Why do some creative teams run brainstorming sessions like futbol instead of paintball?
I first thought of this analogy while channel surfing between a futbol match and a paintball game on TV. Both were at world-class competitive levels. In both sports, you could argue that, to win, you must score more goals than the other team.
Surfing to the futbol match, the score was 0-0. On the paintball channel, a quick win, I saw hundreds of paintball splats all over the field (missed shots), and several shots that hit the intended targets, wiping out the opposing team of seven players. Back at futbol, the score was still 0-0.
So how does this relate to brainstorming?
Brainstorming is a two-part “game.” In the first half, you define the problem to solve and generate a huge list of ideas or solutions. In this half, quantity counts.
In the second half of brainstorming, you organize, refine, filter, discuss, eliminate, and agree on the final best solutions to implement.
Brainstorming like futbol
I sat in a brainstorming session that was agony to watch. It was the futbol match: one ball, one kicker at a time. The facilitator had one pen and faced the flipchart, writing everything out in long hand, making people wait their turn while she wrote. One pen, one ball. I’m sure there were some great ideas, but I bet a few of the quiet ones in the room left without expressing their ideas, waiting their turn while the most outspoken person monopolized the facilitator’s attention. One person at a time, one kicker at a time. When time ran out, we had to reschedule a follow-up meeting to decide what to do with the dozens of ideas on the flipcharts. Let me repeat: I said “dozens of ideas.” And we never got to the second half of the process.
Score: 0-0. Worse than 0-0, we lost; lost time, lost productivity. With a roomful of high-paid thinkers, this meeting wasted our company money, not just in salaries, but in booked facility space that someone else couldn’t use.
Brainstorming like paintball
Let me take you to the ideal brainstorm session, run like a paintball game. The room was filled with dozens of flipchart pens and sticky notes. Everyone had their own “gun” and thousands of paintballs
Once the facilitator stated the problem, everyone started generating ideas, all at the same time, filling sticky notes with ideas.
The facilitator called time and everyone spread out their notes for all to see. We read them and added ideas of our own to piggyback on others’ ideas. Someone added a “silly” note. Everyone laughed and a few people branched off that idea, turning the silliness into a few ideas that might work. When the facilitator called time, the walls had hundreds of sticky notes. I said “hundreds of ideas,” hundreds of paintball splats. Many were misses, but some were great hits.
No one stood around waiting their turn, deferring to the loudest one, or waiting for the scribe to catch up.
When the team discussed, filtered and agreed on a final solution, it turned out that solution came from the quietest one on the team. We all won.