In a recent post, Bob acknowledged the current controversy surrounding the effectiveness of brainstorming in the identification of new business opportunities for an organization.  He deftly reframed the argument using his knowledge of the history and evolution of the brainstorming process.  Now it is my turn to weigh in.

Recently, I have been exploring this question in a variety of organizations.  When I ask about the brainstorming that almost everyone has experienced, I learn that it invariably happens as a small part of a one-hour meeting and often does not produce any breakthrough ideas.

But that’s not how real brainstorming works…

Six Key Steps to Real Brainstorming

  1. Topic – Identify a large, worthy challenge that will make a significant difference in the success of an organization and is supported by senior leadership.
  2. Team – Gather a top-notch team of stakeholders, decision-makers, experts, and potential implementers who are committed to working collaboratively on the topic and eager to make a difference.
  3. Facilitator – Invite a skilled, seasoned facilitator who can manage the process and inspire the team to explore new perspectives and insights for breakthrough innovation.
  4. Environment – Hold the session away from corporate headquarters in an environment that fosters new thinking, creativity, and risk-taking.
  5. Preparation – Involve each team member in a preparation assignment designed to explore the topic area from a different perspective.
  6. Timing – Put aside at least two DAYS for this process – using the second day to turn the many new business ideas into the best, new business concepts, ready for development.

Done properly, brainstorming will always create a wide range of innovative new concepts that will make a difference for your organization.

But more importantly, brainstorming will also produce a team of internal champions who will be crucial in the process of developing and implementing these concepts.  People support what they help to create.

Critics of brainstorming sometimes believe that the quality of the new idea is all that matters.  However, the best new idea in the world will not survive in an organization without a team of committed internal champions to oversee and support its development and implementation.

One-hour turnaround may be valuable in the dry cleaning business, but you can’t run a good brainstorming session that way.  Do brainstorming the right way and you will get lots of great ideas – with champions.

Doug is a Boston-based consultant with Insigniam, a global management consulting company. Connect with him through the comments or the Insigniam Executive Forum on LinkedIn.

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