Tony Mann, our Chief Examiner for the Facilitation Course, offers his advice on successful brainstorming
I had cause to think about ‘Brainstorming again while on a trip to Australia. I was there to launch the Facilitation Practitioner qualification in a workshop with Accredited Training Organisation trainers and to speak at a breakfast seminar explaining ‘facilitation’ and its value to an audience of project managers, Business analysts and IT managers.
One of the points I was making using the ‘right’ tool to tackle a task. One of my slides showed a series of pictures of different ‘tools’: to open bottles, wines and cans. Each needs a different tool to open them.
The day before I had been on a tour of the Sydney Opera House, an iconic building which has become synonymous with Sydney as a modern, exciting city. What I didn’t know was the story of how the design came to be chosen and how the design became a reality. Surprisingly the original design was nothing more than some pen stroked on a page. However, the shapes were so inspiring that the judges decided to select it as the winner. However, the design proved impossible to construct and the engineers lost confidence in being able to turn the design into a building.
Then the architect, Jørn Utzon, had a sudden inspiration by looking at an orange of all things. He saw that the sections of the roof were like the sections of the orange and by taking them from the whole the individual parts could be made.
Brainstorming doesn’t just happen – it comes about through a sensory stimulation. I ‘collect’ strange and interesting: facts, artifacts, photos and concepts to help groups think differently when they need a new idea or to challenge redundant situations. So, for instance, the fact that in F1 racing the tyres are made to wear out! Air fresheners ‘go off’ when you pass. What use is that – who knows! But it might just, one day provide the inspiration for a Jørn Utzon!
That reminded me of a time working with an IT department that needed to ‘work smarter’. We gave them three ‘tools’ to work with: Brainstorming for encourage new ideas, SCA (Symptom – Cause – Action) to encourage thinking from the symptoms through to new actions and ‘A Day at the Zoo’ to imagine the department as an allegory and to use that to think how things could change. The workshop proved very effective.
I also climbed the Sydney Bridge and leant en route to the top that the person who conceived the idea had patented the idea years before it became a reality. Some ideas take a while to become a reality, however, we need to encourage new thinking to challenge the status quo and come up with iconic new ideas.
The APMG Facilitation Qualification is designed to train managers and specialists to be able to help groups tackle intransigent problems and issues. Brainstorming, SCA and A Day at the Zoo are just three of the many tools and techniques that participants will learn.