Monday, August 27, 2007

Brainstorming: Getting that second & third opinion

On Saturday afternoon I met with two other consultants for a brainstorming session. We each have different businesses, yet we felt that we could benefit from coming together and brainstorming ideas for each other. We set very basic ground rules for our two-hour session and each of us spent some time preparing upfront. We spent time looking at each other's web sites as well as time doing some solo brainstorming (sometimes called mindstorming). I'll spare you the details and tell you why you should consider doing something similar.

First, we often think that no one will understand what we're doing except for those who are doing the same thing that we are. Wrong. In fact, talking about your projects, work flow issues, or whatever with someone who is in a different industry might yield ideas that you would not have come up with because those ideas weren't part of your paradigm.

Second, a person from a different industry will not make the same assumptions as you and may ask very different questions. When you're not hearing the same old questions, your mind may come up with new information or discover new solutions.

Third, someone from a different industry or area of focus may take the discussion in a direction that you had not anticipated, because that person sees what you do (or could do) differently. Imagine, for example, talking about work flow with someone who has been trained in streamlining manufacturing processes.

Here are the ground rules we used:
  • Food should not be a distraction. (Yes, we had munchies. A benefit is that if you have food in your mouth, it can be more difficult to interrupt, thus giving others a chance to talk!)
  • Start on time and end on time. Actually we started on time and then ran late! Once we got going, it was hard to stop...and the extra time was well spent.
  • No idea is discounted or dismissed. All ideas are valid. Critical!
  • Don't go off on tangents. Keep each other focused.
  • Keep an open mind. Critical!
  • Keep your own notes. (We did this instead of creating one master list of ideas and it worked well. Each person wrote down what s/he needed.
We also looked at brainstorming tips and used a number of them.

At the end of 2.5 hours, we each left energized and with actionable ideas. We saw things fresh -- with new eyes as it were. All useful benefits.

Need new ideas? Why not give this a try?

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Anonymous said...

I've held a series of brainstorming clinics for the local small business community. By having interested attendees and ground rules (not to mention, a facilitator, who helped keep the focus), everyone wins.

Mitch said...

I think the most important thing about the brainstorming session was that we kept it small. If there had been even one more person it might have taken us 6 hours to be fair to everyone. Great idea, Miss Jill!