You're not the only one that hates brainstorming

Is brainstorming ever not a soul sucking waste of time? Richard Huntington doesn't think so. He says (via Lateral Thinking):
I hate brainstorms.

I hate running them, I hate contributing to them and I hate using them to solve problems.

They waste huge amounts of time and talent and they are no f***ing good at delivering decent ideas.

Okay then. It turns out there is research to back this up. Most of the research shows that groups individuals working alone will generate more ideas that those working together. But as Bob Sutton points out this research is flawed.

The academic research on brainstorming -- the laboratory studies that are described as showing it doesn't work -- are rigorous but irrelevant. They compare how many ideas individuals working alone versus versus working in groups can utter into a microphone in the same stretch of time. This is irrelevant and silly, as the practical norm that people take turns talking seems to explain why people are more productive alone -- so this research rules out LISTENING TO OTHERS as productive behavior. Also, the way those studies are done makes it impossible for people to build on each others' ideas -- because building on the ideas of others is impossible when you work alone.
So is Brainstorming worth it? I can be if it's done right. Companies Like Pixar and IDEO have created some of the most imaginative films and products using brainstorming as a part of their process. According to Tom Kelly the General Manager of IDEO:
Brainstorming is practically a religion at IDEO, one we practice nearly every day. Though brainstorms themselves are often playful, brainstorming as a tool - as a skill - is taken quite seriously. And in a company without many rules, we have a very firm idea about what constitutes a brainstorm and how it should be organised.
So what makes a good brainstorming session? Honestly I still struggle with it. But here are seven secrets to good brainstorming and six sure fire ways to kill a brainstorm.

How do you brainstorm?

photo by: Khilwat

What to put in your slides. (Part 2)

In part 1 I talked about some things commonly found on PowerPoint slides that need to come off. Among those are logos and standard templates. Here are a few tips to keep your presentations looking professional and related to you brand without resorting to logos and the standard templates.

Create a custom color palette
. You may not have your logo on the slides, but you can still incorporate your brand into your presentation material.
Create a color palette based on your logo or on a photo representative of your industry. My favorite tool for this is Kuler. Just upload an image and let Kuler do its thing. You can tell it whether you want bold, colorful, or subdued colors.

Write down the RGB values for each color. You can enter those values into PowerPoint's color picker when selecting color for text, shapes, or lines. These will then show up as choices the next time you need to change a color. I create a color palette slide at the end of the deck to use as reference while creating the presentation. An example of this is below.

Once you have a palette use it
in a consistent way for text, shapes, charts, etc.

Use Grids to create a flexible, yet consistent layout. In Slide:ology, Nancy Duarte recommends using grids to maintain consistency in the placing of elements from one slide to the next. Check out Adam's example of a 4 x 4 grid system. Try a 5 x 5 grid or 4 x 5 grid. A 3 x 3 grid is great for using to the rule of thirds. Here is an example of a Fibonacci grid with the color swatches for a corporate color palette.

From Jeromy Timmer
For their work with Adobe, Duarte used a 5 x 5 grid on a white background with a corporate branded color palette. Check it out here.

Use photographs. People remember pictures better than words. This is called the picture superiority effect. In addition, people remember concepts better when they hear about it and see it (but reading does not count as seeing). Since this is a live presentation, you have the hearing part covered. Use pictures and images to reinforce the

The clip art built into MS Office is overused and cliched. Avoid it. Instead, use professional looking photographs from stock image sites such as or Flickr. You can find very creative and striking images from the stock photo sites. But if you need shots of people exhibiting genuine emotion you'll have better luck with Flickr Creative Commons photos.

Use fewer words. As a rule: If you are going to say it, then it does not to be on the slide. This will keep you from reading the slide, which bores the audience to death and reduces comprehension. Use keywords and headlines for the audience to key in on. But avoid complete sentences (other than the headline, or pertinent quotes).

Those tips will get you started toward better looking presentations. for more advice on Presentation design read the following.

Presentation Zen

Speaking about Presenting

Slide:ology Blog

Extreme Presentation

What to take off your slides. (Part 1)

Why is there so much junk on PowerPoint slides?

