Brainstorming – An established method with built-in problems
The reason why so many people dislike brainstorming is that in a meeting of, let’s say, six participants, only three of them might actively take part: The moderator and two others. Either they get lost in details or some of the attendees take the opportunity to start showing off, prompting the rest of the group to simply hang on until the ordeal is finally over. Their focus on typing away on notebooks or smartphones can be interpreted as an expression of passive participation. But there are also people who are more introverted and prefer not to speak in public. Whatever the reason, you lose up to 50 percent of possible contributions to these meetings. So what can be done to activate the potential?
Double Mind Map as an alternative
Another option would simply involve adapting a method that is probably included in your repertoire already: A double mind map. This is a form of mind map – which you’ve certainly encountered as a regular feature at work – but with a significant difference: It is worked on by two people at the same time. For instance, you want to gather ideas on how to optimize a current product. So you divide the participants in your meeting into twos and ask them to complete a mind map. If the main purpose is to generate ideas, Person 1 writes down some thoughts along the main branches on the left. Person 2 does the same on the right. They then switch places when the main branches are finished. Person 2 now adds thoughts to the sub-branches on the left, and Person 2 does the same for the ones on the right. Afterwards they continue to swap sides for each new level. Once they have arrived at the end of the cycle, the next step is to fill up the individual main branches for each person, just as you would in an ‘old-fashioned’, traditional mind map. The advantage of this method is that everyone ‘gets heard’ at the meeting. Arguments or perspectives that might never be voiced in a normal brainstorming session are included here.
This method significantly increases the added value of brainstorming, quite apart from the fact that the team members are likely to welcome the variety. Not only can the ideas be used for internal meetings, double mind maps are also ideal to prepare for appointments with customers, as they incorporate multiple perspectives that can become relevant in the bigger picture.
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How do companies address new topics? Brainstorming is often the first step on the way to finding solutions, minimizing costs, creating new products or lots of other things. Many companies have adopted this process as the de-facto standard, although eventually it tends to become monotonous. So what are the latest alternatives?
The first thought when receiving an invite to a brainstorming session is almost inevitably “Dear Lord, no (not again)!” Martin J. Eppler, Professor of Media and Communication Management at the University of St. Gallen, and Friederike Hoffmann, Design Thinking Coach and Trainer, therefore sat down to come up with some fresh and creative solutions for developing ideas as a team. Their summary: “Brainstorming can be put to bed!” One of the applications they propose is called the “Double Mind Map”. It bypasses a problem that was a fixture in previous methods: There are always the loud ones and quiet ones in team meetings, so only a few people actually have the opportunity to articulate what they are thinking.
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