Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Brainstorm - Why, OH, Why?

It's not to be found on a weather map and you don't have to be outside to feel it coming.

Oh, no. Rather, all you have to do, is look at your email to see the clouds gathering that will eventually produce it. The emails have headers like, "THOUGHT STARTERS?" and "MEETING REQUEST" and "IDEA FORMATION CONFERENCE".

Other tell-tale signs include hallway meetings in which people constantly scratch their heads and business briefs about projects with vague objectives and very short deadlines.

Yes, we're talking "Brainstorm" time and boy do I hate it.

It's not so much the idea of it. No, it's more the misuse of it. The insistence on holding one to make everyone on the team feel like we're all going someplace. The irrational belief that every problem can be solved in a group - especially those problems that simply require one person to sit down and write out a thought or two. The utopian business belief that useful ideas can be group-generated.

I think we all know what I'm talking about.

Here are a few things I've noticed happens in these "idea formation conferences".

1) One person dominates and everyone is frustrated.

2) Junior people wait to find out what Senior people say before they say anything.

3) (Conversely to the above) Junior people use it as a place to prove their value to Senior people and say whatever comes into their head.

4) Men and women flirt with each other shamelessly.

5) You find out the Woman at the whiteboard who is supposed to write everything doesn't write down what you said and you get frustrated - meanwhile she writes down what Frank says every time he says it.

6) You find out the Woman at the whiteboard has a tattoo of Chinese letters on the small of her back when her shirt rides up because she has to write at the top of the whiteboard. (And you wonder where she got it and what it means.)

7) Senior people use the Brainstorm to make sure their ideas win and pretend that the group came up with it and now endorses it.

8) You hear the same idea a hundred times even though it was no good the first time.

9) The people who think the number of ideas are more important than the quality of ideas feel a lot better.

10) After the meeting, the lowest person on the totem pole has to type it all up and send it out in an email.

11) You get an email 24 hours later that the lowest person on the totem pole has typed up with a long list of ideas from the brainstorm but none of it makes sense.


Unfortunately, I'm working at a place that's very very fond of them.

Now don't confuse what I'm saying here to be a condemnation of meetings where people hammer out something - a la "The Room" in sitcom and television writing.

Nor is it a condemnation of large meetings where an open discussion between participants comes up with a thought.

These are often useful because they're spontaneous and specific, usually built around a concrete detail. They're not a conglomeration of people throwing things up at the barn to see what sticks.

Is there anything that can be brainstormed successfully? In my experience, yes, but only one thing. NAMES.

Okay, enough. Back your regularly scheduled blog about theatre and writing.

1 comment:

Dave Tutin said...

I could not agree more!

Brainstorming benefits only one group of people: those who have never had an idea in their lives.

If they had, they'd know it didn't come to them in a brainstorming meeting!

If you want to make yourself cringe check this out.
www.brainstorming.co.uk

The only thing worse than making idea-less people think they're having ideas is a company that makes money from the entire pointless process. Ahhhh!! They even have the nerve to say things like the "group leader will usually be you but you must make it look like you were chosen by the group rather than selecting yourself." I simply cannot believe they DARE put this crap in writing!