January 07, 2014
Why a Diversity of Participants in a Brainstorming Session is So Important


"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. Unfortunately, that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions." -- Steve Jobs

One of the challenges of facilitating a successful brainstorm session is ensuring that the right people are in the room, so you have enough "dots to connect." Defining what "right" means, of course, is, itself, a challenge.


Yes, you want a high level of expertise, talent, and decision making authority in the room. But these qualities often result in the "usual suspects" syndrome -- inviting the same people (or the same kinds of people) again and again to your sessions.

If you only invite the usual suspects. it's likely that your brainstorming sessions will get stranded on an island of group think.

People with the same history, careers, education, expertise, interests, and worldviews will typically approach a challenge in the same way.

This is, shall we say, not optimal.

But there's a simple antidote to this phenomenon -- one that is freely supplied by Mother Nature. Diversity.

With a seeming overabundance of species on Earth, it would take a total destruction of the planet for all Life to cease. Short of total destruction, at least some species will continue and, in a few hundred million more years, who knows what new kinds species will emerge?

In the same way, diversity is an excellent survival strategy for a brainstorm session. Not just the diversity of techniques used, but the diversity of participants.

Diversity adds value in two ways: First, it gives the group more dots to connect (as Steve Jobs notes above). And, second, it increases the appearance of creative tension in the room, an important variable in any kind of solution-finding process. Indeed, it's in the super-charged space between two varying points of view where the greatest potential for breakthrough ideas exists.

Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis.

So, in order to get "more dots" in the room to connect, as well as more creative tension, it's your responsibility to invite a varied mix of participants.

Include the old hand and the beginner, the expert and the novice, the white collar and the blue collar worker, extroverts and introverts, the right brainers and the left. The more varied the group, the better. And, I might add, the more challenging your facilitator role will be.

Animated by a cornucopia of views, experiences, and knowledge, the chances of your brainstorm session succeeding will increase exponentially.

-- Val Vadeboncoeur

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at January 7, 2014 10:59 PM

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