Richard Maun – Silent Brainstorming

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Silent Brainstorming

10 June 2013

Sssshhh….it’s time for some peace and quiet, because that is often where great thinking occurs. In the car, walking the dog, having a sunbathe (well, two of the three are likely to happen) …when we are quiet, and our bodies distracted, our thoughts tumble around and often spill out a great idea. Like a winning bingo-ball that’s popped up. House!

A recent programme on Radio 4 (All in the mind) talked about new research that showed group brainstorming activity doesn’t work. People often feel intimidated by their noisy/experienced/creative/pushy colleagues and instead of contributing, they sit quietly.

I recently attended a brainstorming session where despite there being an ‘anything goes’ approach some of my ideas were talked away by both friends and the facilitator and didn’t make it onto the white board …until I insisted that ‘anything goes’ meant just that!!

Censored brainstorming (which in my experience is the norm) is a waste of time and resources. Instead, we need people to feel safe, not be brow beaten by colleagues, and allowed to flex their creativity in ways that creates value. This brings us to the concept of the Silent Brainstorm. We have two options:

1) Hand everybody in the group a Post-It note and give them 2 minutes in silence to write down their ideas. Then stick the notes up in silence and give people chance to read them. In silence. Then give them a second round of 2 minutes of silence for more thinking, which will allow people to cross-fertilise ideas. We used this at Cranfield many times and it never failed to produce useful ideas.

2) Give people space. Instead of forcing them to be creative at the appointed time, give people the chance to go for a walk and to be reflective. Ideas can be pooled the following day. Again, the key is that people feel safe – nobody is allowed to ridicule or belittle ideas and ‘cutting humour’ is also not allowed. Saying ‘it was only a joke’ is a lie. It wasn’t, it was criticism dressed up as comedy.

Silence really is golden and if you want to harness the creative power of your team, then use a silent brainstorming approach and give people the space to think in.

Where do you like to think?
Who has good ideas and yet rarely speaks up?
When can you use silent brainstorming to help your business?

The choice is yours!

Next week: Review your plans


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