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Management expert offers novel approach to brainstorming

For the purpose of driving innovation and achieving goals, leaders often turn to brainstorming among team members. But do some techniques of brainstorming get better results than others? According to management expert Hal Gregersen, they do.

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, Gregersen has developed an approach that focuses on generating questions rather than answers. He is Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center, a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the founder of the 4-24 Project.

Brainstorming for questions rather than answers, he says, “makes it easier to push past cognitive biases and venture into uncharted territory.” He calls the process he’s developed a “question burst” that consists of three steps:

    1. Set the stage. Select a challenge you care deeply about and invite a few people to consider that challenge from fresh angles. Give yourself just two minutes to lay out the problem for them, and then set guidelines for the process.
    2. Brainstorm the questions. Set a timer and spend the next four minutes collectively generating as many questions as possible about the challenge. The time pressure helps keep questions short, simple and fresh.
    3. Identify a quest – and commit to it. Select a few questions that intrigue you and expand those to follow-on questions. Commit to pursuing at least one new pathway and adopt an innovator’s focus on the “job to be done” and what it will take to get the problem solved.

Gregerson gives more details and examples of how the process works in the HBR article, and has described the approach in a forthcoming book “Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life,” a book included on our winter reading list.

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