by Dr. Wesley A. Carter
For every sleepless night suffered by a business owner or department head trying to figure out how to run a more productive and profitable business, there are groups of committed individuals sleeping on creative ideas and solutions to business problems. If these committed individuals were enlisted in a creative problem solving process, all would sleep soundly. Brainstorming is one of the more productive creative problem solving tools. It brings team members together to attack organizational challenges or stimulate creativity.
Brainstorming, coined by Alex Osborn in the 1930’s, enables groups to transcend the boundaries of traditional thinking to achieve synergy and stimulate creativity. Frustrated by the limitations of solitary problem solving endeavors, Osborn formalized a creative problem solving process to increase the quality and quantity of solutions generated by his staff. Brainstorming is an idea generation process designed to leverage the collective thinking power of a group.
In less than an hour, a committed group of individuals can create numerous ideas and solutions. The small business owner can serve as the facilitator or nominate someone else. The facilitator leads the brainstorming session, which includes planning, organizing, managing, and executing the session.
To get started, clearly define the problem, aka creative challenge, that needs to be solved. After the problem is defined, schedule a 45 minute brainstorming session at least one week in advance and invite the participants. In the invitation, encourage the invitees to begin to think about the creative challenge and formulate ideas. Include the rules, schedule, and process in the invitation. Ideally, no more than 10 individuals should be included in a brainstorming session.
The rules for the brainstorming session can be developed in advance or during the session. Creating the rules in advance enables the facilitator to include them in the invitation. Brainstorming session rules should include the parameters for discussion and idea generation, such as all discussions must be professional, positive, and constructive. Negativity can quickly derail a brainstorming session. Request that members suspend judgment during the actual brainstorming to maximize creativity.
The supplies required for the brainstorming session will vary depending upon the specific format of the brainstorming session. Ideas can be captured on a whiteboard, flipchart, or poster board. In addition, have a stash of post-it notes and markers on-hand to capture ideas quickly. In addition, acquire a soft ball and a timer.
Open the session with a short warm-up exercise. Preferably, the warm-up session should be playful and relaxing to set the tone for the session. The bigger the creative challenge, the more playful the warm-up exercise should be.
Introduce the creative challenge and reiterate the session rules, schedule, and process. Begin the session with two or three ideas to stimulate the group. Dedicate at least 20 minutes to the idea generation process. Ask for suggestions from the individuals and record all ideas. To ensure that all members engage in the session, toss the ball to anyone who is slow to suggest ideas. When they catch the ball, pause until they generate an idea. Capture all ideas, big or small, on the whiteboard, flipchart, or poster board.
At the end of the brainstorming phase of the session, launch the solution phase. Lead the group in evaluating each idea for quality and viability. After the list of ideas has been refined, work with the participants to identify the resource requirements, constraints, and metrics of success. Deconstruct the constraints to validate whether they are constraints of the mind or of circumstance.
Challenge participants to transcend mental constraints such “we’ve always done it this way” or “that won’t work.” Instead, lead the participants to turn constraints into creative possibilities. Engage participants in creating solutions to constraints of circumstance to minimize or mitigate risks.
Prioritize the solutions. Nominate champions to own each category of solutions and ask them to create a plan of action for their respective solution for the next meeting. Over the next week, the facilitator should work with each champion to realistically examine each solution. In one week, come back together as a group and share the results with the team. Begin integrating each solution into organizational procedures and reap the benefits of group participation.
Your ability to capture new ideas and foster workplace creativity is the most efficient way to continuously solve new or existing problems, while simultaneously increasing team skills in the areas of collaboration, creativity, planning, negotiation, and communication!
WESLEY CARTER DM, authors an advice column that leverages leadership and management strategies to solve common business problems. Carter holds a Doctor of Management (DM) degree with an emphasis in Organizational Leadership, an MBA, and a B.A. in Management. Carter is a partner at KRS Consulting, LLC in Charlotte, NC. If you have a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org . All submissions become the property of Wesley Carter. Call (704) 992-1211 or email to book an engagement. This article originally appeared in the Charlotte Post.