A Guide for How to Brainstorm

7 Hacks to Stay Productive when You’re Tired
August 31, 2017
Jack Dorsey, a visionary tech entrepreneur
September 15, 2017

When it works, brainstorming can be exactly what it promises to be: inspiring, thought-provoking, innovation-driving, and lots of fun.  But when it doesn’t work, it can be painful: silent, stultifying, and embarrassing or, conversely, noisy, rudderless, and chaotic.

So how do you prevent it becoming a waste of everyone’s time and ensure the session is engaging and productive?

Here’s your Business Optimizer guide.

#Be prepared

Think about your invite list carefully. To get the most from any session, it is important to bring in different perspectives from across the business; who from other departments might be able offer new insight?

Group size is also important; the need to include different perspectives has to be balanced with the need to ensure the group isn’t so large the session becomes unruly or prevents some people contributing.

Timetable a short session; aim to create a sense of urgency during the session which requires everyone to stay focused.

#Make sure everyone else is prepared

When you invite your fellow brainstormers, give them a clear idea of the subject of your brainstorm session.

Specify any constraints they need to work within. And ask them to come with three ideas in mind.

Offering people the opportunity to think in advance ensures you can get to the heart of the matter from the beginning of your session and is kinder on the introverts in your group. This way, you ensure everyone feels they can contribute.

#Have the right tools in place

You’ll need some large sheets of paper. Get several flipchart pads on easels at the front of the room and plenty of marker pens.

On one easel write down your objectives and any constraints within which you are operating, so everyone can refer back to the goal of the session at any point through your brainstorm.

The others will be for your mind-mapping.

#Break the ice

Set the tone so everyone feels free to contribute without fear of seeming silly by starting your session with a quick improve game.

This could be as simple as asking “what not to do” or other super easy team building activities. The idea is to break the ice and encourage everyone to feel there is no such thing as a silly idea, to relax, and eliminate the embarrassment and fear of more introverted members of the group.

Once you’ve got everyone feeling relaxed, you can start by collecting in the three ideas everyone has prepared in advance.

#Welcome every idea

Build on the tone set by your introduction by ensuring all contributions welcome. Don’t discount any idea, however silly you think it.

If you start discounting ideas before they’ve made it onto your flipchart paper, you can deter people from contributing.

Welcome every contribution. Write every idea down. Thank individuals for every contribution.

#Don’t assign ideas to individuals

Brainstorming is a group effort. Input through the session will build on earlier ideas, so that no one spoke on your mind map will lead back to an individual.

#Understand every idea

Don’t criticize contributions. If it sounds silly, make an effort to understand why the person made the contribution they did in non-challenging way. The whole idea of your brainstorming session is to bring new a perspective to bear on your task.

This seemingly silly contribution could be the germ of that elusive new idea. Work to dig down on the idea so the rest of the team can understand this new perspective – this way, you can inspire others to think most creatively.

#Build on every idea

As well as working back from contributions, your debate needs to work on from them too. “Yes, and…” should be your watchword response. Keep writing everything down.

#Keep sessions short

A short timetable helps to keep everyone focused. Although you want to delve deeper into ideas, you don’t want the session to descend into a free for all or down rabbit holes.

Once your time is up, thank everyone for their contributions and encourage them to keep feeding back ideas that surface following the session.

The best way to do this may be to leave your mind maps on the wall of the office for a couple of days with some different colored marker pens so people can continue to write on them and add new spokes to the mind maps.

#Follow up

Share back all the ideas you’ve collected with all attendees. You might want to feed these back to a wider group to add further contributions.

Now your session has ended, and you’ve gathered contributions, you can start to be more critical of ideas and build on these new perspectives. Because contributions have been a group effort, this criticism won’t be directed at individuals or individual contributions – so the next session can be equally productive.