Not the one that is currently being used perhaps in your organization, where like-minded folks gather to errantly splatter some ideas on a screen or flip chart. I am talking about the old fashioned Brainstorming of the 1980’s, which was a participative, democratic “bull session” with protocols (which had results).
Some of you might remember those days, as the United States and other nations decided to approach their businesses differently through Quality Circles and Statistical Process Control (really to challenge the Japanese). Inroads were made and splendid new ideas surfaced. Not everyone bought into the concepts; organized labor was often an absent or tepid partner.
Then, world events and tumult arrived, where everyone was cutting costs and rightsizing, leaving little resources or interest in being particularly innovative. It just was not in the twenty first century DNA (although we are seeing a glimmer here and there). Sure, we still had a version of Brainstorming, but it was to slap those ideas on a board and choose the one which slid down the surface most slowly, thinking, that must be the best solution – it oozes the least, so it has the righteous traction. We can do better.
You want to generate ideas and excitement, so group behaviors for the “round-robin” Brainstorm dynamic are agreed upon before the process unfolds. We all want to be problem solvers, but first we must become problem definers. “Increase sales revenues” is about as helpful as “Peace on earth”. Take a bite of the apple, not digest the entire core. So, for example, focus on something you can get your hands around: increase sales for after dinner cordials by 15%. Or, increase Meetings revenue with in-town associations by 15%. You get the drift.
Take a look at the people who make up the Brainstorming group. If this is a marketing problem, yes, there should be marketing people participating. But, you should also ask someone from sales or operations or HR to join the group. Start to reach outside the box (and your comfort area). When Boeing would assemble groups to develop products or tackle issues, each member underwent a Myers-Briggs assessment to insure that the group make-up was varied (same equals similar – not much creativity).
The focus is on quantity - to get as many ideas as possible out there for consideration – the wild, the wooly, the unusual. That is why everyone around the table, in rotation, has a chance to speak up and present, throw out their idea(s) – one at a time. If they want a pass, they just say “bye”. Remember your days in school – the one or two smart kids always got the attention and were called upon the most. But, what about the nerd, or the quiet one, the dreamer and the schemer in class? If asked to participate, they can and will contribute. You want to know what they think. Remember, there is no such thing as a bad idea.
So, now, you have many ideas up there on several flip chart pages, taped to the wall. Time to winnow those down and come up with the two or three primary ideas. Once again, everyone has a series of votes, and these votes are then assigned to particular ideas they like. This may take a number of rounds, depending on the number of ideas. Let’s say you start with ten votes per member. They can spread those out over ten different ideas or perhaps assign three or more votes to a particular idea. As you go through your rounds, you are continually winnowing, until you get to the top 5-8 ideas, for example. At this point, each member who introduced one of the finalist ideas has a chance to present their reasoning before the final vote is taken.
You have the problem defined and the potential solution. Now, you create the Action Plan with assignments, execution requirements, benchmarks, evaluation. You also have created some ownership, as everyone has had a chance to participate and contribute. Innovation has been launched, which may now give you that competitive edge. This is not so hard; you should try it, for your employees are eager to drive success. Just ask them!
John Hendrie is the author of the LRA blog 'A Guy Walks In'. LRA is a leading research and consulting company in the emerging discipline of Customer Experience Management (CEM). We work with our clients to help them design and deliver consistently exceptional customer experiences in order to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy, and company growth and profitability. We have built a range of quality assurance, mystery shopping, research, training and consulting solutions to help them do so.
Today, we are a growing company operating in more than 120 countries throughout the world, servicing our clients from offices and resources in the Americas, EMEA and Asia Pacific regions and helping clients such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, the National Football League, Avis Budget Group, Madison Square Garden, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group deliver exceptional customer experiences. Every touch. Every time. For more information, visit www.LRAworldwide.com.
Logos, product and company names mentioned are the property of their respective owners.