My first brainstorm session in Asia was a big miss. The group was small and consisted of 7 Thais (and 1 German, the owner of the company). They wanted to develop creative strategies to develop new markets for their company. A great brainstorm topic!
When the brainstorm does not take off
Brainstorming works when people open up and accept the somewhat weird flow of ideas and associations that pops up in their minds. But here the flow would hardly take off and it was weird to an extent that no useful idea was generated. This had never happened to me before. So I tried other methods. Nothing helped and a couple of hours later the staff were looking at me as if I was a monkey from a far away country. I was desperate and clueless.
The breakthrough came several weeks later when I had a chat with an Ozzie friend that was already living in Bangkok for quite some years. Taking initiative is generally not rewarded in Thai (organisational) culture. You say what the boss wants to hear and do what he is asking you to do. So randomly generating new ideas for improvement is like asking the sun to shine in the middle of the night. It’s near to impossible.
(Actually my brief by the owner was to involve the staff more in finding ways to keep the company afloat, I should have been warned…)
Let Asians copy and they will brainstorm
But the good news is: there is a way around. Thai (and Asians in general) are great at copying. So I now start my brainstorms by starting the brainstorm myself. By showing what I want participants can copy from my examples. At first the ideas are standard but little by little people are loosening up and at a moment genuinely great ideas pop up. It requires a little more lead time before the actual brainstorm really kicks off but it works like a charm!