Olivia at Speaking about Presenting asks the question, "what would you like to see in PowerPoint slide design in 2009?" This is aimed at an audience already on the better presentation bandwagon. But I still see a lot of basic mistakes in PowerPoint design. So before talking about what I'd like to see in PowerPoint slide design is a discussion of what needs to come off of PowerPoint slides.

There is a direct correlation between the amount of unnecessary junk on the slides and the boredom of the audience. This isn't cause and effect, they both result from the presenter not really understanding the needs of the audience.

So take some time to figure what the audience needs are and get rid of the following elements from your slides.

Company Logo. The audience does not need a reminder of whom you work for on every slide, especially if you all work for the same company.

Animated Logo. One company I worked for had an animated logo in the top left corner of their standard template. Every 30 seconds the logo would spin around and explode in a fountain of color. I can only imagine what went though the mind of the audience, "I think I might buy . . . whoooaaa look at the pretty colors . . . what was I thinking?"

Page numbers. Page numbers are for books and documents. There is absolutely no reason the audience needs to know that a particular slide is number 42 of 168. Unless you plan on giving the audience a printed version of the presentation as a document . But don't do that either. If you must, print it with the page numbers and present it without.

Document control information. I've seen copyright notices, trademarks, file names and revision numbers (e.g. Company.Training.Pres ver. appear in slide footers more than once. Again, this might be appropriate if you print them (please don't), but take them off your presentation. The audience does not need to see these.

Standard Templates. All of the standard Microsoft PowerPoint templates stink. Horribly. The ones that aren't completely awful are so overused that they've become a cliche. Don't use any of them. It is possible to get a well designed, thoughtful and useful template. But be careful, some designers think putting an animated logo on every slide is a good idea.

Bullet Points. Don't get me started on bullet points.

All of these things have one thing in common: they don't serve the needs of the audience. Once you take all of that junk out of your presentation, you can keep a professional, brand oriented appearance using the tips in part 2.

Photo: Phoenixdailyphoto

Lean: less complicated than you think.

What does it mean to practice Lean? Jon over at Gemba Penta Rei has the most elegant description of Lean I've seen:
  1. Set the rules
  2. Follow the rules
  3. Improve the rules
Jon describes this as being "sensible and simple, to the point of being stunning." And I agree. In fact, I will be incorporating a tweaked version of this in all of my lean training and six sigma training from this point forward. Tweaked, to remove the baggage laden word "rules" and incorporate the lean term "standard." so it becomes:
  1. Set the Standard
  2. Follow the Standard
  3. Improve the standard
All of the other lean tools (5S, Kanba, Visual controls, etc) are simply means to do one of those three things. If you are applying lean to your work area it is important to understand where you need to start.

Set the standard

This means to set the standard work. You can not improve if everybody doing the same job does it differently. Work with the people who actually do the job to develop a current best practice, and make that the standard process everybody follows. This is not just for front line workers, this applies to the CEO as well.

Follow the standard

Many managers assure me they have standard work procedures in place, but when pressed admit that it is only followed half the time. In this case we need to work on following the standard. This does not mean cracking the whip, or yelling at people, or holding other people accountable.

Find out why people are not following the standard and use lean tools to correct the process. Make the process as simple as possible and use signs and visual cues to make the next steps obvious. Build in visual controls to so that deviations from the standard are apparent. Once everyone is following the standard work, you will be able to see what is hard to do or doesn't work well and you can move on to improving the standard.

The best predictor of future success is current success. If you are able to manage a mediocre process, you will be able to manage an improved process. Likewise, if you can't manage an existing process, an improved one will likely revert to chaos before too long.

Improve the standard

As when setting the standard, get your front line people involved in improving the standard work. They know exactly where the current process falls short and they'll probably have good ideas for improving it. Make this a part of the culture instead of something that happens in big projects infrequently. Encourage employees to make suggestions any time, evaluate those suggestions with the group, and follow up with her whether you implement the suggestion or not. Facilitating this improvement cycle should be part of a manager's standard work.

This is the foundation of any improvement strategy whether it is lean, six sigma, TQM or the Red X. Improvement is impossible without managing those three things.

So what do you need to work on in your area? Setting standards, following standards, or improving the standards?

Photo: William Couch