I hate brainstorming. That probably sounds strange coming from someone who thrives on innovation. The thought of spitting out ideas without any discussion drives me crazy. I will admit that brainstorming gives staff the forum to share ideas without feeling open to criticism, but I have always suspected that the lack of criticism is detrimental to the process. New ideas can spin off from the unformed things people throw against the wall.
When I formed an Innovation Team at KPL, I stressed that traditional brainstorming is out. Instead we all agreed to give each other permission to debate ideas. This prevented spending too much time spewing possibilities and allowed us to focus on real good ideas. This tactic has definitely paid off. Since the group trusts one another, and does not take any critique personally, we have crafted some pretty great innovations.
Recently I discovered an article that addressed this very idea of how criticism aides in brainstorming. The researchers studied brainstorming groups that played by rules and groups that allowed for criticism. What they discovered is that embraced the debate conditions “outperformed the rest, producing an average of 25 percent more ideas.” The conclusion was that, “findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.”
Leaders wanting to cultivate a quality list of ideas instead of a long list of simple possibilities need to encourage debate. This idea is difficult in a profession in which being “nice” is accepted more than being “challenging.” Be warned that the debate needs to come from a place of trust and respect. Nothing good will come from a “Battle Royal” of brainstorming in which personal attacks slam great innovation. The challenge is to assemble a team that is so comfortable and trusting of one another that a free forum of ideas creates the next big thing. How do we do that exactly? Well, let’s brainstorm some ideas….