October 10, 2012

Don't Waste the Whiteboard

Over the past few years I've become a fan of the whiteboard. In our offices we keep a stocked arsenal of dry erase markers. I like to be ready at all times! In most cases when my chicken scratch winds up on the wall, it's for one of a couple purposes: 1) to take notes of a conversation our staff is having on a current issue or 2) for brainstorming. (I've been known to bust out the whiteboard during my sermons now and then, but that's mainly just to put a visual to the teaching. Different scenario.) When we use the whiteboard to keep a visual record of our dialogue, I now take a picture with my phone and clip it into Evernote so that I can follow up with it later. It's incredibly helpful. But then...there's the brainstorming. What about the brainstorming? What do we do with that? Maybe an even better question for us to ask is WHY? Why do we brainstorm? This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

Humor me, if you will, but I've recently wondered, "If the whiteboard could talk, what would it say?" After our staff - or one of our teams - or you and your team - huddle together, attempt to let our minds go "outside the box", spew our humble, yet hopefully creative musings all over the wall in full color display, what would the whiteboard say to us? Here are a few things that I think we might possibly hear:
  • Is that all you've got?
  • They're never going to say everything they're thinking for fear of your criticism.
  • Why did you quit? Right when you started to get somewhere...you quit.
  • What's the point if you don't risk something? What's the point if you don't go out on a limb and put this to the test?
The definition of brainstorming could be described as "an exercise in which members of a group attempt to creatively solve a problem by gathering a list of spontaneous ideas". (I borrowed a morsel from the Wikipedia definition) So a few things have to actually happen for brainstorming to occur:
  1. You have to have a group. Rarely can brainstorming be a solo activity.
  2. Members of the group can't enter the session with preconceived ideas. This would not be spontaneous.
  3. Members of the group have to trust each other. NO ONE will feel the freedom to spout out off-the-wall or (potentially) crazy or risky ideas when the fear of criticism or rejection hangs looming over their heads.
  4. There has to be an understanding that for a certain period of time - even if it's just for a few minutes - anything goes. If you're really striving for "spontaneous creative thought", you can't be afraid of the ridiculous. [And there has to be an understanding that a vital part of brainstorming occurs afterwards: weeding out the ridiculous to find the potentially real game-changer. While I have to feel the freedom to inject my thoughts without limits, I also have to be mature enough to see them thrown out later.]
  5. And finally, if you're the leader - if you're the one organizing, moderating, and leading the brainstorming session - and you're not really at the end of the day wanting the creative input of others - if what you actually want is for someone to rubber stamp or affirm your own ideas - don't waste the whiteboard! Don't waste the time and energy and brain-power and God-given courage for spontaneity of those who are willing to lay it out there. Just do it the way you want it done and be done with it.
Brainstorming is risky. It's time-consuming. It's work. But if you're willing to do the work, take the time, and (most importantly) take the risk, it will be worth it in the end. Because if all you come away with is ONE really good idea, you've got so much more than what you started with. So do the work. Take the time. And take the risk!

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