6.2 Brainstorming

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Ken Blanchard’s notion that ‘‘None of us is as smart as all of us’’2 is synergy

epitomized. If you try to come up with all the answers yourself, you’ll end up

with only a few of the potential answers and those will be from a single vector

of thinking. I heartily recommend brainstorming as a technique to create a large

list of potential solutions. The entries on that list can be evaluated later.

Brainstorming can be the function of a local group or it can be the function

of a dispersed group using the distributed method. The advantage accrues by

having a greater number of people, and thus ideas, involved in the process. The

advantage of the distributed method is that more experts of a higher level or

experts of more diversity (whatever that means to you) can be applied to the

task. The main thing to remember when brainstorming is to include all inputs,

no matter how unusual or inappropriate they may seem to be at the time.

Rejecting any input will have the effect of throwing cold water on the process.

If your approach is to use a local group, you will need a room to accommodate

the people involved. Experts suggest that the group be from two to twenty

people. Seating in a circle or a ‘‘U’’ is preferred. Flipcharts or sticky notes can

be used to capture the ideas offered by the group. These techniques have been

updated by many companies through using overhead viewgraph projectors with

blank slides to write on or by using computer projection techniques—that is,

simply typing in the ideas as they come up and maintaining a permanent record

of what went on. It is best to use a facilitator to moderate the activity. My

suggestion is to use a professional (someone from your training department is

appropriate) rather than trying to do it yourself. This is especially true if you

are in charge of the program. The group will tend to defer to you, and you will

miss a lot of good inputs. Write down all the inputs (even those that are repetitive).

Keep the flow going . . . pump the participants for ideas . . . get the best

from them. When everyone is totally exhausted, take a break. Come back and

eliminate items and group the overall list by voting on the individual inputs.

Sometimes changing a word or two will ‘‘commonize’’ the inputs, and they can

be combined. The point is though, do it through a voting technique rather than

by fiat.

Nowadays, the Internet makes distributed brainstorming an inexpensive alternative

to a local group. This method is very good for very large companies

spread across the nation or the world. You use the same techniques except you

create a ‘‘chat group’’ with a moderator. This is extremely powerful when you

can call upon the best minds in the business, no matter where they are. Using

the ‘‘Track Changes’’ function of a word processing application also works very

well for this process. In fact, the peer review of this book was conducted in

exactly that way.

Software to provide brainstorming is listed in Table 6-2.

T a b l e 6 - 2 — B r a i n s t o r m i n g S o f t w a r e

Tool Product Vendor

Brainstorming

‘‘Brainstorming’’ Infinite Innovations, Ltd

‘‘PathMaker’’ SkyMark

Following is contact information for the companies listed in Table 6-2:

Infinite Innovations Ltd.

Innovation House

71 Sheldon Road

Sheffield S7 1GU

U.K.

Phone/Fax: _44 114 2967546

Web site: www.brainstorming.co.uk

E-mail: info@brainstorming.co.uk

SkyMark

7300 Penn Avenue,

Pittsburgh, PA 15208

Order: 800-826-7284

Phone: 412-371-0680

Fax: 412-371-0681

Web site: www.skymark.com

E-mail: sales@skymark.com

For in-depth information on brainstorming, see Edward de Bono, Serious

Creativity, New York: Harper Business, 1992.