Generating ideas – Effective brainstorming

You will know the feeling! Just because you call a thirty-minute brainstorming session with a room-full of people and a flip chart, success does not necessarily follow.

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The problem:

You are not getting the fresh ideas or new opportunities you desire from team brain-storming. One of the possible reasons for this is that people have never learnt to be effective at collaborative idea generation.

The solution:

Go back to basics. Have your team learn and practise the fundamentals of effective brainstorming. Surprisingly, most people have never formally learnt to be effective brain-stormers.

The benefit:

When done effectively brainstorming can be a powerful way to:

  • have shorter, more productive meetings.
  • grow fresh, out of the box ideas.
  • break out of old thinking patterns.
  • develop new ways to solve challenges.
  • develop new business opportunities.
  • improve your business offering.
  • create team member buy-in and ownership of ideas.
  • help team members reach their potential.

Brainstorming – ‘How to’ Guide

Most people have never learnt to be effective brainstormers. I have seen businesses all around Australia waste valuable meeting time and not fully realise the ideas in their people as a result of poorly run brainstorming sessions.

For problem-solving brainstorming to be effective it is useful to follow the following guidelines.

  1. Don’t assume people know how to brainstorm – take 30 seconds to clearly define brainstorming as per below.
  2. Define a clear focus.
    • Clearly define the problem you want solved and specify the criteria to be met. Don’t let the session go off focus!

  3. Set a time frame for the session.
  4. Suspend criticism.
    • All ideas, no matter how crazy they may seem, should be encouraged and recorded without comment or criticism from the group. The general goal of brainstorming is to collect as many ideas as possible, making quantity much more important than quality at this initial stage.
  5. Postpone evaluation.
    • Brainstorming sessions are not the time or place to evaluate the merits of the ideas suggested. So don’t suspend the process to evaluate the projected results of any single idea.
  6. Build on others’ ideas.
    • At their best, brainstorming sessions are fast-paced and fun. Participants should try to build each consecutive idea on the previous ones. This can sometimes result in surprising twists and turns.
  7. Pose an initial question.
    • Suppose you had created a product for large businesses and were looking for a new marketing approach. The facilitator might open the brainstorming session by posing a question such as “What do small business owners want?” Participants would then come up with ideas, such as “to save time” or “to increase sales.”
  8. Let people have fun brainstorming.
    • Encourage them to come up with as many ideas as possible, from solidly practical ones to wildly impractical ones. Welcome creativity. There is no right/wrong answer.
  9. Ensure that no train of thought is followed for too long.
  10. Record all ideas.

Computer-aided Brainstorming

It can be worth exploring the use of computer-based tools for group brainstorming as they can significantly improve the quality and effectiveness of a brainstorming session. If this interests you, some sites to look at include:


References:

Gordon, KT, Creative Brainstorming Techniques, 6 ways to come up with million-dollar marketing ideas, viewed 13 July, 2009. www.entrepreneur.com/marketing/marketingcolumnistkimtgordon/article57616.html

Mind Tools Ltd, Essential skills for an excellent career, 1995-2009, viewed 13 July, 2009. www.mindtools.com/brainstm.html

Swinton, Lyndsay, 13th May, 2005, 3 Creative Brainstorming Activities, Games and Exercises For Effective Group Problem Solving, viewed 13 July, 2009. www.mftrou.com/creative-brainstorming-activities.html

Straker, David, Creating Minds.org, viewed 13 July, 2009. www.creatingminds.org/tools/tools_ideation.htm