Brainstorming continues to be a common method to try and shake out the cobwebs and draw out new ideas from teams. In practice however, the outcome of brainstorming often falls short of expectations as team get stymied by a stalled creative front. Psychological inertia, hidden agenda, lack of insight can all contribute to these non-productive innovation weather patterns. To understand how people can influence the brainstorming outcome, let’s look to the wisdom of the cloud.
There are a number of different types of clouds, each with its own make up and effect on the weather. So too are there difference classes of participants in a brainstorming exercise. Can you recognize the similarities?
Cumulus clouds are puffy and cheerful. These clouds are willing participants in the brainstorming exercise, but rarely contribute any significant ideas. They tend to revel in the exercise and cheer on other cumulus clouds by seeing the shapes of imagined novelty in what are in reality the same old concepts.
Cirrus clouds are high and wispy. They often bring some very high-level ideas to the table. But, the ideas are generally not deep and may lack good alignment with the overall business objectives. It can be a challenge to distinguish between the cirrus idea that could have value if it were only further developed and the concept which is going to simply drain valuable resources to explore and kill because it is not a good fit.
Fog. Need we say more. We can all recognize the team member who just doesn’t seem to have a clue.
Cumulonimbus clouds have presence. They are large and have great substance. But they can also bring great destruction as they unleash their energy. These people often harbor hidden agenda. The tornado of energy is released not so much to advance the cause, but to tear down the ideas of other in an attempt to perpetuate their own views and goals.
Nimbostratus are the clouds that yield steady rain. It is sometimes uncomfortable to want in the rain, but as any farmer will tell you, you need water to grow crops. The reason these peoples’ ideas often feel uncomfortable is that these concepts are grounded—they are novel enough to simulate that instinct to resist change, but grounded in enough reality to seem achievable. These are often the most productive member of the brainstorming team.
If we want to stimulate more innovation rain, how can we do this? Seed the clouds with knowledge.
Brainstorming doesn’t create new ideas. It simply helps people tap into what they have forgotten they know. The more relevant knowledge they have access to, the more ease with which they can access that knowledge in a useful way, the more likely they are to make the connections that produce that moment of creative synthesis.
Connecting innovation workers to the right knowledge at the right time is a key aspect of how you can increase the innovation productivity of your organization in brainstorming and other innovation activities as well.