The goal of brainstorming is to find possible solutions to a problem, but the process often becomes a platform for the outspoken, who offer the same perspective time and time again. Instead, ask everyone to generate more questions about the problem so you get a better understanding of what it really is. This counterintuitive method from Hal Gregersen, the executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, gets everyone thinking and participating, and can turn a lacklustre brainstorming session into something far more effective.
According to Gregersen, brainstorming for answers can manifest a destructive group dynamic that kills creativity and stifles participation. Coming up with answers is hard, after all, and nobody wants to seem stupid, so people end up keeping their ideas to themselves. But when you brainstorm for questions instead, you can take a deeper look at problems and give the opportunity for your fellow stormers to offer fresh perspectives on the matter. Here's how Gergersen does it:
1. Set the stage: Select a problem, invite a small group to help you consider it from different angles, and describe it in broad-brush fashion so you don't limit the group's thinking.
2. Generate only questions about the challenge: Redirect anyone who suggests solutions, and explain that no lengthy preambles or justifications are allowed. Go for quantity and speed with the questions. That will open up new pathways to understanding or addressing the problem.
3. Pursue at least one of those pathways: Devise a near-term action plan to keep the momentum going.
Asking questions is much easier than trying to come up with answers, so more people will participate. As the session goes on, people's questions might spark someone's genius and create answers that weren't there before. In a normal brainstorming session, you're waiting around for lightning to strike. Why not create more storm clouds, and thus more opportunities for that lightning? Give it a try at your next meeting and see where it takes you, and if you'd like to learn more about the process, check out the link below.
Better Brainstorming [Harvard Business Review]