I recently responded to a LinkedIn post on the theme of Brainstorming. And I am reminded about how some people are new at this while I have been facilitating performance improvement discussions for nearly 40 years (gee, can it really be that long?)

“Times fun when you are having flies.” (Kermit the Frog)

One of the keys to success in these kinds of activities is to generate some peer support for the ideas and “lightly” use the ground rules — but NOT to make the rules so tight that people feel that the rules are more important than the ideas. I have seen some “control freak facilitators” focus so much on the rules that people feel that NO comment can be made other than the sharing of an idea. I really feel that this serves only to limit contributions. The session CAN be a debate, if it is done with the intention of generating NEW ideas and different viewpoints.

I allow some divergent discussion, but I also will lightly use the Rule of 80 / 20, which simply says the obvious: “80% of the discussion will occur in the first 20% of the time and the remaining 20% will take 80% of the time. So, anyone can call “80/20″ and we can then move on to more ideas…” (That really works well, in my experience!)

It is MOST important, I think, that the ideas be anchored to some business improvement issue and that people have a chance to get their creativity juices flowing before the discussion gets going.

The tool I use is Square Wheels One, which is readily available on my website. One does not require a tool but this process of generating ideas through projection is certainly a solid one for creativity.

We use the Square Wheels cartoon to help generate ideas for business improvement

We use the Square Wheels cartoon to help generate ideas for business improvement

I present that as, “How most organizations really work,” so as to not make them defensive (the word “your” added in there is pretty much guaranteed to generate some resistance and defensiveness!). A KEY is to allow them, “One Minute of Silent Contemplation Time.” This enables the slower information processers to think about possibilities before getting swarmed by the faster ones. It also allows for divergent thinking to arise — different people will go off in different directions.

With tables of no more than 6 people — more will decrease collaboration and participation — you allow them to first think individually and then allow them to discuss their different issues and ideas. I let this run until the energy begins to dissipate and then move it to a group discussion. You can use easel pads for each table, dot-voting for best ideas and all sorts of other frameworks for getting everyone involved in all ideas.

THEN, you can begin to tighten the thinking and bring them closer toward focusing on key issues and ideas — we call this “funneling.”

Getting people involved helps generate better ideas as well as ownership involvement and engagement

If you build a sense of energy and involvement and peer support for ideas in your openings, and anchor the activities toward “business improvement paradigms,” I think you will find that your brainstorming will be much improved. If people feel safe in sharing their ideas about a funny wagon with obvious improvement opportunities, they are MUCH more likely to participate in the sharing of their ideas about specific business improvement concepts in the open discussions.

Everyone needs to participate, mainly because, “Nobody ever washes a rental car,” and it is not so much about ideas as it is about the IMPLEMENTATION of those ideas afterwards for most organizations.

Between the idea and the reality,
Between the motion and the act,
Falls the Shadow.

T.S. Eliot

You can see more about Square Wheels at http://www.PerformanceManagementCompany.com

For the FUN of It!

(BTW, I am a certified professional facilitator by the IAF and have been facilitating and implementing ideas for workplace improvement since 1978. )