61: How Can HR leaders Model Better Brainstorming?

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Generating new ideas ensures companies remain players in the competitive landscape. Effective brainstorming is the golden opportunity and platform for finding those great ideas. How can you achieve better brainstorming to deliver better results?
John Storm returns to HR Studio Podcast to define brainstorming, explain how brainstorming originated, and highlight the drawbacks in its original application. He shares some of the techniques and discusses what to consider when choosing one. John offers HR leaders advice on modeling better brainstorming techniques and invites listeners to obtain his “Brainstorming Packet.” 
Storm, who joined us in Episode 60 to talk about innovation, is a professional brainstormer and the founder of BrainStorm Network. He works with individuals and organizations to spark fresh thinking and to help bring their ideas to life. He facilitates, trains, consults and speaks, offering innovative solutions around the ideas of brainstorming and innovation.
Listen (above) or watch the video (below) to catch Fred's interview with John.

Key Learnings From This Episode

  • How did John become an expert in brainstorming? John has been brainstorming his entire life. His family would talk about entrepreneurial ideas at the dinner table. His father and uncle started a fishing lure business, Storm Lures. After graduating college, John joined the family business as its Marketing Director, calling on all their large accounts including Walmart, Kmart, and Bass Pro Shops. He had 70 representatives in the field who were constantly coming up with new ideas for marketing, sales, and promotions. This proved to be a great ‘petri dish’ for learning how to brainstorm. 

    In 2001, John launched his company, BrainStorm Network, assuming people would hire him to bring them ideas. He learned that it was more valuable to ‘codify’ how he comes up with ideas and then teach people – you can give a man a fish or you can teach a man to fish. 

  • How brainstorming was invented and its drawbacks. Brainstorming means different things to different people. For many people, it is the creativity technique that was invented in the 1950’s by Alex Osborn, an ad executive, who is considered to be the ‘father’ of brainstorming. He laid out the ‘rules’ of sitting around a conference room table with a facilitator, having a few ground rules, and tossing out ideas. This is what many organizations continue to do, however, there are three problems with this approach: 
    • The facilitator becomes the ‘choke’ point. He/she is not able to write fast enough as everyone is speaking out their ideas, therefore, people start holding their ideas as the facilitator is trying to catch up.
    • People feel social pressure. They are concerned about their image and do not want to appear foolish or uninformed in public. If a session is not managed with a high trust level, people hold back because they do not want to shout out too risky of an idea. 
    • Some people are introverts, some are extroverts. Extroverts can dominate a discussion, while the introverts will hold back, and you can potentially miss out on many great ideas. 
  • What is brainstorming? Brainstorming involves using all of the techniques to ‘crank’ out as many new ideas as possible. Most brainstorming follows the process of divergence – looking for large numbers of ideas – and then convergence, where you start trying to narrow them down. It is about ideation (idea generation) and creative problem-solving. 
  • Brainstorming techniques. Most people know two or three brainstorming techniques, at most. There are actually many including: 
    • Capturing techniques – the way we capture ideas
      • Traditionally, a facilitator writes ideas on a board 
      • You can record the meeting and have someone transcribe it afterward
      • People can write post-it notes, you can use digital whiteboards, or use web apps
    • Sparking techniques – what is going to make you think differently or come up with ideas in a different way than what you have done before? There are about 50-60 different techniques including:
      • Solo storming – using card decks, props, magazines – tools that get you looking at things in a different way
      • Team storming – a group setting
      • Role storming – assume the role of someone else as you approach a problem or issue.  An example would be to think of someone you admire and respect and consider WWXD – what would ‘X’ do in this situation? This will put you in a different mindset
  • Does the problem or issue drive the technique used? There are many factors to consider to create the perfect brainstorm.
  • Consider the problem and your audience. John recently worked with a group of 21 Ph.D. engineers and used the ‘animal storming’ technique, asking them to assume the characteristics of their favorite animal in approaching their brainstorming. They disliked this approach, finding it silly. John shifted gears and decided to use ‘tool storming’, providing approximately 15 different kinds of mechanical tools whose characteristics they could assume. As engineers, they were very receptive to this technique, and the experience was turned around to a very positive and effective brainstorming session. When considering techniques, you need to consider the type of problem you are trying to solve and the type of people in your audience. 
  • Consider gender. This same group of all men was working on a product whose customer base was 50% women. A female nurse came in to present to the team and she knew more about the product than everyone else in the room. They did not invite her, however, to the brainstorming session.
  • John Storm Quote on Brainstorming on HR Studio PodcastHow can HR leaders model better brainstorming? Be proactive and model at your own meetings.
  • Be proactive. Create or enhance a culture of innovation. HR has a critical role in being a beacon or advocate for an environment where all employees’ ideas are welcomed, valued, considered, evaluated, selected, executed, rewarded, and celebrated. Brainstorming is a great example of the value of diversity. 
  • Pick a hot topic or high-stakes issue and brainstorm with your own HR team. Get a professional facilitator to come in and watch and model what you do. Then train facilitators in your own organization. Build a program that is customized to your organization.  
  • Brainstorming idea. A great session to have is to brainstorm on how to improve your meetings. Most meetings waste too much time, aren’t managed well and don’t follow rules or a plan. If you give your team the opportunity to brainstorm this topic, it can help ensure you have the right people in meetings going forward, leading to fewer meetings and cost savings. 
  • Go beyond brainstorming. Don’t settle for using old, outdated brainstorming techniques. Open your mind and reach out – there are lots of good resources.

Recommended Reading and References From this Episode

John Storm HR Studio Podcast Show Notes - Brainstorming
John Storm HR Studio Podcast Show Notes - Brainstorming
Tuesday, August 28, 2018 - 8:00am
Fred Bunsa
John Storm
HR Studio Podcast