A quick warning about brainstorming

American businesses love to brainstorm. It is our favorite way to drive improvement.

We love to sit around a conference table and have the freedom and openness to express our feelings, give our opinions, and think “outside of the box”. And the higher the corporate ladder we climb, the more we love it. Our experience and years on the job somehow make our ideas even more valuable.

It goes like this: someone states the problem. Then we discuss it and throw out ideas for how to fix it for an hour. Perhaps people share their experiences from previous jobs. Perhaps there’s a conference or two that we pull ideas from. Maybe there’s a few good internet searches.

At the end of the hour, a consensus is determined (or perhaps the most senior person in the room decides) and a decision is made on how to proceed forward.

Months later, when the improvement effort fails to reach its mark, what do we attribute our failure to?

Poor leadership?

Was the “wrong” idea chosen?

Low performers?

The process of improvement

Brainstorming is a very important component of most successful improvement efforts. But a key component with brainstorming is not always how you brainstorm. It’s sometimes WHEN you brainstorm.

If you brainstorm at the wrong time, you might attempt to fix the wrong issues.

Step 1 – look for waste

In my blog Nine things that slow down your business, I list out some of the forms of waste that exist in the workplace. Whenever there is waste, you want to reduce or eliminate it right away.

If the issue that you are trying to fix fits into one of these “waste” categories, then now is a good time to brainstorm.

Find new and creative ways to get rid of the waste that is slowing things down or causing errors. Engage your staff. Think outside of the box if needed.

Step 2 – root cause

If your problem statement doesn’t fit in a “waste” category, then you need to look deeper into the situation before you come up with solutions.

As a human, you are biased because of your experiences. Something you see and feel every day on the job does not mean that you know the root cause behind it. It is common to blame others based on what is seen on the surface.

You might have a hunch.

The issue might seem extremely clear.

Often, though, a deeper dive into the process to discover a root cause will lead to a different conclusion. If you have silos, and find that staff are often pointing fingers to other departments for slowdowns, then looking for true root cause is the right next step.

Timing is everything

Once you find the true root cause (or very likely multiple root causes), then you can more effectively engage your brainstorming practices.

If you are running a business, and are finding it difficult to fix significant barriers, it might not be your staff or how they brainstorm. It might be WHEN they are brainstorming.

Do your work up front to ensure you are solving the right problems.

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