19
Dec

Beyond Brainstorming

progressionladder03

What Humantific Clients Already Know…

Andy Warhol was once asked in an interview what he thought about Jasper Johns. Andy replied that he thought Jasper was great. The interviewer then asked why he thought so. Andy replied, “Because he makes great lunches.”

Well that’s kind of a good way to think about brainstorming too. Practitioners of team facilitation with years of experience can see value in brainstorming and like Andy’s perspective shift on Jasper, probably not from the direction that you might expect and certainly not for the reasons being endlessly debated in the mainstream media these days.

Here at Humantific we often ask ourselves; what’s the big deal about brainstorming? Other than driving attention to websites what’s the hullabaloo in the media all about? The topic seems to translate into a lot of dogs chasing tails when with a little more context, a little more insight, that energy could be better invested elsewhere.

As we have pointed out to our readers on this blog several times: In this innovation enabling industry; “It is widely recognized that brainstorming has not been considered a stand-alone creative methodology or technique since the late 1950s. No leading innovation consultancy that we know of [including Humantific] uses any version of brainstorming as a standalone method.”

In most practice-based innovation skill-building programs, including Humantific Academy, brainstorming in its various reinvented forms is considered introductory skill, boot camp level knowledge. Once organizational leaders are engaged in their innovation journey they rapidly see that serious innovation capacity building is like building a house. Saying brainstorming is ineffective is akin to saying a hammer doesn’t work to build a house. Clearly you are going to need more than a hammer! Yes indeed you will need to conceive of the house design before you start building and once under way you will need an arsenal of tools in your innovation toolbox not just a hammer. In addition to a great design and multiple tools, you need the deep knowledge of the house building process. No organizational leader that we work with today operates under the assumption that mastering brainstorming is going to get the innovation job done.

To build that innovation house will not only require a variety of tools, you will also need to know how to use them effectively. As a skilled cocreation facilitator, you should have many tools and know how and when to use them. Walking around as a hammer is not very effective. As an innovation leader what you want to have in your back pocket is more like a Swiss-army-knife.

For seasoned facilitation practitioners the key to extracting the value of brainstorming is to understand its ingredients, its DNA, the ‘what’s inside’ part and then know what is needed to reconfigure those elements in ways that bring to bear their full power. Experienced practitioners know how to get at the key ingredients and how to reformulate their value in the context of everyday work. This is “the great lunch” of brainstorming.

Years after brainstorming was created, Alex Osborn and Sid Parnes had already embarked on that reformulation road when they shifted towards a more powerful mash-up that included what we now refer to as root behaviors that operate inside an adaptable framework that is focused, not on ideation but rather moves from fuzzy front end through to implementation and today measurement. Osborn and Parnes recognized early on that much more than brainstorming was going to be required. Don’t miss that turn in the road.

Shift and build, shift and build more or less describes the continuous cycle of knowledge construction that has been occurring ever since. Many experts and non-experts have made contributions to that ever-evolving knowledge field at the center of this hybrid community of practice. If you miss all the shifting and building that has occurred it is unlikely that you will understand what’s needed and what’s possible today.

At this point, many additional tools, instruments, techniques, refinements and ways of working have been added or subtracted to that knowledge soup. Of course the hammer itself has also been redesigned many, many times and is today a shadow of its original self. For this reason, we don’t expend energy re-debating the effectiveness of the 1953 perspective as it has long ago been superseded.

From the early pioneering days of addressing relatively simple challenges to the current era of tackling highly complex fuzzy situations, integrating upstream framing and data/information visualization, there are two things that have remained constant. However you choose to slice and dice all of those many knowledge additions the principles of skills and behaviors remain key elements today.

It is mastery of root innovation behavior orchestration in the context of multiple disciplines that holds the possibility for organizations to create sustainable adaptive cultures today. Unless you are up for the long, painful route to house building, don’t miss that key ingredient.  Even if you seek to put your house on wheels or attach wings, a strong foundational platform is crucial to its success. In sustainable innovation culture construction everything builds from foundational root behaviors. It sounds easy. It’s the getting there that takes the real work.

If your organizations’ goal is to build capacity for proactive innovation, changemaking, adaptability, flexibility, fluxability, resilience, whatever you choose to call that, you will want to set your sights far beyond the capacity to simply generate ideas. Forward thinking leaders in every industry are busy on-boarding advanced innovation skills to the point where having them has already become an essential component in many next generation leadership programs. The truth is root behavior mastery is foundational to many advanced innovation skills. Mastering those behaviors individually and collectively represents an important step along the skills progression ladder, not the current end state of innovation capacity-building today.

Thanks again for the perspective shifts Mr. Warhol. Lets all have a great lunch on Andy today!

GK VanPatter & Janet Getto

Humantific’s 3 Universal Beyond Brainstorming Principles:

1. BrainFraming Preceeds BrainStorming

Unless you have undertaken some form of upstream framing with multiple participants there is a 75% chance that your brainstorm is being focused in the wrong direction, at the wrong altitude on the wrong problem. Before you begin, back-up and make sure you are pointing your brainstorm in the right direction. Conscious real-time participatory reframing is now possible. Understanding context of the challenge precedes getting to a strategic and meaningful launch point for ideation.

2. Everyday Innovation Trumps Brainstorming

Don’t wait for special occasion “brainstorming sessions” to skill your team from a behavioral perspective. Embed mastery of generative thinking as separate to evaluative thinking as one root behavior in your everyday innovation learning program. Do the work to understand that the behaviors appear in every meeting, in every organization, in every industry, in every country, everyday. Make an investment in understanding the dynamics of everyday innovation.

3. Practical Realizations Trump Media Slogans

Forget the endless sloganeering being generated in the media to attract readers. Stay grounded in real needs and practical realizations. Connect root behaviors directly into your already existing corporate values. If you have identified diversity and innovation as among your values you are half-way home. Now do the work to figure out how root behaviors are connected to these values. Doing such work represents a much smarter investment than reading yet another armchair experts blog post on “Let’s Kill Brainstorming”. Lets understand what trumps what and keep moving forward beyond individual techniques and towards inclusive innovation culture building.

Related:

Making Sense of Alex Osborn

Lost Stories Applied Creativity History

Teaching Complexity Navigation

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