Overcoming Basic Brainstorming Barriers
In a typical brainstorming session, people gather to generate new ideas and solve problems. The term “brainstorming” was coined in 1967 by an advertising executive, Alex Osborn, and has probably stood the test of time because of how easy the concept was to understand and execute. However, while brainstorming is one of the oldest and most popular techniques for stimulating creativity, study after study question its ineffectiveness. It turns out that what contributes to its strengths also contributes to its weaknesses.
Common Brainstorming Challenges
Brainstorming sessions are worth less when 1) the basic principles and ground rules are not followed, and/or 2) when the natural impediments experienced in group interactions are unknown or overlooked. These issues exist because most people are not aware of the intrinsic pitfalls that come with group brainstorming, or the ways to address them.
Listed below are three common conditions experienced in group settings that could be corrected if detected. Becoming familiar with each can help improve the performance of self-managed brainstorming sessions.
- Groupthink. Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when members conform their individual ideas to the group’s collective norm. When this happens, unconventional thinking, voices of dissent, independent points of view, and the variety of ideas decrease.
- Evaluation Apprehension. Evaluation apprehension occurs when people become preoccupied with what others think of them instead of concentrating on the flow of ideas presented in the room. As individuals become distracted deciphering the meaning of their colleague’s facial expressions and social cues, levels of productivity and participation decline.
- Shallow Contemplation. Shallow contemplation is when ideas repeatedly stem from the same domain and cycle into variations of similar thoughts. This usually occurs when contributing ideas are based on what already exists, but with a twist.
Addressing Brainstorming Impediments
The three shortcomings listed above are not only experienced in brainstorming sessions. They are inherent in the dynamics of most group interactions that require participation. Each time a collection of people interact with one another, some form of these behaviors emerge. Although their existence cannot be eliminated, their impact can be marginalized with the assistance of a knowledgeable facilitator, and these suggestions:
- Groupthink. The root cause of groupthink stems from members inviting people who already work together or have an active relationship outside the office. To overcome groupthink, consider welcoming people from diverse backgrounds that think differently from one another.
- Evaluation of Apprehension. It is important that everyone in the group feels safe enough to share what could be thought of as outrageous or inconceivable. This can be achieved by stating guidelines at the start of the brainstorming session and keeping everyone within the parameters of acceptable behavior. The goal is to establish a nurturing environment that encourages contribution and collaboration.
- Shallow Contemplation. People who think they should have a breakthrough idea after two or three lighthearted attempts tend to burn out or get themselves into a rut sooner than those who recognize that there is more than one method available to generate ideas such as with the use of metaphors, associations, connections, combinations, etc.
The brainstorming technique can be effective when better understood and properly executed. Results can be optimized when run by an experienced facilitator that keeps everyone within the guardrails, unstuck, and creatively productive.