Subscribe to Inc. magazine
INNOVATE

Brainstorming Is Dead

Long live brainwriting! Three steps to silencing the windbags, undermining the politics, and letting your team's best ideas thrive.
Advertisement

Here's a sobering statistic about team dynamics that we wish surprised us: In a typical six- or eight-person group, three people do 70 percent of the talking. That translates into less than four minutes of floor time for each of the remaining participants--those who aren't hogging the conversation--during your next hour-long meeting.

"The topper is that the dominant people do not realize this," writes Leigh Thompson, author of Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration, in Fortune. "In fact, they vehemently argue that the meetings are egalitarian. They lack self-awareness."

So, if reasoning with them won't work, how can we wrest control away from the meeting tyrants? Rules? Admonishment? No and no, says Thompson, who's also a professor at the Kellogg School of Management and a team-building consultant. She has a better idea for fostering productive team democracy: brainwriting, which she describes as "the simultaneous written generation of ideas." Here's how it works.

Step 1: Write just one sentence each.

For the first five or 10 minutes of your next idea-generation meeting, every team member writes down one good idea or one proposed solution on, say, each of a small stack of index cards.

"I always like to use the smallest index cards I can find, so 3 x 5 or smaller," Thompson explains in an interview with the HBR Blog Network. "Because if I pass out 4 x 6 or, heaven forbid, 5 x 7 cards, people write paragraphs, and I want one sentence."

Step 2: Consider the idea, not the source.

When the timer goes off, all cards are submitted anonymously and taped or thumbtacked to a wall for the whole team's consideration.

"I have two rules: no guessing and no confessions," Thompson says. "No one signs their name . . . and I don't want anyone guessing who said what."

Step 3: Put it to a blind vote.

Team members signal their interest in an idea by marking it with a sticker or a Post-it note. Everyone gets a limited number of stickers and, if done right, the best ideas emerge quickly.

"It should really be a meritocracy of ideas," Thompson says. "In other words, I shouldn't be voting for the CMO's idea; I should be voting for an idea that I really think is going to be exciting for our company or organization."

Related articles
The Best Brainstorming Is Not Done in Groups
Meetings Too Long? Blame the Ball Hogs
A New Rule for Meetings
The Secret to Productive Brainstorming

Last updated: Jul 31, 2013

THE BUILD NETWORK STAFF

The Build Network staff curates provocative, actionable leadership advice for executive teams running sustained-growth companies.




Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: