I have been a proponent for using brainstorming techniques for many years. For those not familiar with brainstorming, my brief definition would be: a technique for generating a number of creative ideas with a group or team of people – in order to come up with solutions to a challenge. An appropriate metaphor on this topic might be: two heads are better than one when trying to solve a problem. Adjust that phrase to ten or twenty heads are better than one and you have a valid argument for using brainstorming as an effective technique for creating solutions.
As always, the best way for me to explain why I believe brainstorming works is to share my own experiences as a facilitator for this strategy. In my previous business we had a very talented and devoted outside sales team who’s “Job #1” was to make sure our current and new clients loved doing business with us. It was our company’s goal to build a loyal customer base who “WANTED” to do business with us. No one in our company knew the needs and idiosyncrasies of our clients better than our sales representatives, since they interacted with our best clients face to face on a weekly basis. Thus I found it fitting to have our sales team intimately involved in solving challenges relating to the sales and marketing of our products and services.
One requirement of our outside sales staff was that they had to attend our sales meetings held at our headquarters from 6:30am to 8:45am every Friday morning. Being on vacation was the only valid reason for missing this weekly event. As an owner of the company, I ran these meetings for years until we grew large enough to hire a director of sales. However I always made it a point to attend every meeting held over a fifteen year span, in order to coach and mentor our staff. As you might guess, our meetings always started right on time and no one would have the audacity to show up a minute late. Our meetings were well planned; informative; and accomplished a great deal as we did everything possible to adjourn on time. Our team left the meetings with up-to-the-minute reports regarding their weekly sales and receivables. We crunched reports informing them as to which clients were up, down or going sideways compared to the same period the prior year. We also made sure the team left each meeting with confidence, passion and enthusiasm, coupled with the best tools available to perform their jobs during the upcoming week. To this day, I still get phone calls from my former sales staff who remind me that our sales meetings were the best learning and personal growth experiences in their lives.
Since our company was always looking for new or better ways to improve our offering of products and services, I believed our sales representatives should play a vital role in choosing what our clients needed. Then we would brainstorm to create the methods to market and sell our clients the new offerings. Because we met every single week, we grew to know each other very well. We had very little turnover and many on the team were with us for years. We did many things as a team after business hours like holding clinics and workshops for our clients as well as attending professional seminars to improve and hone our own skills. As a team we all tried to capitalize on everyone’s individual strengths. For us brainstorming seemed to be a natural technique to use, since we believed in “creative and unordinary methods” to accomplish our initiatives and solve our problems.
Since I believed no idea was silly or stupid, I encouraged every team member at every meeting to contribute their ideas openly at appropriate times. Ideas at our meetings flowed freely, whether we were doing a planned brainstorming session or not. Since our team members knew that they would not be criticized or laughed at for what may seem to be a crazy idea, our meetings generated many solutions to our most important challenges.
However when we had specific problems to address that needed timely solutions, we would utilize a semi-formal brainstorming session to come up with creative ways to solve our issues. I believe the most effective way to have success in brainstorming is to have a team that believes in the process and has witnessed the positive results that can be achieved. While larger companies invested in professional facilitators to run these sessions and adhere to strict rules, our only rules were to focus on a specific topic; set a time limit for spewing out ideas and logging them on a pad and easel for everyone to see; narrowing down our list during a timed discussion to come up with the best couple of choices; and finally choosing and discussing how to implement our top choice.
Like most skills, the more you practice brainstorming, the better you become at it. Some of our most profitable and successful sales campaigns, resulted from brainstorming sessions. We were known in the marketplace for performing unordinary and extraordinary efforts in order to make our clients happy and loyal. When campaigns and solutions are incubated by the team responsible for their success, there’s more passion to succeed. The ideas created during our brainstorming were a powerful and effective force in achieving years of success.