"How To Amplify The Quiet Ones"
Your team’s introverts never fight for the brainstorming blue marker pen. They leave it to the extroverts to occupy the white board, the ideas, the airwaves and the debate. Consequently, we wind up with a shallower harvest of ideas for the organization. Voluminous and loud doesn’t mean most smart or insightful, but too often the same bolshie few dominate the proceedings. Over time this breeds a dangerous winnowing process entertaining a narrow band of ideas produced by the noisy minority. How do we unleash the full power of these introvert types, who don’t bark and don’t bite? This is especially important in Japan where the culture drives modesty, anonymity and a teishisei (低姿勢)or low profile.
"Think and Write" is a great tool to tone down the airwaves competition. Instead of sponsoring a streetfight shoutfest of ideas, like the old style stock exchange floor brokers bellowing orders to chalkies, we start with stone silence. Have everyone write down their ideas on the topic, and encourage them to pump those babies out like confetti, as many as possible in the time allotted. The extroverts, the Type A personalities and the senior managers in the room are reduced in power, as we create silent space for ideas from all.
Having done some thinking on the subject, we might call on specific individuals to nominate their ideas and then transfer these to a whiteboard, so everyone can follow the idea milieu. It is a good approach to start the ball rolling with the introverts. They have nowhere to hide now, because they have written something down and are not going to be embarrassed by a poverty of input. The extroverts can bring up the idea rearguard and add any points that have been missed.
Pre-meeting detailed agendas are also a great aid to idea generation. Turning up at the brainstorming session and being brilliant may be a bit tricky. It isn’t easy if you have never dwelled deeply on the topic or tried to plumb the depths of a fussy business conundrum. A bit of context around the problem always helps, as does an indication of what we are trying to achieve from the exercise. With this agenda distributed well beforehand, everyone will have had time to gather thoughts. The extroverts probably won’t need much time, because they are on-the–fly types anyway, but the introverts will appreciate some space.
Try to schedule brainwork for the mornings. The vast majority of people are fresher in the morning that in the afternoon, especially after lunch (also a good idea is to provide lunch and make it light). Don’t always assume you have to swallow the whole innovation exercise in one gulp. A rolling feast of idea generation sessions may work very well, as the team cooks the ideas slowly and more thoughtfully.
Taking idea creation breaks throughout can also be effective. Concentration spans vary and regular brain rest breaks may help to get more and better ideas emerging. We get caught up in the time schedule and just keep pushing forward. Our deeper thinkers may need more frequent breaks.
Small group work can also sort out the rowdy redwoods in the room and allow some sunlight to fall on the introvert undergrowth. If we appoint a facilitator to each small group and make it their job is to get ideas out from all, then we will see more participation by the shyer team members. Idea creation and public announcement speed differs because some people are internalisers carefully analysing, sifting, sorting, and shaping before they offer up their thought morsel to the masses. Provide plenty of time for the brain digestive process to run its course.
Importantly, allow no criticism of ideas in the idea generation stage. If you want to silence an introvert forever, just say their idea is "rubbish". You cancel their idea ticket right there, because they (and all their introvert buddies who are watching), will withdraw from the fray and leave the spoils to the extroverts. We want as many crazy ideas as possible in stage one. My dumb idea might trigger a brilliant idea by you. We need that trigger though.
Marshall the full brainstorming power of the team by planning for it. Unleash the introverts, the shy and the timid by providing an innovation path for them to tread.