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Brainstorming, Group Think, Silos, Silence or Friction – Yes Friction Part 2

You were hired because you are smart, have proven yourself and will be an asset to your new company. Right? Well yes, but keep it to your self! I have learned the hard way.

The first company conference call I was on at my new job, I offered opinions, made suggestions about the process, and felt pretty good about my input. The next week, the same thing happened. I realized I was the only one who said much of anything, except for the company owner. I quickly learned that he carried a silencer. “We’ve tried it – it won’t work, besides – I have a lot of really boring put downs to deliver.”

Ouch. I got the message. He called it a company meeting – but it was really his “bully pulpit.“ The vibe coming through the phone or in a meeting was, I do not want anyone else’s input (even if I ask for it). I watched new people come and repeat my behavior. Between us oldies we wondered if we should warn the newbies. It did not really matter, he or she would quickly figure out there was only one opinion or idea that was important – that of the “influencer.”

The calls and meetings were monologues, always ending with, if you need me – don’t hesitate to call. No one put him on speed dial! Everyone kept his or her “idea babies” safe.

Growing An Idea Requires Friction. Unless someone takes initiative to challenge the influencer a good idea may never become "great" and a bad idea may sit on the grocer's shelves." Why didn't someone speak up when it came to colored ketchup? Kids like to play with colors, and food, so the idea may have seemed like a "no brainer". But when it comes to putting ketchup on a hot dog, Mom rules, and ketchup should be - well - red. Experimenting with color should be left to the playroom, or sometimes the kitchen wall.

Friction Ignites Ideas. Ideas should be like a match struck against the stones of a fireplace. Paper and sticks are added to the spark, and it all works together to generate fire. Heated, divergent opinion, create friction, and friction breeds hot ideas. If polite “group think” RULES little problems can become big problems. “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction” oops – maybe not.

When friction is stomped out, and consensus demanded, we have “sameness.” If divergent opinions are not voiced, added to, challenged, and ideas not allowed to morph, to grow into something bigger than the group, the result will please only the “influencer.”

Any Great Leader Should Create A “Safe Idea Incubator” – it is the only way breakthroughs happen. We should all feel like we can introduce our baby idea to the group, and get safe feedback. Help me grow this baby idea. She is precious to me, and hopefully to all of us.

Breaking the Group Think or Silo Code. There will be silent friction whether we want it to attend our brainstorming sessions or not. We need to mix it up, expose people to different thought processes and challenges. You cannot do that in an overly competitive or hostile environment. All participants must be treated as equals. Friction is welcome, personal attitude is not. I have always believed: “The only bad idea is the one that is kept silent.” The path to new and better ideas is to “Think Different.”

Really different-off-the-wall different. It is not an adverb, to think differently. It is a command to your creative self – Think Different.

Three Ways to avoid Group Think, Silos, Silence, and the Fear of Expressing Ideas

- Ensure participants that every idea has value – one way that can be done is to elicit private, untraceable, idea memos ahead of the meeting.

- Every participant has an equal role in the brainstorming session – set, and explain guidelines for the brainstorming session.

- Consider friction as a good thing that leads to fusion. It helps us grow ideas and prevent mistakes.

If you really want new ideas – you must allow them to take shape. ““The Influencer” must take a step back, listen, appreciate and silently evaluate. (Or thinking way outside the box – not attend the meeting!) Participants must feel that what they say or idea that they offer has value. It must be a safe, collaborative, environment designed to grow ideas, or your meetings will become a simple rubber stamp for “The Influencer” and a waste of company time. As Justice Brandieis said, “We are not won by arguments that we can analyze, but by tone and temper; by the manner, which is the man himself.”

If at all possible, hold pre-meetings that do not include the “influencer” then offer up your best ideas and see what happens. A real leader will be open to the process.

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About the Author

Connie Timpson, Extraordinary Leaders
Jacksonville, FL 32223

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