No doubt brainstorming is important to any business, but when done poorly it often leads to a lot of wasted time and frustration amongst staff. Often managers think that when they are trying to instill creativity in to their teams through brainstorming sessions there is no need for structure; ideas will flow naturally and that golden nugget of an idea will emerge. In fact, the opposite is true. Effective brainstorming needs to be structured with rules embedded, otherwise, you run the risk of killing innovative practices within your staff as people do not have any focus in which to direct their innovative thinking towards.
Rule 1: Appoint a Moderator
For effective brainstorming, you need to appoint a moderator to prevent the discussion from getting off-track and to maintain order in the group. The best moderators also nurture the conversation amongst the participants ensuring that all voices are heard, negativity is controlled and re-energies the participants when ideas start to shrink.
Rule 2: Create a Space Conducive to Ideation
The space and the atmosphere of the brainstorming session needs to be relaxed, positive, welcoming and a bit of fun. To liven up brainstorming sessions we often have bring mind simulation tools such as Lego, markers, crayons and loads of paper etc. It helps to focus people and get them in the creativity zone. You do not have to remain seated at a brainstorming session. People can get up, doodle on boards. Put some brain fuel in the room – bowl of sweets, biscuits etc. and see how many more ideas you will get!
Rule 3: Establish Brainstorming Principles
It is important from the outset of each brainstorming session to provide clarity to the participants on the principles of effective brainstorming. After several sessions, it will become part of the brainstorming culture. Key principles to follow are
- Think creatively rather than logically
- No stereotypes of what works and what doesn’t
- No fear of failure
- No fear of looking stupid and been laughed at
- No fear of been thought odd
- We will not restrain ourselves from speaking what we know to be true because our perspective might be challenged
- Encourage wild ideas
Rule 4: Start with a Target Number of Ideas
It is like setting a challenge for the brainstorming team. This rule while it may seem counterintuitive to creativity, does motivate participants to create more ideas.
Rule 5: Start with a problem you want to solve
The goal is to develop a meaningful and actionable problem statement often referred to as a POINT OF VIEW. A good point-of-view is one that
- Is grounded in user needs and insights
- Focus and frames the problem,
- Inspiration to your team
- Empowers your team to make decisions independently in parallel
- Captures the hearts and minds of people you meet
- Saves you from the impossible task of developing concepts that are all things to all people
Rule 6: Defer Judgement
NO CRITICISM RIGHT NOW. Remember there is no such thing as a dumb idea. Actually, it is good to contribute ideas that other’s might consider silly since these ideas may trigger more practical ones in their own or another participant thinking. At some point it is important to judge an idea but not when your generating ideas. Evaluating and screening ideas is a different part of the innovation process.
Step 7: Quantity over Quality
Quantity breeds quality. You want volume. The more ideas, the better. Why? Because the more ideas you come up with, the more likely it is that one or more of them will be a good one. The time for critical thinking and idea evaluation comes later.
Step 8: Seek unusual or wild ideas
it is easier to tame down than to think up – we will worry about “HOW” something might work later – the wilder the better. So, do not be afraid to put any idea forward.
- “Combine”, “piggyback” or “hitch-hike” one idea to another to create a new idea
- Magnify your idea. What can you do to enlarge, extend, strengthen, exaggerate, dramatize, improve your idea?
- How can you change your idea. Modify the name, colour, sound, shape, form, function, smell, taste and properties of your idea.
- Can you simplify the idea – condense it, trim it down, compact it, minimise or narrow the idea
- Put yourself in someone else’s shoes – how would they see the idea?
Step 9: Share the Airwaves
The purpose of brainstorming is to leverage the collective intelligence of several people. If there is only a one or two people contributing, then it is not a brainstorming session. Wait your Turn – everyone gets a chance to contribute ideas, no one may interrupt the person who is speaking
Step 10. Write everything down
All ideas need to be recorded as they will need to be shared and screened later. A simple thing like putting ideas down on to post-its and clustering them could create something brand new.
Follow these rules and your next brainstorming should be more productive. You can download ideation techniques to assist you with your brainstorming.