How Brainstorming and Reflecting Help us Percolate Ideas


When working with an organization to develop their leadership training program, or even when working with an individual client as a leadership and life coach, I often facilitate brainstorming sessions.  We’ve all become familiar with this method of stimulating new ideas, building on those ideas and coming up with sometimes off-the-wall concepts we might never have thought of before. After such a brainstorming session, and before narrowing the ideas down to possible new solutions, I advise the group (or the individual) to let the list of ideas percolate for a while.  But, what exactly does it mean to let a bunch of ideas and concepts percolate? There are several elements I think of when I envision percolation: energy that keeps some things bubbling up to the surface, a base or current status quo that is infiltrated by the energetic elements, and a distillation of thought that results in something smoother and richer yet that is still grounded in the present.

The base or ground is the client’s current situation, the status quo, and is defined by the mission and organizational culture that exist in the present. You might think of the organizational mission (or individual current state) as coffee grounds in an empty percolator, while the organizational culture (or individual personality and values) is fresh, pure water.  At least we like to believe the culture is fresh and pure, filled with best intentions, principles and values. So, what happens during percolation that ends up resulting in something that is rich, smooth, aromatic, and intense? Energy  (leadership) is added to the point of boiling, so that the water (culture of the organization) is mixed again and again with the grounds and each time the end result becomes richer, bolder, and more desirable.

In this analogy, energizing and motivating leadership ensues during the brainstorming session.  People are engaged and inspired to come up with the most energetic, creative, innovative ideas without regard to whether or not the ideas seem feasible.  Any organization that wants to foster creativity and innovation must employ leaders who are masters of brainstorming and of motivating brainstorming in others.  However,  a company (or person) cannot live on brainstorming alone (think of vigorously boiling water with no coffee in the pot). This is where the reflection or percolation makes all the difference.

Creativity and innovation must have a way of seeping through the mission or purpose of the organization.  If there is no meaningful purpose (grounding) the brainstorming has nothing to enrich. Think of this the next time you or your organization decide to evaluate your mission and strategic plan.  First start with reflecting on the mission (best coffee available), add the purest water (a culture centered on values and guiding principles), then, add energy and motivation (leadership) that percolates again and again through the mission or purpose of the company.