Enlightened Brainstorming or Collaborative Inquiry?

Creativity continues to reign.  In The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin reminds us that all humans are creative and the task is to unleash that creativity.  The exploration for processes that unleash the most creativity continues, with every observer suggesting something different, including yours truly.  One of the mainstays in this ever-expanding  exploration is called “brainstorming.”  As most widely applied today, the accepted technique is attributed to Alex Osborn, who describes the technique he developed, in the 1930’s, in his book Applied Imagination.  While adopted widely, the merits of brainstorming are still widely debated.

In Creative ConspiracyProfessor Leigh Thompson of the Kellogg School of Management suggests an upgrading of the brainstorming technique to deal with the many criticisms of its basic form.  Brainstorming 1.0 uses Osborn’s original four rules: (1) all individuals should freely express any idea, (2) with no criticism from anyone on the ideas, (3) focusing on the quantity of ideas to their quality, while (4) building on each other’s ideas.  Thompson suggested Brainstorming 6.0 adds four new rules: (1) stay focused on the task at hand, (2) without diving into details or explaining through stories, (3) encouraging everyone to contribute, and (4) reminding everyone of the problem being addressed when idea-generation slows down.  She cites lots of research to demonstrate that these enhancements greatly increase the flow of creativity.

What do the Ecosynomics framework and experience of harmonic vibrancy have to say about Brainstorming 1.0 and 6.0?  Let’s look at what happens when you stick to just the rules Osborn and Thompson suggest.  With Brainstorming 1.0, it is about the generation of lots of ideas, by whoever is in the room.  In the O Process, which I described in a previous post, this means starting the process in the thinking realm.  Everyone shares what they see as possible.  Clearly this is more generative than not asking people to share what they see or shutting people down when they start to share.  People are creative, as Seth Godin reminded us, and sharing is more generative than not sharing.

Brainstorming 6.0 addresses the critiques of 1.0 that people will get off topic or begin to dominate the airwaves, taking up most of the bandwidth.  So, what is being shared is irrelevant to the problem at hand or some people are not sharing.  Version 6.0 strengthens version 1.0 by adding the feeling-relating realm of the O Process.  Everyone is now included in the process.  These upgrades generate more creativity.

The full O Process (see figure below) highlights the remaining criticisms of version 6.0.  Is the initial problem statement the right one?  If the real problem is something else, then any brainstorming is irrelevant and inefficient.  Are the people in the room the right ones?  Do they provide the necessary breadth and depth of understanding of different dimensions of the problem?  More important than the number of people in the room is the requisite diversity of people in the room.  When building on each other’s ideas, the depth of knowledge each brings is important, and the breadth of relevant perspectives is important.  Does each individual see how his and her experience relates to the agreed-upon problem?  If she does not see how her experience and expertise relates to the stated problem, then her ideas are less relevant.  Does each person agree on the importance of the problem?  If she does not see that she cares about the problem and how her experience relates to its solution, she is much less motivated to see deeply into new possibilities — it becomes a simple mind exercise versus something she wants deeply to see resolved.

O Process

The O Process for Collaborative Alignment

As the O Process suggests, people engage much more deeply when they are clear that they share a common higher purpose, to which each individual brings a critical, unique contribution everyone needs to be able to generate and see the best possibilities from which to choose a future course of action that everyone can commit to and enact.  Said more abstractly, engaging the willing-intention provides the shared container and the relatedness in which each individual is invited to contribute the best possibilities they can see in their own minds from their unique experience and expertise.  When these possibilities are seen together, the probabilities that emerge are much easier to relate to and enact, for each individual.

From an Ecosynomics perspective, this suggests that Brainstorming 1.0 engages freer individual thinking in a group process than does stifling of the individuals in the group.    This might be more accurately labeled “competitive idea-generation” — each individual competes to share ideas and build on other ideas.  [The term “brainstorm” means a storm, a violent disturbance, in the brain.  This grossly limits what is actually generating the creativity, thus I suggest a more accurate relabeling.]  In this framing, Brainstorming 6.0 upgrades by adding the feeling-relatedness of the contribution each individual makes.  This might be labeled “cooperative idea-generation” — working together, the group seeks more ideas from everyone.  The O Process suggests the full dynamic of willing-feeling-thinking, invoking the shared higher purpose in which the requisite voices contribute the possibilities they uniquely see, which might be labeled “collaborative inquiry.”