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In this weekly series, Todd Dewett, PhD, shares the tips respected and motivated managers use to improve rapport, navigate tricky situations, build better relationships, and drive the business forward. Each week, we'll release two tips ranging from avoiding the dreaded micromanagement to managing a multigenerational workforce, cultivating better listening skills, and developing an understanding of your organization's politics. Check back every Wednesday for more Management Tips.
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Creativity is among the most valued traits of great decisions. And no technique for boosting creativity has been more popular than brainstorming. Unfortunately, no tool has been more misused than brainstorming. I'll tell you why and how to use brainstorming successfully in just a minute. First, a bit of background. In the 1930s, an advertising executive named Alex Osbourne came up with a new decision-making technique. The idea was simple, multiple heads working together should be more creative than individuals working alone.
It makes sense. Everyone has different ideas, and if we can somehow combine them, the product might be greater than the sum of the parts. Eventually these are the brainstorming rules that emerged. One, focus on the idea of production. The more ideas, the better. Capture each and every one of them that emerges from group discussion. Two, piggyback on anyone's idea. If you hear something you like, and it makes you think of a slightly different, maybe even better idea, speak up. It's encouraged to build on each other. Third rule.
No evaluating. So far we're just piling ideas on, no judging or evaluating. Finally, after a specified amount of time, only then do we begin to evaluate the ideas based on any available criteria you're working with. That's the idea. It sound easy, right? It is. The thing is, somehow, this process became famous even though it only works half the time. It's been studied for years, and brainstorming only works sometimes. Individuals working alone are often more creative than groups using brainstorming.
Many studies helped us understand why. It turns out, when we work in groups, we have a lot of trouble switching between listening and contributing. Also, the larger the group, the more a few members might become wallflowers who don't contribute because they don't feel that what they say really matters. Finally, when the goal is creativity, it seems most people don't enjoy sharing ideas because they fear negative evaluation. Good news, we know how to make brainstorming work anyway. Try this. First, consider electronic brainstorming.
There are many software programs that allow for realtime collaboration and brainstorming, where names are replaced by other identifiers, so that participants don't feel the risk of evaluation. Next. Bosses. No matter what kind of brainstorming you're working on, you don't lead the conversation. You allow others to kick start the conversation. If you lead, your well-intentioned comments will stifle conversation, which is the opposite of the goal of brainstorming. Another great idea is to change locations. Changing routines in general makes people's brain perk up.
So changing locations keeps them on their toes. Here's one of my favorites. Always assign homework before a brain storming session. Never allow people to begin a conversation with an odd pregnant pause. That's not necessary if everyone for example arrives with at least three distinct ideas for moving forward. It's easier for people to take the risk of coming up with ideas when they're alone. Then they have the great ammunition to get the conversation moving. There are many more techniques, but these will get you going. Brainstorming is famous because under the right circumstances such as those we just discussed, it does make the group greater than the sum of its parts.
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