Having sat through a few thousand brainstorming sessions over the years I feel I’m reasonably qualified when I say with all certainty that most brainstorming sessions are wildly flawed.
If you’d like to get infinitely more out of your company’s next brainstorming session, here are a few tips for you:
Number one, make sure people know the goals and what it is you’ll be trying to make happen. Do this in advance. Say you have a brainstorming lunch at your company every Friday – then by no later than Thursday morning, you should email out what you are trying to accomplish to everyone who’s going to participate. In fact, send them to everyone in the organization – even those who can’t attend.
As I learned from Dr. Richard D. Grant about personality types – approximately half of your organization are introverts who draw energy from processing ideas internally and alone. This doesn’t mean they’re necessarily shy, but it does mean they consider ideas and concepts in their own mind and are usually only willing to share after having giving a particular problem some thought.
The other half, extraverts, will gladly come to a brainstorming session and share anything that’s on their mind at any time. They probably didn’t read the email you sent.
Because of this difference between the two personality types, typical brainstorming sessions are usually dominated by these extraverts … because an introvert would rather have their toenails pulled out one by one than speak when they haven’t first had a chance to process the information.
Introverts don’t like to speak off the top of their heads. They like to think about things first.
By sending the agenda of the problems you’re trying to solve in advance, you will give the introverts time to think about these things.
During your session, keep things moving. It should be someone’s job – maybe not yours, but someone’s – to make sure that all the topics get addressed and that things keep flowing. A timer is critical. Don’t attempt necessarily to contribute yourself. Keep notes. Consider recording the sessions. If you have five topics in an hour, each gets about ten minutes.
After the session and by day’s end, you are responsible for sending a recap of what was discussed along with the following challenge: “Please take the next couple days and think if you have any other ideas or solutions – no matter how strange or silly – that might possibly help with the problems we were trying to solve today. Here’s a list of them. By noon on Monday (or whatever), please leave me a voicemail or send me an email with your thoughts. Thanks everyone!”
This will not only give extraverts and introverts alike, focus and clarity on the problems you’re trying to solve, but it will give the introverts the benefit of time to process their thoughts and ideas, and it will at least double the productivity of your next brainstorming session.
Emails. Follow through. Goals. Clarity. Thanks, Dr. Grant.