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Sherry Surratt, CEO of MOPS: Better Brainstorming

by Sherry Surratt

I was reading a Fast Company article on Better Brainstorming and came across an interesting thought: Are our first ideas the best ones? And a second question: Are our first ideas even good ones? You have to understand that I’m an Innovation Junkie, having worked with Leadership Network for several years, helping church teams in Innovation Labs and focusing on collaboration processes.

Now as the CEO of MOPS International (Moms of Preschoolers), I’m all about cutting edge ideas and the brainstorming process as it pertains to my organization. The article started with the usual steps: think widely, don’t be quick to judge ideas, follow the process, etc. But then I came across tip #5: Find the Second Right Answer.

Here’s what the author says:

Despite the old adage, sometimes it is good to beat a dead horse. You may have come to a few cursory conclusions and found some good-enough solutions, but that’s not good enough. Early solutions often aren’t the strongest—and they’ve probably been thought of before. Your job is to go deeper. Putzier calls it looking for the second right answer. “It takes a little bit of discipline because we tend to jump on the first, obvious solution to a problem.”

Yorton also urges people not to quit too early. Often, when an idea session is getting a bit chaotic, things start to get good. Avoid the urge to over-manage the chaos. “Sometimes people will be on a roll and someone will change the energy and take it to a different place instead of just letting it run,” says Yorton. “You may think you got something really good, but it might be the bridge to something that is ridiculously good.”

Some great points to ponder as a leader: Are we jumping too quickly on the first good solution, and are we willing to invest the necessary time and energy to get to the second iteration? Here’s where I’ve found myself many times after a good brainstorming session: We land on some great ideas and pursue our top one or two with great energy. After several months, everybody starts to run low on steam and sometimes we come to the conclusion, “Okay, that wasn’t a good idea” and we abandon ship. But we fail to analyze if it was the idea or the execution or if perhaps the idea was a bridge we were supposed to cross to get to where God really wanted us to go. Maybe we’re supposed to stop and ask ourselves some questions here. Is there a next part to this idea we haven’t tried yet? What did we learn from this idea and where could this learning take us?

I’m reminded of this verse from James 5:11:

As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.

Sometimes when God has led us to an idea, He just expects us to hang in there, be faithful and give Him time to bless it. Other times, He calls us to not just wait but dig deeper as He encourages us in Hebrews 10:36:

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

As a team at MOPS, we’re learning to 1) go for the BIG ideas; 2) give them time to work; 3) have courage to take them one step further; and 4) not abandon them completely before we examine them for “bridge” capacity.

As a leader, here’s what I’m learning: God is the author of creativity and big ideas. He gave me a brain for thinking and dreaming and expects me to use it. He also wants me go after the ideas He gives me with passion and have the perseverance to lead my team to the next iteration.

Sherry serves as the CEO of Mothers of Preschoolers International (MOPS), where her passion for moms and helping women reach their leadership potential shines through. She joined MOPS from an extensive background in ministry, most recently helping pastors and church leaders with fresh thinking throughInnovation Labs at Leadership Network. Prior to this, she served as central support pastor and children’s ministry pastor for the 13 campuses of Seacoast Church in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. She has two wonderful children, Mike and Brittany, a beautiful daughter-in-law, Hilary, and a most brilliant granddaughter Maggie Claire.