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Principles behind brainstorming

This page will explain the principles behind why brainstorming works. There are many such principles and they are designed to counter our natural inhibitions in suggesting new ideas.

The fear of making mistakes

In raw nature, mistakes can mean dying, injury or being eaten by predators. Animals that take unnecessary risks do not live very long.

In the human jungle, mistakes usually lead to mental pain rather than physical pain. And yet mental anguish can seem much more frightening to many people than the fear of physical pain. In a modern society with a welfare state you will always have food and shelter, and yet some people fear that their whole existence is at risk if they say the wrong words in front of their manager. The fear of making mistakes at work can be the greatest fear of all because it can lead to the destruction of an individual's vision of their future. Never underestimate the fear that many people have about making mistakes at work.

Some people see the smallest of mistakes at work leading to lack of promotion, reduced salary, and even unemployment - and all of the social problems associated with this. They see their family and social life held together by the fact that they are working and earning money.

And now you put these people in a room and tell them to put forward crazy ideas which may not work!

Everyone has thousands of good ideas within them just waiting to come out. Even if you don't know what yours are, you will have them and those ideas will help improve the world. The problem is creating an environment where those ideas can come out without feeling the fear of making mistakes. This environment is the brainstorming environment. This is a situation where the group has actively decided not to judge anyone by what they put forward. Here, making "mistakes" and putting forward ideas which don't work is not only acceptable but is actually encouraged. Your ideas are never criticized and never judged. Your ideas can never be a mistake because they can be used EITHER as a solution OR as a stimulus for others.

Brainstorming is designed to remove, or at least reduce, the fear of making mistakes. The professionalism and attitude of the participants is the key to how much inhibitions are reduced. This is why sticking strictly to the rules, coupled with good training and a good facilitator, is so important.

The fear of the manager

Now, imagine you are with your manager and your manager's manager in a room for a normal business meeting. They ask you for your ideas on how well your department is run and how they should change their management style. Now obviously some of us do have managers who we can approach with confidence and who are actually pleased when we tell them. However, in most situations this is highly awkward and many of your true ideas will be kept to yourself, however valid and valuable they are.

This is because of the fear of making suggestions which challenge those people who can affect your personal future. There are many situations where valuable ideas are not put forward because of fear of "the manager", such as:

We need to create a special situation where the participants do not feel that their actions will harm them when they put forward ideas which challenge the views and feelings of those in authority. Brainstorming sessions are ideal for this as good managers realize that they can get valuable feedback and suggestions which they would not normally get. If you really want to improve yourself as a manager and get good quality feedback, try a brainstorming session on company improvement, but be very careful not to criticize at any point and remember to thank anyone for their ideas which were frightening to say. Your staff will reduce their fear of you if you join in actively and purposefully help to start the session by putting forward ridiculous ideas, however challenging this is to you personally!

Principles relating to Rule 1: Withholding judgment

Principles relating to Rule 2: Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas Principles relating to Rule 3: Quantity counts at this stage, not quality Principles relating to Rule 4: Build on the ideas put forward by others Principles relating to Rule 5: Every person and every idea has equal worth
From the above principles you should be able to see that brainstorming rules and techniques are a helpful way of generating a lot of original ideas. This is done by creating an environment which encourages these ideas to be voiced and helps spark off new solutions.

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