The Power of Brainstorming

“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” – Lee Iaccoca

We have just spoken about the power of innovation. A culture of innovation is the direct result of great ideas received and implemented. Any company would benefit from an energized workforce that continually has great ideas and are more than willing to put them into action. Every company wants their workforce to be so, but in order to put this into practice the company must have an environment that believes in the power of brainstorming. Brainstorming can be a complete failure or a hugely successful and fruitful activity, depending on the manner in which companies handle it. If employees are encouraged to provide ideas and rewarded when their ideas can be implemented, others will follow suit and come forth with ideas that will generate a cycle of improvement and forward thinking.

The power of brainstorming is completely unleashed only when the company acts on the ideas – else the whole concept of brainstorming is a complete loss. The exercise of brainstorming, like innovation, must not be done for the sake of appearing busy or important. People should be encouraged to provide ideas that are new, creative and yet feasible and implementable. Simply providing ideas for the sake of it is a complete waste of time and in fact is highly regressive. Employees who may have given the ideas would believe that it is a great idea, but if none of the ideas can be implemented, the company will refuse to acknowledge them. This could prove to be a morale dampener and also a roadblock for any further ideas to emerge.

You would have noticed in your company and while attending meetings at other companies, that there are some employees who actively participate in the brainstorming sessions, while others have deadpan expressions and sit tight-lipped and yet others provide suggestions off and on. The idea of brainstorming is to bring all the ideas to the fore, but unless such sessions have a structure and a method, they can soon become unruly and completely ineffective. Most people in these sessions over time tend to believe that these brainstorming sessions are a waste of time and are someone’s attempts to not do ‘any real work’. They are relieved when these sessions are over and believe that they now can actually do some fruitful work. This is a complete waste of a powerful system like brainstorming.

When many heads and energies combine, there can be magic. Brainstorming has the ability to draw out latent ideas, build new ones, find solutions to some perplexing problems, develops teamwork, builds trust amongst co-workers and motivates people to get better. Obviously office problems relating to the team, or management policies and other such issues would seem humongous for each individual. However, when they gather together for a brainstorming session, a lot of the stress and doubts are dispelled as people see that their co-workers face the same issues and hence are goaded to work on removing them in a spirit of unity and harmony. However, just like any other business process, brainstorming needs a structure, a method and must follow a set of rules and procedures.

Everyone ‘involved’ in the brainstorming meetings must have access to all the ideas. These ideas should be written down in full view so that post the sharing of ideas, those that seem nearest to possible solutions and most feasible can be discussed first. The remaining ideas could be ‘saved’ for future use. The enabler of these brainstorming meetings must be someone with experience to run them else they can be thoroughly overwhelmed and the meeting could be a complete waste. The facilitator should be someone who can manage the energies, ensure that all participants are involved, make sure that no one is left out and be the guide to take follow up actions. When brainstorming is used well and diligently, companies are able to see significant results that are aimed at improving the company’s performance, individual output and a dramatic improvement in team synergies.

  • For brainstorming sessions to be effective, the company must have an environment of openness and be ready to accept ideas and suggestions that seem untraditional. Employees would not be able to offer ideas that are creative if they know that only ideas that conform to certain policies of the company. This is a rather limiting thought and will not allow the employees to apply their mind beyond a point.
  • If a company hopes to ignite the power of creative thoughts, they must understand their employees well and should have conveyed the long term goals of the company. Employees would then be better equipped to provide ideas that will help the company to reach those goals sooner.
  • Brainstorming is an activity that requires some amount of teaching. Effective brainstorming is the perfect platform for ideas to be born and nurtured for future development. Training programs and workshops are extremely beneficial to ‘teach’ the most effective ways of brainstorming. The trainers would ask some pertinent and leading questions that would elicit answers that are new and doable. This is important since when a company is looking for suggestions for a problem, most people tend to provide answers and solutions that would have worked in the past, hoping to receive recognition. However, with changing circumstances and current scenarios, these traditional solutions would not be relevant.
  • For a company to remain relevant and in line with changing trends, it must have hired a good set of people. Hiring right is half the battle won. Every level of employees must be respected for their specific talents, knowledge base and skill sets allowing them to express ideas from their viewpoint. When you hire the right people, activities like brainstorming sessions and workshops become more effective and elicit suggestions and responses that you may have never thought possible.
  • One of the main rules of brainstorming is to have smaller groups than normal meetings. This way the exchange of ideas is more free-flowing and no one is confused by too many ‘choices’. In smaller groups people feel more encouraged to speak and open up and the fear of ridicule or not being heard is not there. Whereas in large groups, not only does the session become unruly, most people choose to ‘hide’ behind those who are ‘talkers’ and hence not everyone gets a chance to express themselves and the meeting is a waste since the number of ideas do not equal the participants.
  • The brainstorming sessions must have a balance in terms of the levels in the organizations. For example if there is a senior member, then there should also be members from the not so senior levels, there should also be people who may have expertise in the area for which brainstorming is required and others who have proven capability of providing ideas that work well and prove beneficial. However, it is up to the facilitator to ensure that everyone gets an equal opportunity to express their ideas and also that no one undermines the contribution of others in the group. Unless each one feel encouraged to share, it would be extremely hard to gain any benefit from the brainstorming session.

Brainstorming requires patience and perseverance. Even if some ideas seem to be extremely far-fetched and unfeasible, it is important for everyone to let the ideas flow before negating or accepting any one. The whole purpose of this exchange of ideas is to bring out thoughts and ideas that are current and creative and not traditional. How do your brainstorming sessions run and have they been successful in the past?

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