By Lindsay LaNore, ICBA

When the word brainstorm first came into being, it described a sudden, violent fit. Midway through the 20th century, an American advertising executive used the term to describe a “commando” system for attacking creative problems, and the idea took off. Today, as we start to look ahead at 2022 plans, it’s an ideal time to revisit the concept.

Jana Jurukovska, ICBA’s vice president for marketing and creative director, describes a brainstorming session as “a space where you can suspend possibilities, where you can not judge what is or isn’t possible, but just throw out solutions. They don’t have to be right. As different ideas pile in from different people and perspectives, suddenly new possibilities emerge. There’s a very different space and time for making a decision on what possibility to go with. Brainstorming is the place where you just dive in and share whatever comes to mind.”

If your bank is entering a new market, offering a new product or service, or establishing a new process, brainstorming is a tool that can help set you on the right trajectory.

Essential brainstorming elements

There are several key elements to getting a session right.

First, it’s essential to have a facilitator to moderate the meeting, nudge the conversation along when it gets stuck and encourage participation. Start with an icebreaker to wake up imaginations and relax everyone. Then, use a framework for what you are trying to solve, such as the phrase, “How might we…?”

“This could be how might we expand our market for small businesses?” Jurukovska says. “The phrase invites people to be part of that ‘we’, but the ‘might’ implies that there is no one answer. The ‘might’ is the possibility generation.”

If a large team is involved, be sure to encourage participation from everyone. You might even consider asking everyone to write ideas down for a collective share. “Then people who are a little shyer, or not as senior, will feel less resistant to sharing their ideas,” she says. “Often their ideas are really valuable; they just won’t be the first ones to raise their hands.”

There may also be times when the group goes silent, and while that might not always be a bad thing, there are tools for getting the conversation flowing again. “Ask them: if you have all the resources of Disney, what would you do? What ideas would come to mind?” Jurukovska suggests. “You’re removing funding or resources as a limitation, just to see where people go.”

As its name implies, brainstorming should be bold, so shut off your inner critic, throw ideas out there, suspend judgment and create possibilities. “You’re asking for imagination of change, and that’s always going to be messy,” she says. “Otherwise, it’s just planning. Brainstorming is supposed to unearth stuff. It’s supposed to let things wash away and generate sparks of lightning. That’s a storm.”

Lindsay LaNore ( is ICBA’s group executive vice president and chief learning and experience officer.

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