Brainstorming is a powerful tool for harnessing a group’s collective creativity to generate innovative ideas and solutions. But doing it right can make all the difference between a productive session and a fruitless “meeting.”
Let’s explore the key steps to effective brainstorming and give you practical tips to ensure success.
What is brainstorming really about?
Basically, brainstorming is about tapping into everyone’s existing ideas and building on them whenever possible. It is a collaborative process that encourages open and creative thinking.
When should you use brainstorming?
Brainstorming is most effective when you have a well-defined question or problem that everyone is motivated to address. The method should be used before diving into more creative ideation methods, with thought-triggering, to ensure that everyone contributes their previous insights in a good way without inhibiting the generation of new ideas. You can say that it is an excellent way to fuel ideas, before giving the trigger to think up completely new ones.
How does it work?
Let’s break down the process of brainstorming into actionable steps:
- Start from a clear question
Introduce the question or problem
Begin by clearly presenting the question or problem that needs creative solutions. Make sure everyone understands the context and goals.
- Start individually
Always start a brainstorming session by asking the participants to think for a while. Feel free to ask them to write down their ideas in silence for 2-3 minutes. This ensures that an idea presented early does not take over and direct everyone’s thinking in a certain direction.
- Collect existing ideas
Then, encourage participants to freely share their existing ideas related to the issue at hand. This is the brainstorming phase where quantity is valued over quality. Jot down all ideas without judging or evaluating.
- Avoid evaluation
Here we must emphasize that during this phase no idea is too wild or too insignificant. Participants should refrain from evaluating or criticizing ideas. If something is unclear, ask for clarification but avoid criticism. See also the “plus card” method.
- Build on the ideas
Once you’ve focused on number of ideas and come up with a list of ideas, let the group build on the ideas they like together. Encourage participants to expand and refine existing ideas.
- Share and discuss
Ensure that all participants have the opportunity to share their ideas with the group in a positive and respectful atmosphere. Fostering open communication is critical to productive brainstorming.
- Identify desired concepts
As the discussion develops, it is common for certain ideas to emerge as more desirable or feasible. These ideas should be highlighted or circled for further exploration. See also 2×2 matrices for evaluating ideas.
- Keep ideas that are ideas
Remember that brainstorming is about generating ideas, not solving problems. Avoid prematurely converting ideas into solutions or action plans. That comes later in the process. Also watch out for wishful thinking, i.e. things that are not really a possible solution to the problem.
You should therefore choose to start brainstorming individually by having the participants write down their ideas first and then share them with the group.
Considerations for success
To ensure a successful brainstorming session, consider the following:
- Appoint a facilitator
Appoint someone as a facilitator who will keep the brainstorming process on track, prevent negative attitudes and encourage active participation and who is not themselves part of the idea generation.
- Create a safe space
Foster an environment where participants feel comfortable sharing their ideas without fear of criticism or judgment. Everyone’s contributions are valuable. See article about creating a creative environment.
- Diversity of perspectives
Encourage participation from a diverse group of individuals with different backgrounds and experiences. Different perspectives can lead to more innovative ideas.
In conclusion, brainstorming is a valuable tool for tapping into a group’s collective intelligence. By following the steps above and fostering a positive and open atmosphere, you can unlock a wealth of creative solutions to the challenges you face.
So gather your team, set the stage and watch the ideas flow. Done correctly, brainstorming can lead to exciting breakthroughs and innovations.