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Brainstorming Becomes Brainsteering

Monday, April 11, 2011 @ 12:34:00 PM - Written by Laura Cootsona
I sometimes like being in a brainstorming session. I sometimes lead brainstorming sessions. I hear about people's opinions of brainstorming often. It's not all good--I'm the first to admit. I am excited for some editing of what we know as thinking outside the box that generates some great ideas and yields no action.

My friends at McKinsey Quarterly strike an important chord with their article "Seven Steps to Better Brainstorming." Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne coin (sorry, I couldn't resist) their own term: "brainsteering." They address the obvious downsides to this management and consultant favorite: brainstorming. And they come up with some nice revisions that I will immediately try in my next group "get creative" session.

Let me describe three elements of their "brainsteering". First, give  boundaries and frame the right questions. We sometimes offer up pie in the sky thinking and truly lead everyone terribly astray into places we will never hope to go. Instead, let's respect this time with some confines that actually keep us in reality and solve real problems. This is not simple, but the most important part of the preparation phase.

Second, group the right people into small groups of 3-5 people around a few of these questions, questions that hopefully they are suited to address. Subgroups prove to be more fruitful and allow more involvement. In fact, they suggest keeping the boss, the nay sayer and the subject experts in their own group. I don't think I need to tell you why.

Third, follow up quickly and let the subgroups decide for themselves which ideas are worth pursuing and then bring those ideas into a room very soon thereafter for further sorting: "move immediately to implementation planning, decide today to implement at the closest appropriate time, assign a group to research the idea further, or reject right away." Then let the subgroups know what's happening.

This all sounds like a vast improvement on the crazy unstructured free thinking of what we've been doing for decades. Who wants to give it a try?