Mind Power


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Some years ago a hundred New York Telephone Co. employes gathered for an unusual business session. They had been asked by the company to think up new ways of recruiting employes, so as to end the chronic shortage of telephone operators and other workers. The employes tackled the problem by “brain-storming,” a technique which many firms find useful in hatching ideas_ not only for administrative problems but for new sales methods, new products and new uses for products.
In a typical brainstorm session the participants are seated around a table and the problem is stated. Then recourse is had to the “subconscious” of the brainstormers. In an atmosphere of “anything goes,” they throw out whatever ideas come into their heads. The theory is that some good ideas will come into this way, and even outlandish ones may trigger good ideas. A stenographer transcribes the proceedings.
To avoid inhibitions, participants are of nearly equal rank, often below the level of the company’s usual policy-making personnel. Criticism of ideas is barred. “Killer phrases,” such as “That won’t work” or “it’s been everyone in free-wheeling mood.
The telephone company’s session was divided into roundtable groups of 15 persons each. Within 20 minutes they produced 150 ideas for recruiting employes. The company man agement then evaluated the ideas. Many have been put to use. For instance, all employes were asked to carry “introduction cards” to give to friends and relatives who might be interested in working for the company. Another accepted suggestion was to send employes back to visit their high schools, to tap students for future telephone jobs.
U.S. Steel used brainstorming to attack marketing problems. Reynolds Metals used it to develop sales plans for a new product. In 45 minutes Ethyl Corporation turned up 71 ideas concerning a new booklet on employe-benefit plans. A session at General Motors’ AC Spark Plug Division produced more than 100 suggestions on how to smoothe a casting.
Only about six percent of the ideas from any one session are expected to be practical. “There’s a lot of fluff in any brainstorm session but, after all, new ideas are hard to come by,” says one businessman who has used the technique. “but just as important as the ideas,” he adds, “is the stimulation the experience gives the participants to use their imagination.” The creator of brainstorming was Alex F. Osbom, a co-founder of Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osbom advertising agency. Osbom began using small groups of the agency’s employes many years ago to brainstorm such things as names for new products and sales slogans for client. Later BBD&O organized brainstorming as a regular service for all its clients. They brainstormed all sorts of problems, including such complex questions as, “what public-relations problems will public utility companies face ten years from now?”
The application of brainstorming has not been limited to sales promotion. Foremen at Uniroyal’s Naugatuck, Conn., footwear plant used short brainstorm sessions to tackle such problems as how to improve shoe construction. “Most of the ideas are small,” said a supervisor of employment and training at the plant, “but the important benefit is the unusual interest and increased number of ideas resulting from creative discussion.”
Brainstorming even works in reverse. At the Hotpoint Company in Chicago, two or three employes picked for discussion a product or method of operation. One man took the position that everything about the product or method is wrong and offered a different solution. Another man must attack the first employe’s solution and offer an alternative of his own.
The plant superintendent and two foremen brainstormed a plan to install a conveyor system, for which $200,000 had been appropriated. They worked out a different system, which was installed at a cost of about $4000. Brainstorming, by saving the company $196,00, paid handsome dividends.

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