Start exorcising the demons in your innovation process.
A team's purpose is to work together in a highly effective collaborative process maximizing each member's talents and strengths. But - sometimes those strengths can also be weaknesses that prevent your team from their mission. And this can be scary. The price for failing to work together is that you risk rapidly slipping into the twilight zone of irrelevance.
Brainstorming experts Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer, partners at SmartStorming LLC, provide us with some Halloween-inspired advice for challenges teams often face in meeting their purpose.
1. Dungeon Masters are running your brainstorms. “In an ideal world, the leader of a brainstorming group is inspiring, supportive, fair, and open-minded,” says Rigie. “They encourage participation by creating a safe, supportive environment for sharing new and different types of ideas and perspectives.”
“Unfortunately not every leader is so skillful, or puts the best interests of his or her group first,” adds Harmeyer. “For every well-trained and masterful Yoda-like leader, there is a Darth Vader lurking in the conference room next door.”
Rigie and Harmeyer explain that such “dark overlords of ideation” may be dominating personalities that rule and control their groups instead of inspiring and guiding them; or others with an insatiable appetite for more and more ideas, and relentlessly pressure their group to generate vast quantities without end.
“We once knew a Dungeon Master who would squash creativity in every brainstorming session,” says Rigie. “At the start of the meeting, he would assert, You know how they say there’s no such thing as a bad idea? Well, that’s not true. There are bad ideas. Ideas so bad they should never be spoken out loud. …Okay, so what have we got? Needless to say, few participants had the courage to utter even one risky, unconventional, and potentially innovative idea.”
2. The specter of negativity and judgment looms in air. That’s stupid! We tried that before— and it didn’t work! Who would even suggest a wild idea like that? Those are the sounds of open sharing being massacred.
“Nothing will kill a group’s idea generation efforts faster than negativity and judgment creeping into the session,” says Rigie. “If participants’ contributions are repeatedly shot down, they will quickly feel self-conscious about sharing their thinking for fear of being criticized or viewed as foolish.”
“It’s the role of the leader to maintain an ego-free zone,” says Harmeyer. “The most effective way to do that is to introduce a few ‘rules of the game’ before generating ideas.”
Start brainstorming rules such as, “Suspend all judgment,” “There’s no such thing as a bad idea,” “Go for quantity over quality,” “Shoot for wild, edgy ideas,” and “Nothing is impossible.” When the team agrees to the rules, a safer, more supportive environment can emerge.
3. The session feels like a torture chamber. Sessions may feel like a “house of pain” because they are poorly planned, loosely structured, have ill-defined goals, and include few techniques to inspire new avenues of thinking. The agony can be prolonged when discussions to meander aimlessly, or creative energy lulls.
“When enthusiasm plummets, participants’ contributions slow to a trickle,” says Rigie. “That’s when those old, familiar ideas start getting recycled over and over again.”
When you tightly focus on big-picture planning and idea-stimulating techniques, a creative process emerges.
4. Toxic personalities are invited. Some personality types may sabotage the group’s efforts with fiendish attitudes and devilish behaviors. Here are a few of the potentially troublesome Rigie and Harmeyer suggest you avoid.
Attention vampires—They always want to be the center of attention. They’ll suck the life out of the entire group.
Wet blankets— These are problem-focused and not solutions-oriented. They find flaws in every idea and dampen the enthusiasm level.
Dictators—They love every idea…as long as it’s theirs. They believe they are the only ones with good taste. Everyone else must conform or risk being executed.
Obstructionists— They bring up extraneous facts or considerations that derail the flow of the group and over-complicating high level discussions by dragging them into potential pitfalls.
Ward off such evil influences! Seek out those with a positive, can-do attitude and collaborative nature.
5. Carnage in the idea selection process. Can your team identify and agree upon a breakthrough idea when it sees one? Many fail to predetermine the criteria for a good idea and the process turns into a messy combat mission where good ideas die violent deaths.
To avoid this mayhem, Rigie and Harmeyer suggest predetermining a selection criteria— specific characteristics, attributes or benefits a winning idea must possess in order to successfully address the challenge at hand.
“Just visualize as clearly as possible what the perfect solution or end result would look like,” says Harmeyer. “Then consider what qualities an idea must have in order to achieve that visionary goal.”
Productive brainstorming in a supportive and non-judgmental environment can prevent your team sessions from turning turn into horror stories. Identify clear goals; invite those with a collaborative, can-do attitude; establish rules to eliminate negativity; select a leader with the ability to inspire and create a safe, supportive environment; and define selection criteria as a yardstick for measuring the merits of promising ideas.
By optimizing your brainstorms’ effectiveness, you effectively eliminate gremlins in your idea generation process and will be confident that those game-changing ideas will always be there when you need them.
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