As The Idea Guy I have participated in more than my fair share of corporate brainstorming sessions. Anytime I’m invited to one of these pre-scheduled forced-creativity events I immediately think of a particular movie starring Clint Eastwood and wonder if it’s going to be Good, Bad, or Ugly.
Most corporate attempts at brainstorming sessions fail for the same five reasons:
1. No one wants to be there
The whole point of inviting a group of people is to try and increase the quantity and quality of ideas contributed. One way to to this is to simply invite a large number of people. The larger number of people should also statistically increase the diversity of their background and personal experience which you hope translates into more diverse ideas sparked by their diverse backgrounds. The problem is, everyone has a stack of work on their desk they are under pressure to complete, so at the very least your brainstorm session is seen as an interruption if not a flat out waste of their time. They’re pissed they have to be there from the time they enter the room — not an ideal way to begin!
2. The phrase “There are no bad ideas”
First of all… BULL! There have been some monumental failures of ideas not only contributed in a brainstorm session, but actually put into action (I’m talking to you New Coke, Crystal Pepsi, McPizza, and Highlander 2!) Nonetheless, this phrase is uttered a dozen times an hour during one of these sessions (usually right after someone contributes a particularly outrageous idea) and arguing about whether or not an idea is bad, or convincing the other participants that the conceptual turd their co-worker just laid out on the table doesn’t stink to high heaven is a complete waste of time and energy.
3. If they don’t care they won’t prepare
Typically these sessions are scheduled by one department that needs help solving a problem. They get stuck and the department supervisor says “we need new eyes on this — schedule a brainstorm.” So they shine the brainstorm symbol in the sky like Commissioner Gordon summoning Batman and send everyone an Outlook meeting invite to the third floor conference room Wednesday at noon with the lure of free pizza to help solve another department’s problem. The real problem is getting Department A to care one bit about Department B’s roadblock. If anything, they’re ready to point out two or three other issues they think Department A should take care of first, because they’re making life rough for Department B. Since Department B doesn’t care because they don’t believe Department A’s problem directly impacts them, they don’t think on the topic in advance or do any research into the situation. They aren’t percolating on the problem ahead of time so as to warm-up their creative engines on the topic. When they show up for the session, they just want the pizza and to get out of there as quickly as possible.
4. Loudmouths in the spotlight
If anyone actually has an idea to share they are frequently shutdown by those who won’t shut-up. No one else can get a word in edgewise because Mr. One Man Show won’t give up the floor for someone else to chime in. Also, some folks are naturally more introverted than others and the prospect of having their creative contribution openly judged by a roomful of their peers is a frightening situation. Even if they had the perfect answer to the question, they wouldn’t share it in front of the group.
5. Contributions aren’t valued and zero follow-up by management
Generally, most employees at a company are only willing to crawl so far out on a limb by suggesting a really provocative idea (for fear of someone sawing off the limb behind them.) I’ve attended some company brainstorms where a participant was specifically introduced to me as being the person who suggests the most bizarre ideas, yet during the actually session they were quiet and reserved. My guess is that during a past session they truly got in the creative spirit and contributed a far-out concept which they’ve carried with them ever since, like a Hester Prynne-ish scarlet B for Brainstorm embroidered on their chest. For those that do risk the ridicule of contributing an envelope-pushing idea, the pay off is typically anti-climatic. Participants are never kept up to date on what happens to the ideas they helped generate, and the impression that this was all just a meaningless exercise in the eyes of the company will forever be connected to future brainstorm sessions.
All of the examples above are reasons why hiring an Idea Guy (like myself) from outside the company can increase your likelihood of generating actionable ideas that you can genuinely put to use within your company. As a consultant, I work with you to distill the kinds of ideas you need and can use. I’ve no bone to pick with any other department inside the company and can generate pure concepts rather than worrying about the politics of getting them approved and put into action.
The fact I come from outside your industry means I’ll educate myself on your business just enough to make my ideas applicable, but still be naive enough not to know what everyone else thinks is impossible.
I’m a hired gun, so while I’m happy to help you create an action plan take the ideas generated to the next level and get them implemented, you’re not going to hurt my feelings if you decide to put them on a shelf and revisit them in six months. My attention is yours — I’m in the room to specifically generate ideas and solutions for the topics and problems you specify. Working with you to solve a problem isn’t an interruption of my regular job. It IS my job!
If you’d like to discuss ways I can help you build your business, please contact me via email or phone for a free consultation.
I can help your team have a good time brainstorming, come up with some bad-ass ideas, and keep things from getting ugly.