Brainstorming seems like a simple concept, and public sector workplaces put it into use occasionally: at the start of meetings, for new projects, or when confronted by an unusually tough conundrum. After these occasions have passed, the techniques of brainstorming are then forgotten, treated as if no longer useful, and the flipchart or the chalk board are relegated to the back of the boardroom.
However, brainstorming is an incredibly powerful tool for decision making. It can help with creative problem-solving, but also to just make better sense of the most mundane of actions. Brainstorming is not just a tool used at meetings, but an everyday problem-solving method that allows for reconsideration of problems from the ground up.
At the next major impasse, brainstorm using these three steps:
Step 1: Identify the problem. What is the real issue at hand? What aspect of it is most troublesome? It is important to question any assumptions and get at the heart of the matter. Is there a larger issue underlying a more superficial problem?
Step 2: Brainstorm solutions, but don’t edit before creating them. Creating and refining are two separate problem-solving processes. Don’t limit the boundaries of what is considered; instead, consider everything, and worry about sorting through the chaff later. Some helpful tips to do this are:
Leave everything on the table. Pretend that you are a newcomer to your workplace, or better yet, an alien come from a far-off planet. Question everything, no matter how silly or fundamental.
Award creativity points. This works really well as a warm-up activity. Propose a simple problem to your team: for example, the neighbour’s dog is getting into the garden, or the London bridge is falling down. Then, have all participants answer in turn. Give one point for a normal solution but three for a creative one. For instance, building a fence to keep the dog out is a normal solution, but buying a wolverine to deter the dog is a creative one. After finishing this exercise, teams will be able to transfer this energy and creativity onto more serious topics.
Come up with the worst ideas. This great tip comes from openforum.com. They suggest making a list of the worst, most impossible, impractical, and awful solutions and then working backwards from there. For example, killing the neighbour’s dog is a horrible idea, but what does it say about the nature of the problem? How could it be made better or more acceptable? This technique is great for giving perspective to strategies and goals.
Step 3: Come up with workable solutions. By this step, the brainstorming process should have clarified aims and provided an extensive list of possible solutions. Learn and draw from the most creative of these as much as possible. All too often public sector workplaces use the same solutions for the same old problems, usually with the same old results. Veering off of this path does not mean using a kooky, outrageous solution; rather, it means using the best idea, which usually has to be original and fresh if it is going to conquer a stale, old problem.
What would it be like to consider more problems in this manner; to question assumptions about them before beginning, and to think about all the solutions before choosing one? Learning how to brainstorm properly is a technique that can be used not only to find solutions to set problems, but also to reevaluate habits of thought and practice. After a bought of excessive creativity, the only direction to go is towards the more practical, the more useful, the more concrete.
What do you think? Is brainstorming valuable to you when making decisions? Tell us in the comments!