blogitto ergo sum

May 19, 2012

#206 – brainsnoring

Filed under: Uncategorized — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 10:55

Brainstorming Safety 101

I can’t even begin to tell you, mostly because I don’t really know.  One doesn’t keep count on the number of brainstorming sessions one sits through.

I fondly remember only a handful of brainstorming sessions that offered the great experience of letting your mind loose, setting it free, see it wonder above, below and around the problem at hand.  Just SAY it; we’ll bring in reality, feasibility, budget, people and all other limitations and constraints later.  Just say it.

Somehow, brainstorming became so main stream that it no longer requires a brain, and there’s no storm in those meeting rooms, unless it’s in your cup of tea.

Welcome to the age of brainsnoring.

the brainstorming hype cascaded to any meeting.  we facilitate meetings, “engage” participants, seek input and opinion from everybody.  thing is that more often than not, we don’t really want to listen.

In a recent workshop, the facilitator asked us all to creatively THINK of the value proposition of the product discussed.

i was expecting the usual “let’s pretend that we are brainstorming, nicely write all your [not so] cool ideas on a flipchart, only to ignore them altogether, and show you the perfect, brilliant slides I already have”.  Instead, and to my surprise, shifting to amusement, ending with a chuckled smile, this facilitator took it a step further. no flipchart, no listening pretense .  Instead, we were to “think about it.”

There was a pause for 10 seconds; maybe it was 15. WAIT.

And then it was “next slide,”  taking over the screen with the precious “as we discussed, in this slide we can see the benefits…”

Fact: it saves time, paper and trees.  Fact: Research has failed to support the claims that group brainstorming could generate more ideas than individuals working alone. actually, there are is plenty of research demonstrating the opposite effect: groups brainstorming together produce fewer ideas than individuals working separately [relaying on Wikipedia‘s “Productivity Loss in Idea-Generating Groups: Tracking Down the Blocking Effect”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 61 (3): 392–403. 1991″].

So what if we were not discussing the next angry birds or trying to figure out where’s my water.  We so needed some creativity in the room, some energized minds, spirits that are happy to actively contribute.

Brainsnoring is what we got.  I didn’t even have to look at the screen; there were handouts. No brain required.


i think of one of the most torturous brainstorming sessions I ever endured.  in a good way.  There were only three of us, and we were struggling to revise a business model and licensing for a product that had an open-source as well as a licensed source components.  Current model wasn’t working as expected and a change was needed.

We spent over 3 hours in that room, covering white board, taking a picture, recovering the white board with ides, flows, opportunities… we were laughing, we were frustrated, we were impatient and… we listened and didn’t give up, we didn’t dismiss, we discussed.  People knocked, entered and left quickly.  It was intense.

And, we came up with some new ideas and approaches.  Yet it was only in the follow-up session, a day later,when we could really see the value of that session.

So what does it take?  Why true brainstorming sessions are so rare?

Here’s what I know:

  • We knew each other, worked together for a couple of years
  • We like each other and there’s a lot of mutual respect, including the many things that we don’t agree on
  • We knew that what is said in the room stays in the room
  • We shared a common goal
  • No one pulled rank, clout or any passive-aggressive act
  • We made fools of ourselves in front of each other before, and survived unscratched

Also, one of us wouldn’t leave a stone, a statement, or an idea unturned.  He questioned every assumption and didn’t allow us to treat anything as an axiom.  It worked.  It was hard, exhausting and ended with a conclusion we all agreed to live with and work on.  how often do we get this?  rarely.

what we are familiar with is the political, pre-arranged pre-staged power games that dictate, limit, and censor people’s thoughts, ideas, urge to put an original idea on the table.  No one wants to take a risk.

And so we snore.

Clipart sources:

1 Comment »

  1. Agreed – some of us don’t even want to ‘risk’ expressing ourselves when It’s one-on-one, never mind a group!!!

    Comment by Shephali — May 21, 2012 @ 18:01 | Reply

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