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Unleash your Creativity with Brainstorming
by Chris Wesley
Often I'll ask my clients to come up with a list of possibilities. Sometimes it's a list of ways to solve a problem they face, other times it might be a list of things they would like to own. It's usually hard going, because most of us are not taught how to let our creativity run free. Brainstorming is a technique which will allow your creative juices to flow freely. Done properly, it's great fun, and it's really empowering. So I often use it with my clients to flesh out fantastic new possibilities. This article will allow you to use the technique for yourself.
That is where the magic of brainstorming lies - in its ability to flush out really creative ideas that would not be available to you by any other means.
The process I describe here is the one I used in the corporate world with my teams for more than fifteen years on three continents. We got good at it - we knew the ropes, and we really let rip! Some of our greatest successes were grown from the seeds liberated through brainstorming. Here's how to do it. I'll describe the optimal process, and then give you some variations which you can fit to your own circumstances.
They visit each person in turn and ask them for an idea. They write the incoming idea down without modification. When the sheet is full they stick it up on the wall for all to review as the brainstorm proceeds. They should keep the pace fast and the mood light-hearted and non-critical.
When a person is invited, they say one idea. They do it quickly - max five seconds - or else they say "pass". But they should resist the urge to say "pass" very often; instead - say something ridiculous. Someone else may take your ridiculous idea and mutate it into something incredibly powerful. And if that happens - you did your job.
If an idea occurs to you when you are not being invited write it down and say nothing until it is your turn.
No-one makes long comments about anyone's ideas. A giggle is OK, a "hell yeah" is alright - the mood should be up-beat and casual - but no negative noises and positively no discussion of the idea at that time.
THIS IS CRUCIAL yet, in my experience, beginners get this wrong, and if they don't fix it, it simply won't be a brainstorm. So if someone starts up with "Hey yeah - that's such a good idea, but how would you get by the problem of ..." or "well, that will never work..", then the facilitator must jump in immediately, and say "Uh uh! Remember guys - no discussion! - who's next?". They might need to do that ten times, but they must establish the "no discussion" rule. Positively, but firmly and relentlessly until everyone learns.
When the flow dies right down, the facilitator should announce that you are moving to "ad hoc mode" in which anyone can call out ideas in any order. Continue to write them down without discussion.
The facilitator should keep going past the point where it would be comfortable to stop, but they will eventually call a halt.
That's it. You will end up with a long list of stuff. Some of it will be obvious and un-interesting. Much of it will be entirely ridiculous and useless. But in there should be some ideas which are immediately workable - or which suggest a way forward. That is the fruits of your labours, and in my experience, you'll find gems in here you would not have found any other way. and they will change your life.
This is the ideal but in many instances (and usually in personal coaching) this is not possible, so here are some variations:
So now let's take a real-life example from my coaching practice and show YOU how brainstorming can REALLY help.
In this case, my client presented me saying she hated herr life and wanted a nice shiny a new one. This is very common.
The problem is that - if I ask them "what don't you like?" they may be able to come up with a short list. If I ask them "What would you like to replace those things with?" they are often unable to provide a good answer, and certainly not one which inspires them to try to make it happen.
The problem is that they are very often in a less-than-resourceful state; they are fed up with their situation. They want it changed, but they are often negative, tired, perhaps a little angry, and even skeptical. And they aren't in the mood to "play games".
So I start them on the brainstorm, and in this context I am both facilitator and co-brainstormer. I am also choosing my ideas to help to guide my client into more productive ways of thinking, and I'm interjecting guiding comments to lead us into fruitful areas. Here's a transcript extract of an actual coaching session (I often record them with permission). This is reproduced with permission.
This went on for a long time, but I hope you've seen enough to get the idea. Several things are worthy of note here:
So there you have it - brainstorming is fun, it's easy, it's inexpensive, it's flexible and it's really great at helping you to find creative ideas in a hurry.
Go forth and brainstorm!
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