Most health professionals agree that going on a diet is, for most people, a short term approach. They'll tell you that if you learn treat your whole life as a diet - watching what you eat and how you burn calories - you will never become overweight or out or out of shape.
I believe it's the same for organizations who want to encourage creativity and instill a collaborative culture where everyone participates in the growth with new ideas. Scheduling a brainstorming meeting may provide some short term benefit; but it's not the best way to ensure that the company is always getting the best ideas brought forward on a daily basis.
The October 2007 issue of Business 2.0 magazine has a great article about a place in Columbia which makes a lot of the US based and well-established learning/development centers look pretty lame. The article is great in itself - in addition to the feature story, the magazine boxed a few thoughts which resonated with me.
The article's author, Paul Kaihla, writes about the exciting development work done by one of the best thought leaders you've never heard of. So proliferate, he's called The Father of Invention by the author, Paul Kaihla. Paolo Lugari lives in Columbia, South America. What he says about brainstorming may cause you to re-think your position about it.
I've taken his thoughts here and added a few comments of my own for relevancy:
1. Brainstorming meetings should be banned. Creativity is spontaneous and formal meetings with a 9 to 5 agenda are poor forums for creativity even if they're "off site".
2. Practice the da Vinci code. When tackling a problem wipe the board clean. Prior learning and assumptions can subvert the process. Da Vinci said, "Step one is a tabula rasa."
3. Some don't play nice with others. Too many meetings intended for free thinking are dominated by just a couple of individuals. Nip this in the bud but addressing how much time any single indiviudal can dominate a conversation beforehand in a "rules for this meeting" talk.
4. Burn the corporate policy manual. To think freely you have to be free of restrictions. You want a new idea, take off the handcuffs. Or expect a less than new idea that is hamstrung from the start.
5. Rule out "degree-itis": Nobody gets to say more because of her or his education or title. If everyone actually believes they have a free say, it may actually cause new thinking.
6. Master the art of indiscipline. Why can't the desktop manager have a say in the development stuff? Or even the marketing of a product? Often the users are the best developers if they lose the attitude. So invite other departments into your meetings and ask to go to their ones.
7. Trash your Outlook calendar. I work with a lot of corporate managers who think they've accomplished a lot when they have busy calendars and attend a lot of meetings. The best executives, the most creative team members, the truly satisfied, keep fewer meetings and often make greater contributions as a result. If you're running from meeting to meeting you aren't being creative.