. The introduction to the series is here.
The slip-up: Forcing people to brainstorm in the same way.
Thank God, we’re all different. Too bad we often treat people as if they’re exactly the same in a brainstorm.
It’s basic human psychology to expect others to think and behave in the same way we do. Poor, untrained facilitators are classic at trying to force brainstorm participants to think their way, pushing their agenda or point of view on participants to create ideas.
Personally, I think most academic research that says brainstorms are ineffective is flawed. But I do agree with its conclusion that brainstorming can cause group-think. I’ve seen it happen when social or internal cultural pressures make individuals conform and accept the chosen path of a senior
person, even when the senior person is wrong. Other times, it’s the preferential treatment given to extroverts. (See Susan Bain’s outstanding book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.)
Diversity and variety are important factors in brainstorming. Not only do you want people to think differently, you want to use those differences to your advantage.
The solution: Leverage people’s differences.
As I’ve said, there’s lots of noise about the effectiveness of group brainstorming. The best research suggests facilitators allow people time to generate ideas on their own before the brainstorm can be more effective.
Solo Brainstorming has many benefits. It allows people to think on their own, in solitude, to put their thoughts together. This is especially important for introverts who want to mull their thoughts privately before exposing them to others. Solo Brainstorming gives the less-confident brainstormer a chance to express their ideas before group criticism takes over. Solo Brainstorming is simply faster. You can write down ideas as they come to you. You don’t have to worry about being heard or interrupted. It’s instant: no need to send out invites, wait for responses, organize a brainstorm, etc.
The idea of solo brainstorming hit a chord because my post Brainstorming Alone is the most popular. Read it for some easy brainstorm exercises to use by yourself or in groups.
When I attended my first workshop to learn facilitation skills, the instructor spent a lot of time discussing the seven types of people who attend meetings. Two types are 100% opposites: The Dominator and The Mute. (I hate that name, so I call them The Reserved.) Facilitation-wise it’s a bit easier to control The Dominator. The bigger challenge is giving The Reserved a comfortable zone to express themselves.
Here’s some ways you might help The Reserved.
- Solo Brainstorming – If you know who these people are, share with them the creative brief in advance of a group brainstorm. Give them a few points of direction. Ask if they have any questions or thoughts. Give them a deadline. Then, let them be.
- Brainwriting – This is a general word to describe brainstorming where participants write their ideas and thoughts without speaking. Here’s an old post of mine on the topic of Brainwriting if you want more information.
Here’s a post on brainwriting from Luciano Passuello and his blog LiteMind, entitled Brainwriting is Brainstorming on Steroids. You can endlessly bend and adapt Brainwriting to suit the personalities and the topic you’re brainstorming. Write me if you need help.
First, I apologize for the term ‘left-brained people.’ Labels are clunky to begin with, and this one isn’t even true. That said, there is a large group of people who prefer to think in ways associated with left-brained thinking. They solve problems through logic, rules and rationality. Brainstorms in general are anathema to them. Tom, one of my dearest friends is L-B’d – and I must say, extremely creative – but only on his terms. When we
brainstorm together, here’s what he taught me:
Process actually helps L-Bers be creative. He likes to follow the process from goal, to hypothesis, to information gathering, etc. All along the way, he likes to examine each step to see what’s gone wrong, or what might be changed. Key learning: start with structure, process and organization so L-Bs understand the direction of the brainstorm.
“God is in the details.” Tom loves facts. He loves to read. He loves to think. He excels when I give him more information than less. Like many people who are tipped to the left, he excels at finding the needle in a haystack. What’s more, it’s always a nugget of information that everyone else overlooked. Mies van der Rohe would roll over in his grave, but in Tom’s case: More is more. Key learning: don’t scrimp on giving information to the L-Bs.
L-Bers are better at the end of the brainstorm than at the beginning. At the end of a brainstorm a few months ago, it felt like a popcorn machine had
been running on high but without a lid. Ideas had popped everywhere. They were now strewn all over the room, without cohesion, order or sense. It was a lot of stuff adding up to nothing at all. I took photos of the flipcharts, took them home. By chance, Tom was over for dinner. He looked through the pictures. With a mental acuity that almost broke my neck, Tom instantly brought structure, priority and reason to a mess. Key learning: the curve of idea generation is broad. Some people play a better role in different parts of the process than others.
A few more links to posts on left-brained thinking.
10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into the Best of Their Creativity from The Heart of Innovation by Mitch Ditkoff.
Any other tips or thoughts to share where you’ve played upon people’s differences and strengths to generate ideas?
Previous slip-up: People brainstorm without any tools, games or props.
Next slip-Up: Don’t be your own worst (creative) enemy.