January 13, 2014
Want a Brainstorming Breakthrough? Get the Right Question!

There's a simple reason why so many brainstorm sessions are a waste of time. The problem statement being pitched to participants is the wrong one. This is not surprising -- especially when you consider how little time most facilitators put into preparing for a session.

Here's what happens: The person who calls the session is usually scrambling -- overwhelmed, over-caffeinated, and running from one meeting to the next. Out of breath, they pitch the topic to the group, but the topic is either vague or secondary to a more essential challenge that remains unspoken.

G.K. Chesterton, one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century, distilled the phenomenon down to 13 words. "It's not that they can't see the solution," he said. "They can't see the problem."

Then, of course, there's also the phenomenon of perception bias.

Pitch a challenge to an IT person, and it will be seen as a technology problem. Pitch it to a CFO, and it will be seen as a financial problem. Pitch it to a marketing person and it will be seen as a branding problem.

Or as a wise man once said, "When a pickpocket meets a saint all he sees are pockets."

If you plan on running an ideation session any time soon, don't just stumble into the room and pitch a vague topic to the group. Do your homework. Make the effort to identify the REAL issue before asking for ideas. If it's the WRONG QUESTION you present, no amount of idea generation is going to make a difference.

What question would you like to see your team brainstorm in the next week or so?

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at January 13, 2014 04:06 PM


Absolutely this is true, but not entirely.

While having the right question is one half of the way to finding a solution (in a group setting or by yourself), I'd wager that a larger problem is fear.

Particularly in group settings, fear of being judged for an idea, or fear of being excluded from the right steps involved in discovering the ideal solution, drive people to keep quiet. Even subconsciously that fear can really hinder the thinking process.

I'd say coming up with the right question is vital to a brainstorm success, but it's equally important to have the group participate *outside* of the group setting before bringing everyone together.

Posted by: Tannerc [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2013 12:01 PM

Tannerc: Absolutely true! Fear is the killer! If people have the right question, but are constricted by fear, nothing much will come from the brainstorming. The work of Idea Champions is rooted in the commitment to do everything we can to remove fear from the workplace and any ideation sessions we run. Fear cripples creativity and a whole lot of other good stuff, as well. This is one of the reasons why we are focusing, more and more these days, on helping our clients foster a culture of innovation. Thanks for the input!

Posted by: Mitch Ditkoff [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2013 12:24 PM

Thanks to this blog I finally managed to find the information matching my criteria and for this I would like to thank the author for sharing this blog with us. Looking forward for more.

Posted by: zoe8 [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 8, 2013 03:21 AM

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