Amy Nauiokas wrote an article for Quartz titled We’ve Been Structuring Brainstorm Sessions All Wrong.
“Rather than encouraging convergent thinking, as traditional brainstorm sessions do, the goal should be to encourage divergent thinking: the practice of finding new ways to look at a problem and generating multiple solutions. In divergent thinking, the emphasis isn’t to agree on the best idea—it’s to get as far away as possible from the most obvious answer.”
“At my company, we’ve introduced ‘collabotrarian’ groups dedicated to solving hard problems…”
“The important thing here is being clear on the problem you’re coming together to solve.”
“Don’t rush to build consensus. My teams have learned that if we think we’ve solved the problem in our first meeting, we aren’t remotely close.”
“Remember, a study by Land and Jarman found that young children tend to score far higher than adults in divergent thinking skills. As adults, we need to relearn creativity. As organizations and as a society, we need to embrace difference as a source of innovation. It is the best way to thrive in a world defined by complexity and change.”
This article reminds me of Andy Grove’s phrase ‘constructive confrontation’ in Only the Paranoid Survive.
More on Brainstorming in The Myths of Creativity.
Rick Nason posted a link to Nauiokas’ article on Twitter. Below are some tweets we exchanged:
AE: “Interesting topic. It seems like there’s a phase for divergent thinking, then at some point you have to choose a path. Andy Grove wrote about constructive confrontation, but once you decide on a clear direction everyone needs to be on board.”
RN: “Clarity in direction is a myth put forward by the blind squirrel who found a nut. They always conveniently leave out all the pebbles that they found with their same sense of clear direction. In war, as in business, history is written by the victors.”
AE: “Decisions may be based on intuition, judgment based on experience, statistically bogus metrics, or strategic wild-ass guesses, but if leadership cannot articulate a clear direction then there is no leadership.”
RN: “I respectfully disagree. I believe people will follow a leader who states that ‘I believe this is the best way forward based on what I know now, but we may need to be flexible / adapt / change at some point forward and make stuff up as we go. No guarantees. Who’s with me?’”
AE: “That’s a decision—as opposed to the divergent brainstorming session that never ends. The purpose of generating divergent ideas is that at some point you execute one (or maybe more than one).”
RN: “I fully agree that execution is everything!”
AE: “I like that ‘I believe this is the best way forward…’ leadership style.”
RN: “The real trick of management is developing the sixth sense of when to stick with the “clear” direction (committed direction may be better word choice) and when to pivot to a new clear direction. AI can’t do this, most humans can’t do this, but some do seem to have a knack.”
AE: Agree. And “committed direction” is a better word choice; I meant “clearly-communicated” rather than “obvious right answer.”
RN: “Leaders are not necessarily the best / brightest / most knowledgeable, but those who the others trust to have integrity and to genuinely have their collective best interests at heart.”