Communication essentials: brainstorming

Did you know that brainstorming was invented in 1942? It was concepted by Alex Osborn, the ‘O’ in BBDO. He originally called it ‘thinking up’ (totally sounds like a 2000s buzzword) and then formalized it with a process, renaming it ‘brainstorming’ in 1953.

Today, you hear brainstorming, and you’re like:

  1. Yes! A chance to get together and come up with great ideas as a team!
  2. I have to go and listen to other people’s ideas.
  3. Oh no! I don’t have any ideas.
  4. What a waste of time. I could just do this myself.

The answer should be A, of course … but I have a feeling for a lot of us brainstorming has devolved to the other responses due to a variety of reasons: time, meeting fatigue, multitasking, just to name a few.

Thanks to a recent ‘Business Made Simple’ podcast I listened to, my interest in brainstorming has been renewed. I would highly encourage you to listen to the podcast in full as it features guest Josh Linkner, author of Big Little Breakthroughs.

On the podcast, he shares five brainstorming techniques to help solve brainstorming obstacles we see so many times. And while all five are terrific, I thought I’d share my favorite:

The bad idea brainstorm

I like great ideas. But I love bad ideas. Why? Because you need them. I have found that bad ideas often become great ideas. However, because brainstorming has become a more loathed and safer environment, we no longer swing for the fences and bring the bad ideas. Instead, we share watered-down ones that make it a lot harder for the group to advance the thinking.

This concept encourages the bad ideas and starts to create the space for sharing all thoughts—not just canned or preplanned ones.

As leaders we need to encourage our teams to brainstorm the right way. Here are some takeaways I have relied on that could help set your team up for success:

Look at bringing in a facilitator. Do you get to participate in the discussion or play referee? This allows you to be a peer in the discussion—and ensures everyone is heard from.

Look at leading by example. Do you share ideas yourself? Or do you just sit back and ‘hear what the team has to say’?

Clearly define the need. While you don’t want to skew the thinking, it is important to support your team by ensuring the goal or the need is clearly defined. That may mean defining it yourself or spending time with the meeting/project lead to talk through.

Brainstorming can be fun again! See for yourself.