We can thank adman Alex Osbourne for the Brainstorm (he’s the O in the agency BBDO). Alex invented the Brainstorm in 1939 as an alternative to the usual meetings of “discouragement and criticism which so often cramp imagination”.
Alex Osbourne realized that an environment is needed where judgement is suspended and ideas have space to grow. As part of the attitude adjustment, Brainstorm facilitators run through the same set of stock Brainstorming rules: there’s no such thing as a bad idea, quantity counts over quality, encourage wild ideas, etc. These rules help attendees shift mental gears from their regular work state of mind.
Tom Kelley, co-founder of IDEO, frames the best rules in this classic 9-year-old Fast Company article, “Seven Secrets to Good Brainstorming“.
Those Brainstorming rules everyone agrees to at the beginning of the Brainstorm evaporate the moment we leave that conference room door at the Hilton. Idea generation is one part of the creative process, not the entire process. Brainstorming a mountain of sticky notes with ideas will not overcome the organizational cuts that occur as the ideas are developed.
I toured an IDEO office recently and it’s clear that they live the spirit of suspended judgement each and every day, not just during a scheduled Brainstorm. It’s in their DNA. Imagination continues as the idea develops all the way to completion, even as options are narrowed and choices are made. This everyday business creativity is inherently more enduring than what most companies accomplish in a one-day offsite.
Instead of focusing on the quantity of ideas developed at the front-end of the process, organizations should apply effort to continued creativity as ideas are developed. We should question why our regular office environment promotes “discouragement and criticism which so often cramp imagination”.
Until we solve that more glaring issue, any Brainstorming rules to suspend judgement are superficial are short-lived. The real goal afterall is not just creative ideas at the end of a Brainstorm, but more imaginative products and services that reach consumers and customers. It’s idea development, not idea generation, that counts.