How do you get ideas at work? The only method that really works, according to many people, involves Starbucks. Others mention brainstorming.
Brainstorming has been around since the 1930’s, but it’s far from perfect. What are the problems? Well, let’s brainstorm:
1) Bad name. “Brain-storm” sounds painful. Which would you rather do, brainstorm, or play golf? I don’t even play golf, but it still sounds more appealing.
2) I realize that the item we’re on now, #2, isn’t really an item at all, but that’s what happens when you start brainstorming.
3) Back to the bad name. Let’s check the dictionary. Brainstorm means “a violent fit of insanity.” Golf may mean the same thing, but golf sounds better.
4) “Your first 94 ideas could be silly, stupid or completely harebrained—that's good!—quantity leads to quality.” Those are standard instructions when you prep a group to brainstorm.
5) The problem is that some people don’t want to say anything that’s silly, stupid or completely harebrained.
6) Brainstorming requires individuals to be good at blurting. That means you can’t carefully monitor what you say. You can’t have a vigilant, internal editor.
7) Your internal editor needs to be out-to-lunch, half-asleep, or heavily medicated, and therefore, perfectly willing to let a lot of crazy stuff fly right out of your mouth.
8) Not everyone operates like that. Do you prefer to talk before you think? You’re probably brilliant at blurting. Talking may be the way you think.
9) On the other hand, you could be the sort of person who thinks first, talks later (or remains silent), in which case, blurting is not your long suit.
10) I once worked with a group of senior executives who were quiet and reflective. We’d gather for a retreat to identify the next year’s critical priorities, and I’d say, “Why don’t we brainstorm?”
11) A year later, I tried the same thing. Dead silence.
12) Then I tried brain-writing, a first cousin of brainstorming—except there’s no blurting. In fact, no one is allowed to talk. Each person writes ideas on post-it notes and then sticks them on a wall.
Within minutes, we had 30 ideas. (Then we talked.)
13) What does all this mean?
Tip: To get new ideas, vary your approach. Don’t assume that what works for you will work for others. Try brainstorming. Try brain-writing. Try Starbucks.
© Copyright 2013 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.