Brainstorming sessions sound like a great idea, especially for breaking out of creative ruts, but too often brainstorming fizzles out. The main reason for this is that organizations don’t actually use any of the ideas that come out of brainstorming sessions.
When that happens, people go into brainstorming sessions feeling they’re about to engage in a time-wasting exercise. When brainstorming sessions produce ideas that are actually pursued, funded, and carried out, they can become a terrific source of new ideas. The key is to have the right brainstorming tools in your kit. Here are some tips for improving your next brainstorming session.
Inform Participants of the Agenda in Advance. This way, everyone can orient their thoughts, do some preliminary research, and be prepared. It’s also a great way to avoid unrealistic or half-baked ideas that can bring real brainstorming to a halt.
Go Somewhere Out of the Ordinary. Going off-site for a brainstorming session can help shake participants out of their “office” mentality. Have people turn off their phones and be 100 percent present at your brainstorming venue, which could be a park, a café, or even just a conference room in another building.
Have a Designated Note-Taker. Bringing someone specifically charged with keeping notes can help keep the flow going and allow people to focus more fully on actual brainstorming. You don’t need to stop other participants from writing things down, sketching, or making notes, but have someone specifically tasked with making a record of the session.
Keep the Group Small and Diverse. Three to six people is ideal, and the more diverse their experiences, the better. Brainstorming is about gaining new perspectives, and it’s hard to do that with a room full of same-level managers who all have similar responsibilities.
Have a Clear, