This article is excerpted from our upcoming book, SmartStorming: The Groundbreaking 6-Step Process for Liberating Creative Genius and Harvesting Bigger, Better Ideas!
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”
– Albert Einstein
Just hearing the word “rules” can be a turnoff for many people. After all, rules might mean that they are going to be restricted, limited, or told what they are and are not allowed to do. But rules are essential. Every well-conducted group activity in the world has rules—sports, games, meetings, legal proceedings, medicine, classrooms, even extreme kick-boxing death matches.
If a group of people are coming together to accomplish something, there must be some rules and guidelines established to ensure that the process runs smoothly and productively. This is precisely why Robert’s Rules of Order has long been the accepted guidebook for conducting orderly and productive meetings.
But nowhere is this more important than in a brainstorm, which can be fraught with perils, including…
Judgment/Negativity/Intimidation—Many people are naturally timid about sharing their thoughts, for fear of being viewed as foolish. Fear of judgment kills more ideation sessions than anything else, except perhaps…
Ego—Those people with the big, demonstrative egos are sure to assert the belief that their own ideas are golden, and everyone else’s are flawed. Just one such ego-driven individual in a brainstorming session is enough to make it crash and burn. Put two or more in the room, and you’re doomed.
Outside Distractions—iPhones Blackberries cell phones, iPads, laptops, and other electronics almost always lead to distraction, split attention and attention “leaks.” Offenders generally laugh off any criticism and chalk it up to “multitasking.” But research has shown that effective multitasking is a myth. The more tasks one attempts to accomplish simultaneously, the less effective he or she is at any of them. And nowhere is this more evident than in a brainstorm.
Off-Topic Conversation—Co-workers often take advantage of the opportunity to “catch up” with each other when they find themselves in a meeting together. Obviously this behavior is not conducive to effective brainstorming once the session is underway. The more time devoted to discussing the latest gossip or outside topics, the less will be focused on generating breakthrough ideas.
Fortunately, introducing “Rules of the Game” can eliminate, or at least significantly minimize such disruptive challenges. By establishing a list of rules and guidelines for participation before the session, writing them down and posting them prominently in the room, introducing them to the group and, most important, getting universal agreement from all participants to abide by the rules, your brainstorms have a markedly greater chance of achieving super-productivity.
Here is a list of some of the best-known and most effective “Rules of the Game” to get you started.
10 Brainstorming Rules of the Game
- Suspend All Judgment—Criticism and judgment will inhibit participants from sharing ideas; ideas will be evaluated later on during the selection process.
- There is No Such Thing as a Bad Idea—This is, perhaps, the most controversial truism in the world of brainstorming. Okay…yes, of course there are bad ideas. But not during the idea generation phase of your session. Why? Because even the worst sounding idea can contain the seed of a great idea within it. But you will never find out if that “bad idea” is shot down before it has a chance to be developed.
- Maintain an Ego-Free Zone—A great idea can come from anybody at any time. In an effective group problem solving initiative, the originator of any idea is irrelevant.
- Go for Quantity, Not Quality—For every 100 ideas generated, only a few will be truly original ones with real potential.
- Embrace Wild, Audacious Ideas—You never know how far you can go until you’ve gone too far. It’s better to push concepts to the edge, than be too conservative.
- Build Upon One Another’s Ideas—A group working collaboratively can generate bigger and better ideas than individuals working alone.
- One Conversation at a Time—Side conversations create distractions and split the session’s focus.
- Nothing is Impossible—Yesterday’s impossible ideas (flying, personal computers, 3-D movies, etc.) are today’s realities. “Think forward.”
- No Texting or Emailing During the Session—Multi-tasking is a myth; texting distracts participants from the goal of generating ideas.
- The Boss Speaks Last—When an authority figure participates in a brainstorm, his or her comments and opinions often sway or inhibit a group’s exploration of ideas. Ask respectfully that the boss hold comments until all others have shared.
What should the brainstorm leader do when somebody breaks the rules? Simply point to the rule being broken, and then gently remind the perpetrator of his or her transgression—or better yet, encourage the group to be self-policing and good-naturedly remind each other. Then simply guide the group back to the task at hand.
At first glance, the concept of “rules” might seem inconsistent with a spontaneous creative activity like brainstorming. But nothing could be further from the case. Rules actually provide greater freedom to your group, by creating a safe, open environment in which everyone will feel comfortable sharing.
So start playing by the rules in all of your brainstorming sessions. You’ll be amazed at how much more successful and productive they will be!