Brainstorming sessions: What works and what does not?

Brainstorming sessions: What works and what does not?

Brainstorming sessions: asking for employees to come up with innovative ideas never works. In the following article I want to give you some ways how it works.

Actually, I do not like brainstorming sessions at all. I have three main reasons for this: First, brainstorming sessions often feel like a ‘must’. Secondly, the session usually ends in a competition between the participants to show who is the smartest boy or girl in the class. Thirdly: asking me to come up with five new ideas ‘just’ is actually asking me to fall asleep peacefully.

If you recognize this, there is hope. Let me presuppose that I am not a good innovator at all, but I can be pretty creative if I have to solve a problem.

Just coming out of the blue with innovative ideas is in my view impossible. On the other hand, stimulating creativity in our brains is very easy.

It is really easy to change the switch in the heads of your employees from ‘normal’ to ‘creative’ mode. After reading this article, you can do this too. You will be amazed by the effect!

1. Create a barrier
The ‘What if?’ Game works very well. What if you are without power for a day? What if the e-mail server stops working? What if all deliveries are delivered two days later? What if a critical supplier stops? Now it comes: do not join your team on ‘reactive’ solutions. Think about how your ‘short term’ solutions can become a ‘long-term’ solution! A much used ‘What if?’ for example: ‘What if a strong competitor enters our market tomorrow?’ How would you react? Product broadening, other services, different price structure? Great, lasting changes bring creative reactions. It is only important to implement the right ones without the ‘big’ change already taking place! This way you stay ahead.

2. Play even on all first sales
Every sale, every project, every service must yield a return, is not it? But what if – due to acquisition & start-up costs – you only play evenly or even suffer losses on your first sale to a new customer? What could you do to do reliable, profitable and lasting sales? And what does that do with your sales strategy? A friend of mine has a company that supplies heating & air conditioning systems. He ensures that he consciously loses losses at the first sale, in order to be the ‘low cost’ provider. He makes this ‘investment’ good by making turnover on maintenance, repair and upgrades of parts. Every company wants long-term relationships with their customers. If entering into a long-term relationship with your customers is the only way to survive, which steps should you take?

3. Remove a management layer
This is my favorite. Managers and managers can bring unnecessary delays in decision-making processes. Yet you need them. But what if this layer disappears for a day or a week? What impact does this have on operational processes? Which processes come to a standstill? By determining in a session where the decisions need to be made, in case the managers or managers are absent, you can just find out that there are better places to make these decisions! A process accelerator!

A hint: decisions should always be taken one layer lower than you accept.

4. Fall into the boiling lava
As a child, I always made an ‘obstacle’ course with my friends. With stones, wooden beams, pots and pans we built a route that had to be taken. Here we imagined that the ground was ‘hot lava’. If you fell off, you were ‘dead’. Explain that thought to your company: What if every mistake immediately becomes a fatal mistake? If every delivery or service has to be perfect, what should be done? Choose a (partial) process with each other and set perfection of the end result as a requirement. It is amazing how creative people can be if there is no backup, space, tolerance, etc. to fall back on.

5. Do not participate yourself
Your employees are exceptionally smart! At least, if you are able to turn on the ‘creative’ switch. Especially if you show them how smart they are. If you want to use the techniques mentioned above, the effect will be enhanced by this last tip. Initially, your employees will come up with suggestions and then expect your response to be expected. But: do not say anything! Simply look at others in the group, which you can use to get their input. Soon you will witness a pressure cooker of good ideas, without you participating. You will probably get more good ideas than you can ever implement yourself!

Cesar Franken

Cesar Franken

(with thanks to Jeff Haden)