In phase one of a bias for action in action, I discussed selection of a problem or situation needing management attention and gathering a team of colleagues to assist in the effort. Phase two involves thinking through what you might actually do.

In many organizations filled with type A personalities and a penchant for studying things to death, this step is pretty easy; consider a few ideas and then task somebody with looking into it further. The trouble with this approach is, far too few possibilities are ever considered and I have previously discussed the downside of talking about and studying things as a substitute for action. This is why companies like IDEO and others have made some form of idea generation, whether you call it brainstorming or something else, a core ingredient of their creative, innovative process.

When I introduce an idea generation exercise into my management workshops, I often get a predictable negative reaction from some of the managers. I would describe it this way: this is sure a waste of time considering a lot of silly and downright stupid things that would never work anyway. But I persevere insisting that in one hour, each group — I break participants into groups to introduce a germ of competition — come up with a minimum of 75 ideas about how to address the problem they have chosen as their focus. I set some ground rules for the session and turn them loose.  Invariable they exceed expectations and most admit they enjoyed the experience.

The point of a brainstorming exercise of some kind is not just to have some fun — although it generally is — but to generate a sizeable collection of creative ideas for approaching a problem that would never be assembled otherwise. This is another reason why you need a team of passionate colleagues to assist in your effort.

The three books I discussed in my blog entry entitled “Design Thinking” will provide you with plenty of insight into how the pros approach the art of brainstorming. The key ingredients of your idea generation effort should be to stay focused on the topic, to encourage out of the box thinking, and to keep the process free-flowing, uncensored, and non-judgmental. It is important that participants listen respectfully to one another, willingly accept any idea no matter how it may strike them at the time, and most importantly, be prepared to build on each other’s ideas. Be certain to record everything you hear. Trust me, in the end , some really creative and innovative ideas will surface that you would never have considered otherwise.

In his book “Change By Design” , Tim Brown notes that while brainstorming may not be the only valuable idea generation technique, it “proves its worth when the goal is to open up a broad spectrum of ideas. Other approaches are important for making choices, but nothing beats a good brainstorming session for creating them (p. 79).

Once your idea generation session is complete, the next step involves a clear-headed search for the best ideas in the long list of possibilities you have collected. There is no magic number here, but I prefer no more than what the group considers the top four or five. If your initial cut down list is longer, take another run at it.

This completes phase two. In my next posting — phase three — I will discuss the ultimate purpose of this bias for action exercise: DOING SOMETHING.

Categories: Exercising Responsibility, Managing & Leading, Self-Management

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