Posted: Tuesday 19th June 2012
Some of our guy’s were recently involved in a session where the topic was ‘How to present the perfect demo’. A good idea, as presenting our product occurs virtually on a daily basis, so… why not fine tune our presentation.
With a discussion of this nature, I felt it required ‘Brain Storming’ using some powerful - and accepted - standard techniques. The meeting didn’t require the attendance of the full sales team or to be arranged at short notice, so the commonly-used, well-worn and weak techniques could easily be improved upon. It was about time I grabbed everyone’s attention, and with sufficient notice, sat my colleagues down and talked through the qualities of such powerful processes!
Several days before my chat, I sent each colleague a paperclip and asked them individually to spend no more than 10 minutes listing down as many uses a paperclip could be put to.
As it was my idea, I naturally had longer thinking time, my mind generating the most obscure applications. And with each thought I had I was led to more and more ideas.
One brainwave I had was jewellery; ‘dangle a paperclip from a necklace’. This in turn led me to an ear piercer, which led to an ear ring, a belly-button ring, a nose ring, wedding ring and so on. It’s fair to say that arriving at 180 ideas for this paperclip was quite easy but, I did have more time.
My colleagues only had 10 minutes, so they were never, ever going to reach my challenging total. And in addition, there was a good chance that I would have listed quite a few of theirs, though definitely not all.
With the audience nicely settled, I explained that individual Brain Storming will produce more results than group Brain Storming sessions and, ignoring their raised eyebrows, I added “and I’ll prove it”.
I then asked each member to give me their total ideas. From the nine team members, their totals ranged from 10 to 20, which, considering the 10 minute thinking time, was very good.
It worked out that combining their lists and my 180, we reached about 240 unique reasons for a paperclip....
With the first of my objectives met, I proceeded with “Let’s now forget we did that, clear it totally from your minds", continuing with “I would like you all to think up as many ideas as a group that a paperclip can be used for and you have 30 minutes to do so”. And… I then quickly added, “Forget that, because I absolutely guarantee that together and with 30 minutes of time we would not get anywhere near 240 ideas”. Why would that be?
Well there are three recognised reasons why. I also believe there is a 4th reason, just as crucial, though unrecognised. These reasons are called ‘Blockers’ and I went on to explain what blockers were.
“If....” I said, “If you are listening to someone giving their idea - you will not generate your own idea”.
“If....” I said, “If you are listening to someone giving their idea - you will forget your own idea”.
“If....” I continued, “If you have been in a meeting and your ideas are continually ignored, chewed up, thrown out, belittled, you will become scared to talk, you will take the attitude that why should I bother, what’s the point, I’m always ignored”.
I believe the 4th recognised blocker is that going from a cold start like my colleagues did, with no thinking time, is also a blocker.
And I continued “With that in mind, the staff who weren't in the ‘perfect demo’ meeting may not have come up with any better ideas (although they may well have). BUT what I do know is that there would have been MORE ideas".
I’m not suggesting that every meeting should work to this format. But Brain Storming, if done correctly, works really well and gets brilliant results.
I went on to explain that once everyone has had a chance to individually Brain Storm over a period of quality time, then and only then is it time to call a group meeting. It’s imperative that everyone’s ideas are listed, regardless of how crazy they may sound or appear. During my chat I emphasised the importance of using the word YES to EVERY idea. To add value to this I enacted a manager asking an invisible team what their ideas were and shouting “Yes – good idea” at every made-up answer, then pretending to write the idea down on a Flip Chart. This method of individual Brain Storming, followed by Group Brain Storming and saying Yes to every idea meant that no ‘Blockers’ would appear.
My chat was finished off by a completely different type of Brain Storming which is ‘Reverse Brain Storming’ and this probably went down the best with the team. I know it has been put into practice a couple of times since by my colleagues at various client meetings.
Reverse Brain Storming is where you take the question and turn it on its head, for example;
Q. How to hold the perfect demo? Now reverse the quandary....
Q. How to hold the worst demo!!
The fun ideas that could come from this would have been hilarious. However, they would also highlight where our weaknesses lay, and as a result, we could work on them.