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Brainstorming – the other side of the coin

July 19th, 2011

The brainstorming process can be intellectually stimulating and professionally satisfying. Building from the ideas of colleagues provides us with solutions for many vexing problems. Whoever said that two (or more) are heads better than one understood the importance of the successful brainstorming session.

More than ever, corrections needs productive brainstorming. Tight budgets, changing policies, and shifting priorities demand dynamic problem-solving. What better way to tear down and impeding wall than with collective brainpower?

Of course, as with any endeavor that involves human interaction, personalities can get in the way of the goal. If the brainstorming process is coin, consider that there are two sides to it. Optimistically, I believe that brainstorming coin lands as heads much more often than tails. However we find ourselves faced with the other side of the coin more often than we would like. It is true that “heads we win in tails we lose”.

Corrections staff can help a committee’s progress by recognizing common pit falls of brainstorming. Here are six of them:

Theft – Granted, good ideas developed by group should be credited as from the group. Sometimes shared ideas do not always mean shared credit. It is not uncommon for someone to offer key suggestions towards a solution and have the credit pirated away. Those who purloin ideas and wrongfully take credit contribute to feelings of mistrust between colleagues. In corrections, this is difficult to rectify.

Paralysis – When committee members treat each other as adversaries, paralysis is not far away. When this occurs, the committee hits a wall and cannot proceed. This is because members take their own ideas too seriously and fail to acknowledge the thoughts of others. This lack of compromise halts progress for necessary ideas.

Committee kidnapping – Some staff are valued members to brainstorming sessions because they deliver a wide variety of solutions. As a reputation for creativity spreads, their demand rises. In short, some people are naturals at creative thinking.
When we introduce unwieldy egos to this, a Prima Donna is born. When an ego-driven ideas person does not get his or her way, there may a withholding of further help until certain concessions are met. The demand may be for an addition of their choosing to the committee. The Prima Donna may also insist on greater recognition and wider autonomy in exchange for ideas. If the committee depends too much on one person, a figurative hostage situation may arise. In terms of playground behavior, this is like the child who threatens to take the ball home so others can no longer play.

Personalities over ideas– Clearly, good ideas should be developed and not-so-good ideas tabled. However, the cult of personality is sometimes a factor. If the committee is swayed by charisma or moved by bullying, mediocre ideas are likely to flourish. The idea is not judged by its merit in this process, but by its origin.

The conventional wisdom that begs us to consider the source should not apply to brainstorming. Ego driven committees suppress new thoughts from original any contributor who just might not happen to be a popular figure.

Lies – Some ideas are openly supported in the official meeting. Later, however, the same idea can often be sacrificed in the unofficial meeting after the meeting. Like idea theft, false promises breed mistrust.

Stagnation – When the same people meet to solve problems, the dynamics might be too stable to be effective. Safe and comfortable do not necessarily make a creative environment. An introduction of new brainstormers should make members sufficiently uncomfortable enough to inspire creativity. Someone with a new perspective can wield the figurative power of removing a keystone from seemingly immovable wall.

Here are a few things to remember when battling the six pitfalls of brainstorming:

• Share your ideas. Don’t hoard them.
• Support ideas over egos.
• Concentrate on solving the problem rather than lining one’s nest with credit.
• Share responsibility so one person does not hijack the brainstorming process.
• Be honest and forthright with all committee members.
• Let your guard down a bit and don’t be afraid to brainstorm wild ideas. These may become the foundation for something new and important.
• Mix it up. Introduce new people and ideas when stagnation sets in.

Brainstorming is not always neat or kind. The tails side of the committee coin lands upward on occasion. Good leadership, good followership, and professional maturity are factors necessary to flip over the coin. Brainstorming should be about solving the problem at hand. Too often becomes an exercise in wading through the quagmire of interpersonal relations. With the many problems that corrections has to face, brainstorming sessions are more important now than ever.

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joebouchard Assessing the organization, Staff relations

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