Thursday, January 17, 2008

Risk and Control

What would you say if I told you that there are people going to work every day missing great opportunities to create something new? Or how about an opportunity to do something cool where there's no risk and you have total control? Would you be interested in that?

Well, every time you are in a brainstorm you have an opportunity to do something neat - to help solve a problem or create something new. If the brainstorm is conducted appropriately, you should have NO RISK and TOTAL CONTROL as well. What more could you ask for?

A good ideation or brainstorming session is driven by setting great expectations, using a good facilitator, and getting the message through our thick skulls that we, the participants, are responsible for the results. Recently I sat in on a brainstorming session as an observer. One of the participants noted at the end of the event that while the brainstorming had been interesting, he didn't feel like any new ideas had surfaced. At that point I was very disappointed - mostly for him.

What he must not have realized is that one of the few places that you should be able to have no risk, and all control, is a brainstorm. After all, we want to encourage exceptionally broad thinking and foster wild ideas. Many of the ideas we generate won't progress, but may create new ideas or merge together to create something that has exceptional power. If you aren't willing to take the risk of creating or submitting a wild idea, and are unwilling to grab the control that is offered in a brainstorm, then don't be surprised if you are less than satisfied with the results.

Yes, I know that it is hard to accept that there's no risk. Everyone has some fear of looking foolish in any meeting. However, in a well-run brainstorm we need to learn to put aside what we KNOW and create what could be. This may require suspending belief in many things we hold dear, but until we take that control, we cannot push for the great ideas that exist just out of our reach.

An example: In his book Think Better, Tim Hurson relates a story of a team that was brainstorming new ways to package glassware. The packaging team had been using newspaper to package the glassware, and noticed breakages had increased. Upon observation they learned that the packers were reading the newspaper, which distracted them. The team decided to brainstorm new packaging options. One wild idea, thrown out in the heat of the moment, suggested poking the eyes out of the packers. Clearly not a suggestion that was going to happen. But it lead to the idea that perhaps the team could employ people whose eyesight was very limited or who were blind. Since these folks tend to have higher tactile sense, they actually reduced the breakages anyway. The idea was implemented and the costs fell. Here's a team that understood there was no RISK to creating wild ideas and took control of the brainstorm to create something really new.

When your team brainstorms, do they do so in an atmosphere of no risk? If there is a risk to participating, you've limited your team's ability to brainstorm. They will provide some safe ideas and call it a day. They will not take control of the session and provide all the ideas they are capable of, and will not take ownership of the results.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 2:33 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i liked the story about how the idea for glassware packaging came into being. i have quoted it in our own (german language) innovation blog "impulse für innovation".

we have a similar anecdote from our own experience: in a workshop which was looking for new ideas for a city park, someone suggested growing heroin in one of the greenhouses(!)

clearly, that is not a viable option. however, it led to the idea of growing and displaying exotic herbs and spices in the greenhouse as a complement to the already existing outdoor "apothecary garden" which displays indigenous herbs.



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