Clean Thinking, Management Mastery: Teams, Problem Solving

The solution is outside.

Every brainstorming session I’ve encouraged in someone else or in a team I was leading was hampered by inappropriate application of judgment.

There should be no judgment in the brainstorm zone.

Some mistakenly think the purpose of brainstorming is to find the solution.

Nope.

The purpose of brainstorming is only to bring fresh ideas and perspective to the table. Full stop.

This is why people get tripped up and don’t brainstorm well. If you think the point is to come up with the answer, then you are filtering ideas through the lens of judgment.

Here’s how to tackle it instead: whether you are doing this for yourself, instructing a team, or as a colleague within a team, make it a contest for the absolute zaniest ideas. If your teams are at all like mine, they will still apply some measure of filter. The idea is to get people comfortable with the true art of brainstorming, which is to find ideas that aren’t already on the table.

Evaluating those ideas for relevance and application to the problem is NOT brainstorming. That’s an entirely different step.

My teams, like yours, are made up of smart, capable people with varied talents. You are naturally one of those team members. There is a wide variety of backgrounds and personalities and experiences. And brainstorming is required because the answer to the issue or question on the table is not already obvious to this great group of people.

If the solution hasn’t come to smart people yet, especially after going around and around a few times, then it is outside – outside the room, outside the current framework, outside your existing work streams, outside the host of experiences among the team members.

The solution is outside.

The only way to bring the potential solution inside is to brainstorm. Your thinking must go outside.

But there’s no thinking outside if judgment is blocking the door.

Remember: the purpose of brainstorming is NOT to solve the problem. The purpose is simply to go outside. Once the ideas are brought inside, your team can then evaluate whether the solutions might rest among those ideas.

Come on! Tell us what you're thinking.