Stop the Insanity of Brain-Draining Sessions

My husband is in charge of a sales division. There are 5 sales managers and about 25 sales people.

Brainstorming Session's are boring

He and his team live by the numbers each month. At the close of the month, they either hit a goal or they do not. It is both an exhilarating and exhausting way to work.  

About half way through last month, the numbers didn’t look good. The goal felt out of reach. 

He said to me, “I’m gathering my managers today so we can brainstorm how to reach the goal.” 

Awesome! this is what I do for a living. So I asked how he was going to approach the meeting. “What do you mean? We aren’t leaving that room until we figure it out.” 

Oh… sounds… fun.

I don’t want to pick on my husband or his very real and very stressful situation. Because we all do this. Under stress, we try to muscle it out. We sit around a conference table in a room with no windows and assume we have all the answers in our brains. We think, it will just take time and a little pressure from the boss and we’ll produce the winning solution. 

I know you’ve been there. We all have. 

I’d like to offer an alternative. My alternative uses the underlying principles that the Eureka! Ranch and all of the Innovation Engineering methods are based upon. 

Ideas, at their most basic, are feats of association. If you want new ideas to solve a problem, you need new stuff to react to. Period. 

The same people, in the same room with the same data will likely produce the same ideas you had last month. 

If you want to change the output, change the inputs. 

If you can’t bring new people to the meeting, bring some new information. Even better, assign everyone on the team to bring some new information to the meeting. 

“Jason, before tomorrow’s meeting, find out what the [competitive brands’] deals are this month.” 

“Larry, before tomorrow’s meeting, find out what major events are happening around town over the next two weeks.”

“Tom, before tomorrow’s meeting, talk to a dozen sales reps about the customer objections to XYZ products this month.”

“Harry, before tomorrow’s meeting, do some research on the emerging trends in our industry.”

“Bob, before tomorrow’s meeting, find out the accounts that have never purchased products x,y, and z from us.”

When you get to the meeting, lay the ground rules. 

  • We want to explore a lot of possible options, so we are open to all ideas. Please speak before you think, in other words, don’t filter your thoughts.
  • Let’s not pass judgment on each others ideas. Instead, when you hear something that sounds crazy, build on it, take it further to the extreme of ridiculous. 

Then have everyone share their homework assignment, and use a white board or sticky notes to toss around ideas. If they listen to your rules, and trust you, there should be lots of laughter. This helps to reduce the fear and stress level in the room, which opens the door to creative thinking.

As conversation dies down, be prepared with prompt questions that push your team’s thinking. 

  • What do we always do that we assume we have to do? 
  • What do we never do with our sales people, our customers, our suppliers to make a sale? 
  • How would we reach our goal if we were all entrepreneurs working for ourselves? 

In one hour - stop. Have each person pick a favorite idea and spend 20 minutes ALONE thinking deeper about it, and be ready to present back to the group. 

At this point, each person is taking ownership of an idea. By the time you walk out the door, in just 2 hours, you’ve got 5 legit ideas, one that each person feels a personal ownership of. 

Decide how to implement all or part of the ideas throughout the week. Play king of the hill and check in with the progress each day - advancing some ideas, adapting some and killing some.

Some ideas may work this month, some may work for next month or beyond. But, I promise you, you will have a different set of ideas than if you had gone in with your original "brain draining" plan. 

AND, whats more, you will have an energized team who will want to know when the next “brainstorm” will be to tackle other pesky issues. When they get a taste of a different approach to problem solving, your team will be hungry for more.