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By Peter Lloyd
In the lexicon of psychology, evaluation apprehension theory predicts that when we work in the presence of others, our concern over what they will think can enhance or impair our performance.
We see the effects of evaluation apprehension in brainstorming sessions. That's why experienced brainstorming facilitators carefully prepare their participants for this group dynamic.
The best session leaders encourage the free flow of ideas and try to create an atmosphere of acceptance, so that even off-the-wall ideas will find a welcoming audience. Better yet, as a well-facilitated group of brainstormers works on a novice's weak idea and elevates it to a great idea, the once-tentative originator now "owns" one of the group's great ideas.
In your own experience, you may have noticed that evaluation apprehension improves a speech, for example, when you've rehearsed it well, where an unrehearsed performance can end up a disaster.
Musicians will vouch for this. When you've really got you chops down, you can take more chances and explore new territory in your live performances, especially when you're called upon to improvise. As Bob Dylan in "A Hard Rain" advised, "I'll know my song well before I start singin'."
In order to get the most out of a brainstorming session, the purpose of which is to draw as much as possible from each participant, keep in mind that some of your brainstormers know the song better than others.
That means, in addition to brining the best out of novices, a facilitator has to manage the brainstorming veteran who spews sparkling wit and truckloads of dazzling ideas. Nothing shuts down the uninitiated faster. Brainstorming is a tool for cross-pollinating and combining ideas that might not otherwise meet. So you never want to limit the output of your session to the gems of one or two hotshots.
One way to reap the rewards of everybody's thinking, is to pre-seed and precede a session with homework or online brainstorming and collect ideas beforehand. This way the less-seasoned can pencil out some their thoughts in advance, wherever and however they feel more comfortable working.
Now everybody starts out as a contributor and a lot of the evaluation apprehension--the kind that inhibits the unrehearsed--is reduced.
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Peter Lloyd is co-creator with Stephen Grossman of Animal Crackers, the breakthrough problem-solving tool designed to crack your toughest problems.