A Lesson on Brainstorming from The Mahabharata

I was part of an interesting discussion on the process of brainstorming yesterday which reminded me of a small incident from the Mahabharata that gives us an important lesson on brainstorming – a concept that is often overlooked.

 

It was the initial days of the Kurukshetra war. A warm evening, with the dust from the day’s battle yet to settle, and the Pandava camp was buzzing with activity with soldiers preparing themselves for the battle next day. The main camp had the Pandavas and lord Krishna, along with their commanders, advisers and other members of the senior staff all set to discuss the strategy for the next day’s battle. Yudhishtra was at the head of the table and initiated the discussion by inviting suggestions from the attendees. He ordered Nakula and Sahadeva to present their thoughts first, who will be followed by Bhima and Arjuna. Lord Krishna was consulted last. Once the ideas were shared by everyone, they were put into discussion to finalise the strategy for the next day. After the meeting was adjourned, one of Yudhishtra’s advisors asked him why he was particular about Nakula and Sahadeva opening the discussion rather than the more experienced Arjuna or Bhima or even lord Krishna. To this Yudhishtra replied that he wanted to make sure that they youngest share their ideas freely and without any fear or mental bias.

 

Often times knowledge and experience gets in the way of thinking out of the box and coming up with simple and novel solutions for complex problems.

This approach also helps the younger members to ask great questions and learn from the more experienced members.

 

This is one lesson that I apply in all my brainstorming sessions. I make sure that members of the team who have lesser experience and those who have inhibitions in sharing their ideas freely get to open the discussion. I inform the team of how I’m fond of weird ideas and make sure that the weirdest ones are examined in detail. A successful brainstorming meeting relies on quantity, rather than quality in terms of ideas being pooled for the discussion. An open mind and the ability to provide constructive feedback goes a long way in empowering brainstorming meetings. This gives everyone a sense of ownership of the effort and commitment to the outcomes of the meeting helping the teams achieve their goals effectively.