February 11, 2004


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How little do I know and how little time to learn so many things? This is exactly what I thought when I realized that brainstorming is not a shouting match in a meeting where everyone yells their own ideas and shoots down other ideas. I was asked to host a "brainstorming" session for the marketing team which lead me to do some research on the subject.

Some of the areas which I had to consider for the brainstorming session were:
1. Manage egos of people.
2. Encourage people of junior rank to state their ideas in presence of their seniors.
3. Ensure people don't think that the idea they have in mind "rightfully belongs" to someone else and hence skips it.
4. Get everyone to contribute in a structured process.

With these goals in mind and the generally-accepted-rules of brainstorming:
1. Encourage wild ideas.
2. Don't shoot down and idea in the initial stage.
3. Generate as many ideas as possible.
4. Build on others idea.
5. Everyone is equal in terms of coming up with ideas.

There was still one issue to handle, how do I stop junior rank from getting intimidated by seniors and surrendering to their ideas? A lot of what goes on in human interaction is defined by power-equation between people. For example, in a classroom if a participant asks a question and get an answer in retort-style, he/she (most of the time) doesn't question back even if he/she doesn't agree with the answer. That is defined by the power-equation between participant-trainer. Same could apply in this scenario. So taking a leaf from my colleague's (Raj Dorwani) book, I settled on the Post-It notes.

First of all, to ensure that many ideas were generated, I asked everyone to jot down 10 ideas (not including what the marketing team is already doing). Believe me it sounded easy to begin with, but after 6-7 ideas people were struggling for fresh ideas. This eliminated the intimidation part. Next I put up these Post It notes on the white board and asked another person to accumulate them in Word and project it on the screen.

Next, we asked people to choose one BIG idea (which was big enough to generate the entire revenue of the company). But the constrain was - It HAD to be someone else's idea. This did the trick as most people are passionate about their own idea and hence tend to shoot down everyone else's idea. This forced them to not only think of others ideas, but actually adopt it and extend it. After everyone jotted down these extended ideas, I stuck up these post-its on the board under "THE BIG ONE". Then I asked the persons whose ideas these were to defend the idea while others attacked and criticised it. Eventually we rated the ideas on the probability of revenue-generation.

Next, I asked people to pick up 5 medium size ideas from the entire list which combined could give us the entire revenue. These could be anyone's ideas, including their own. When this list was read, we analysed the aggregation and picked up those ideas which were common in everyone's list. We got 3 out of 5 common ideas.

Finally I asked everyone to look at the list again and select 5 ideas (regardless of their revenue generation capabilities) which could give use maximum effort-to-result ratio. We collected all the results eliminating the duplicates and created a third list.

After this long drawn process we got 3 results:
1. ONE BIG IDEA, if implemented would get us the entire target revenue.
2. 5 Medium ideas, if implemented collectively would get us the entire target revenue.
3. A collection of ideas if implemented, would give us more profitability.

The end result was nothing but to get the marketing minds ticking in the right direction. Not all the ideas we came up with would be valid or get implemented, but the fact is some great ideas did come out of this process and now its upto the people to act upon it. But what was achieved was superlative idea generation with minimum of ego-crashes, intimidation, shouting matches. By the end of the session everyone was surprised about how different and yet effective this process had been.

All this coming from a non-marketing person was even more surprising. I am a pure techie and I was quite unsure if it would go thru successfully and would actually be beneficial to the marketing team. I will take their word :)