f Leading a Brainstorming Session

Leading Team Brainstorming

How to Lead a Team Brainstorming Session
The honey, the bear, the chopper and brainstorming in a team

This is a story about Pacific Power and Light company in USA. They had a problem with ice forming on the electrical wires after snow storms. The ice had to be removed, or over time the weight of the ice may break the electrical lines. The manual process was slow, tedious and dangerous.

Pacific Power and Light therefore gathered some brainstorming teams to help solve the issue. The teams gathered were people from different departments in the company. There were linesmen, managers, secretaries and supervisors. It was said that even the mailroom personnel were invited.

During one of the breaks, one of the linesmen shared with some of the participants about how he came face to face with a big, brown bear when he was servicing the power lines, and how he narrowly escaped being mauled by it.

When they returned for the meeting, someone suggested training the brown bears to climb the poles to shake off the ice from the wires. Brown bears were very common in the areas that had this issue and they were strong enough to cause the poles to shake when they climb them.

Someone else then suggested putting honey pots at the top of the poles to entice the bears to climb them.

They then started to discuss about how to put the pots of honey at the top of the poles and someone threw out the idea of using helicopters to do the job.

At this point, no feasible suggestions have been given and all we need is someone who is critical to stop this process of ideas generation. Imagine if someone:
· Started to laugh at the person who suggested training the bears to shake the poles; or
· Ridiculed at the idea of putting pots of honey at the top of the poles(because you will still have to climb up the poles to refill them when the bears finish the honey); or
· Thinks that the power lines department should be able to come out with a solution by themselves, anyway they should know their job better than anyone else.

Any of these or any other negative comments could have stopped more ideas from following.

Fortunately, this was not what happend that day.

As they were thinking about how much resources it would take to place pots of honey at the top of every electrical pole and whether it will work, a secretary in the meeting pointed out that the downwash from the helicopters could possibly break the ice and blow it off the wires.

There was silence, then the team started to realize that it could work. They tested the idea and it proved to be a good one. Today, all Pacific Power and Light has to do to remove ice from the wires is to charter a helicopter to fly at low altitude above the electrical wires and the downwash from the helicopter does all the work. Linesmen no longer have to risk their lives to climb the electrical poles.

Moral of the story

If you are building a team, or leading in a brainstorming session, you may want to keep the g.r.o.u.p. concept in mind.

g.r.o.u.p. brainstorming concept

1. go for quantity
“The law of large numbers - the more ideas you have, the higher the chance of getting a good one.”

It does not mean that only people with relevant experience can come out with good ideas. sometimes people who do not have too much information are able to come out with solutions that are simple, yet effective. generally, the more ideas you have during ideas generation, the better it is.

2. record every single idea

Appoint someone to take notes as the team discusses. record down every idea that is being thrown out, regardless of who gave the idea. when we record down every single idea, we will not forget any one of them, especially those that seem silly at first. another important point is building on another person's idea instead of putting the idea down at this stage.

3. outlaw judgement

During the brainstorming session, focus on ideas generation and ideas selection. leave that to a later time when evaluating the ideas. "mind the gold" in other people's ideas and build on the ideas of others instead of putting them down.

4. unleash crazy thoughts

No matter how crazy an idea may seem, just throw it out and get it recorded down. remember rule number 1. - the more ideas you have, the more chances of getting a good one. some ideas may bring out other ideas. so just let it go!

5. period of incubation

if time permits, keep the session to generating ideas. record down all the ideas, regardless of whether they seem logical or sane. sleep on it, let your brain soak in all the information and allow some time pass before the group meets again. review which are the good ideas that can work and which are the ones to be discarded. the power of the sub-conscious can do wonders, sometimes during the incubation period, when you least expect it, a good idea may just spring forth!