In the comments of Bringing Brainstorming to the Boardroom, Ben brings up an interesting point that I failed to mention:
This was all very interesting. I’ve been thinking about brainstorming in groups a lot lately, as this is frequently the type of thing you’re expected to do in law school. Its been my experience lately that when you put a bunch of bright, creative people together in a room, there is a tendency for everyone to go around saying their ideas, not really building on or developing any of them. I don’t think people are purposefully closed-minded, I think its just a natural reaction to want to flesh out your own idea before considering another person’s.
One of the things that has kept our brainstorming going is having a group leader who kind of moderates everything and steers the discussion towards collaboration. But I think having a leader is probably just one way to confront the problem. I bet if you have a group of people who do a lot of brainstorming–say at a marketing company for example–after a while you probably can dispense with a leader because everyone is familiar with the process.
I wish Ben was right about the ability to dispense with the leader in a marketing setting, but it’s just not the case. It is incredibly important to always have a leader in a brainstorm, otherwise, just what Ben mentioned tends to happen. Even worse at an agency you run the risk of a brainstorm turning into a tactical discussion without the help of a leader. The rules I mentioned for a great brainstorm were aimed at brainstormees, not the leader, who must assume a much different role.
The leader of the brainstorm should not actually be a participating member, instead their job is to guide the discussion, keep people on path, make sure people are following the rules and write everything down. It’s sometimes hard to let go of control as the leader of a brainstorm, but it’s important to accept that position going in; as the leader it’s not your job to contribute ideas and you need to deal with it.
Once the brainstorm has ended the leader takes those ideas that the group has come up with and starts to evaluate them and shape them. By writing the ideas down in a more coherent format, holes start to show up and next steps and needs emerge.
So for Ben, and anyone else who’s brainstorming, next time you get a bunch of smart people in the room, make sure there’s someone leading the discussion, things should work much better that way.