4 Steps to Supercharge Your Next Brainstorming Session

If you use the right brainstorming tools, you’re more likely to get better ideas.

You know that brainstorming isn’t just thinking. It’s more than that. It’s coming up with different and novel ideas that will hopefully lead to a better solution to your problems. However, knowing what it is and being good at it are two different things. What kinds of brainstorming tools can help you come up with more and better solutions?

1. How to Start the Process

Do the right prep work with brainstorming, and you’ll reap the benefits.

Most businesses have a problem in mind when scheduling a brainstorming session. In keeping with tradition, they might leave the plan for tackling it open and flexible, so as not to constrain or thwart any potentially good ideas.

This isn’t always a good plan. You don’t want to instruct others on what and how to think, but you must offer some kinds of guidelines. Otherwise, you may get a lot of random, useless ideas.

Start by specifically defining the problem and listing unavoidable constraints. For example, you likely have a budget, so ideas that cost more than a fixed dollar amount are useless. Other parameters might include not being able to relocate, switch operating systems, or hire new people. Guidelines help keep the process on track. 

Also, prepare questions ahead of time that can help guide thinking. As humans, we often tend to migrate toward the familiar; it provides comfort. So our minds naturally go to what we already know. Ask participants about their perceptions of the roadblocks to progress and if they see any ways around them. 

Pro Tip: The relationship we all have with familiarity is a good reason to try another helpful tactic; have the meeting away from your office. Different locations sometimes yield fresh perspectives.

Guidance brings focus to a brainstorming session.

2. Encourage Your Team to Look from Another Angle

Sometimes, the best way to get different answers is to turn the question on its head and ask not how you would solve the problem, but how you wouldn’t solve the problem. This method forces you to list ways you believe won’t be helpful to solve your problem; writing them down may make you realize that one of those ways might be workable after all.

The reasons for this are many. Maybe technology has changed. It once wasn’t possible to fly to a destination; now it is. It’s not possible to teleport today; maybe one day it will be. 

Another reason is funding levels or affordability may have changed. What once was out of the question may now be feasible. 

The key to the success of this brainstorming tool is that it forces you to stop and reconsider what you once thought was impossible. 

3. Be Open to New Brainstorming Tools

One tried-and-true — and some say tired — brainstorming tool is to have everyone sit around a table and write ideas on a piece of paper, then pass the paper around to everyone to add their ideas. While this isn’t always a complete waste of time, you may want to look at newer methods.

Presumably, you will include people from different departments in your brainstorming session. A good way to get different ideas is to ask someone from one department to give feedback about an issue in another department. 

So-called “experts” often get mired in what they know, and it prevents a solution from being found. Those who don’t know a tactic can’t (or shouldn’t) work might try it and discover something new.

Participants may feel apprehensive about this tactic, especially if you have some naysayers or know-it-alls at the table ready to shoot down a non-expert opinion, so consider doing this exercise in writing or breaking into smaller groups.

Difficult people can ruin the vibe of a brainstorming session.

4. Give Consideration When Forming Groups and Do Follow-up

When planning each group’s makeup, try different strategies. You might think each group should have a tech person, a salesperson, and so on, but consider shaking it up. Put all the difficult people together, regardless of their background. They can fight it out among themselves. Create a group of quiet people; someone will have to talk at some point. 

Another brainstorming tool that’s helpful in getting more participation from those who don’t like to talk — or don’t like to talk in groups — is to ask for follow-up ideas and feedback. The door never closes on innovation, but don’t just leave it open. Actively invite people to walk through it by sending emails with specific questions a day or two after the session.

This is helpful not only in getting shy participants’ perspectives but also because letting ideas ferment for a couple of days can give them another taste.

For more great ideas on how to implement valuable brainstorming tools, download IdeaScale’s infographic on the subject today.

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