2 min read
May 24, 2022 4:02:27 PM

Brainstorms vs. Root Canals

I’ve said it myself, “there are no bad ideas.” 

Like hearing your own voice on a recording, this statement is totally cringeworthy. 

In reality, teaching at the university level and consulting with corporations and governments in-person and via Zoom for the past five-plus years, I’ve heard my fair share of bad ideas.

But as Linus Pauling said, “the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

So what’s the balance?

Define the Parameters Upfront

Bartleby’s column in the Economist makes two recommendations we agree with, the first being, “define the parameters of the brainstorming session upfront.” Upon receiving a multi-hour calendar invite, participants immediately weigh the opportunity cost of this time against their tactical, day-to-day tasks. Herein lies leadership’s first mistake, treating news ideas like dessert, something to indulge in sparingly and only after everything else is done.

“I have a root canal scheduled, when is that meeting again?”

Make Sure It is A Daily (At Worst, Weekly) Task

We offer a different perspective: the sourcing, synthesizing, and presenting of new ideas should be a daily (at worst, weekly) task done by all employees. Mr. Pauling would second this approach. Thus removing the weight of one-off brainstorms with their unrealistic expectations, inherent biases, and exclusionary processes and creating a culture where “learning forward,” is a constant process supported by innovative, growth-minded leadership.

In execution-focused organizations with fixed-mindset leadership, one-off brainstorming sessions are held when the stakes are high and time is short.

The knock on your door is not FedEx, it is disruption.

However, if leadership does not create the psychological safety needed to share new ideas and test them with customers, orthodoxies, or “the way we’ve always done things,” will determine your future actions and outcomes.

Communicate The "Next Step" Actions

“Be clear about the next steps after the session is over,” suggests Bartleby’s author. We couldn’t agree more.

The only thing worse than not listening to your employees and customers is listening, then taking no action.

The purpose of your brainstorm will be clear because it is aligned with a transparent, widely-understood strategic vision for the company. Thus, your participants will come to the brainstorming session with a list of good AND bad ideas sourced over weeks or months of constant market observation and customer discovery.

These three steps will increase the flow of innovative ideas regardless of where the brainstorming is held. Your employees will view brainstorming sessions as a showcase of their ongoing work rather than another example of ill-conceived “innovation theater,” full of painfully bad ideas.

Since 2015, we’ve used the user-centric approach of design thinking to help clients generate innovative, customer-centered value propositions to be the disruptor of their industry.

Interested in learning how we do it? Schedule your Discovery Call to learn more.

We look forward to learning more about your work and how design thinking can help.

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