We’ve all sat through brainstorming sessions, and I bet this situation sounds familiar: Someone poses the question or problem and people throw out ideas for a couple minutes. Someone writes them down on a list or flipchart. This continues until a really popular idea hits the board or silence persists longer than the group can tolerate. Then one or two ideas get popular and people begin working on them.
This doesn’t sound like a bad process, but consider this: How many times have you sat through a brainstorming session and had a better idea 5-10 minutes after people have been working on the first popular idea? How often do you voice the new idea? Even if you bring up the new thought, people are usually already invested in the working popular idea. After all, they have already spent 10 whole minutes on it.
If you have swallowed a better idea, how many other people have done the exact same thing?
Truly innovative and creative ideas don’t just jump out of people on demand. It takes time to sift through the knee-jerk responses and the easy and obvious answers to get to something new, but we tend to be impatient and jump on the first idea that sounds plausible.
In our attempts to work quickly and efficiently, we tend to limit ourselves by not taking the time to let the creativity grow. This does require sitting though some of that uncomfortable silence for a while and restraining ourselves from flushing out the first promising-sounding idea. But the effort can often be well worth the wait.
The next time you’re running a brainstorming session, try to keep the group from refining the first popular idea. Keep the group looking at the big picture from 10,000 feet longer than they want to and you just might see something completely new.
And if you really want to shake things up, half way through refining the leading idea, ask the group what new ideas have cropped up in the meantime. You just might be pleasantly surprised.