Saturday, 28 November 2009

Worshipping workshops

In the business world there is nothing we love more than to get a bunch of executives together to do a bit of "brainstorming". Got a problem? Quickly, collect a gang together, grab some post-it notes, hug a flip chart and let's bang our brains together. We worship workshops. We bow before a good brainstorm. We love it !

But there are problems here and I often find myself on the receiving end of them.

The main problem is that brainstorms must have been invented by extroverts. They are a source of at least dismay and at worst downright fear amongst introverts.

As an introvert myself, I speak from experience. If I want to get into a problem, I want to think about it. Then discuss it a bit. Then read. Then ponder. Then talk again. It's a long, thoughtful process. No hurry. It's the "Tai Chi" style of brainstorming. It's the quiet force of a flowing stream wearing down the problem, cutting a new path.

But the extrovert pushes us I-types into a room. They time-box the problem. They leap about. They make decisions there and then. It's all action, action, action. Don't reflect, just Do. Think Karate. External Power. Chop. Thrust. Hack out a new path and surge forwards.

There is quite a macho thing in this, I think. As an Executive you feel you need to be seen to be decisive. I see this a lot in up-and-coming execs who want to prove themselves (to themselves? to each other? who to?). I see it in VCs, usually the younger ones and the analysts who jump in with cutting and barely thought out views whilst their more experienced colleagues sit back, take it in and ponder.

There is some issue to do with peoples' relationship with time here. A sense that everything is urgent. We must solve it NOW. I have very rarely come across a problem in business that needs to be solved now, now, now. There is always time to think, to reflect. It is very rare that you have to get together and solve it right now. Perhaps at the sharper end of stock trading, but not when it comes to business strategy. Never.

But what introverts do is to allow themselves to be swept along by their extrovert brothers. We turn up to the brainstorm. We pretend to enjoy it, but inside we are hating it. We barely get a word in edgeways as the extrovert throw ideas at the wall to see what sticks, running things up flagposts to see who salutes. And then horror of horrors, they actually rush out of the meeting and start ACTING on the discussion. Those decisions that were made in the few minutes of brainbanging were REAL! Yikes!

As usual in business, as in life, there is not a right or wrong way to tackle problems. There are just different ways. And lively, boisterous brainstorming sessions are certainly one of the tools in the kitbag for executives to use. But for introverts they can be a real pain and extroverts need to be aware of that before they go galloping off down that path, shouting yehaar and dragging their depressed looking introvert colleagues behind them.