Brainstorming is like teaching. On the surface there is little difference between what an excellent teacher does and what a poor teacher does. The magic happens in subtle imperceptible ways. Similarly, when running a brainstorming session, the difference is not immediately obvious.
Ultimately it comes down to understanding how humans behave and how they work with each other and being able to take advantage of this.
A good teacher can maintain control of a class with what appears to be no direct control at all. The students are just behaving and they are staying focused on their work. A poor teacher however can often be seen screaming at the class to shut up and get on with their work. To which the students pay little attention at all. So the poor teacher asks the good teacher, “What can I do to control my class?”. The good teacher gives them some suggestions but they make little difference. The point is, it’s not what the teacher is doing, it’s how they are doing it.
One day the good teacher is walking past the class of the poor teacher, notices that the class is in chaos, steps in and bellows 4 words and the class is quiet. Yet the poor teacher has been screaming for the last 20 minutes with no effect at all. It’s all in the delivery. The good teacher had a better choice in words, they had body language that said “I mean this”, they identified the ring leaders and focused on them, they conveyed clearly their exact intentions and desires so their was no misunderstanding etc.
Running a good brainstorming session is similar. Their are many human factors to be aware of and to manage and managing these effectively will determine how well the rest turns out. Doing this is a skill. There is no magic set of steps you can perform and have it just happen. So what do we need to be aware of?
Let’s consider a few:
- What is the energy level in the room? Is it building or declining?
- Who are the dominant players, to what extent and who is following them and what extent?
- When someone is talking, how are others being affected by this? Are they interested, do they object, are they considering or can you see them getting excited over new ideas they are forming?
- When someone is talking, how confident are they in what they are saying? Can you increase their confidence and spur them on to explore the idea further.
- Are there natural groups that people form into and can you break these to incite new thought patterns?
- Can you tell when someone has a great idea but doesn’t know how to put it into words? Do you have strategies to help them accomplish this?
- Can you identify when a problem or observation is a symptom as opposed to a root cause?
- How do you know when a particular line of thinking has been exhausted and can you move the group seamlessly onto another area before the energy and momentum dies?
- How do you open people up and make sure information and ideas are flowing as freely as possible? How can you tell when the group is not doing this as effectively as possible?
- When someone is dominating, how do you rectify this?
- When a good idea or shift in thinking is started, can you identify this and step the energy up to make sure people get the most out of it?
These are just a few of the things that a good brainstorming facilitator will be managing when they are working. They will be doing many other things too, many of which they may not even be aware of. No structure or recipe will really help you with these. It is skill that you require.
The good news is that practice and awareness are the keys to achieving this and becoming a great brainstorming facilitator. You need to be aware that you will not be performing at your best to begin with. You need to be aware that there are all these underlying factors. You need to stay calm and not get frustrated, that will hinder your learning. You also need to remember to have fun.
Over time you will naturally improve. If you make a conscious effort to be aware of these factors and the importance of them you will improve faster and potentially to higher levels.
There are two things you can do to help accelerate your improvement:
- Keep a journal – this will help you get a better understanding of your experiences and to clarify them in your mind. Meahq.com is a good online journal that also combines with a task list but you could also write in a book or any other way that suits you.
- Experience other brainstorming – the best way to learn is to do. brainstorming.mintranet.com.au is a good place to start. They have a general brainstorming forum where you can discuss your experiences and share tips and advice. They also have an on-line brainstorming area where you can join in brainstorming experiments. They also have details of various live brainstorming sessions that you can join. These are fun and allow you to experience and practice brainstorming in an open environment.
There is probably much you can do to improve your brainstorming. The first step is to realise that there is all this improvement out there and there are better ways. The second is to take active steps to achieve your goals. It’s also fun and will most likely open up many exciting opportunities for you. I wish you all the best in your brainstorming endeavors.
If you have any suggestions on items that should be added to the list above, feel free to leave a comment below.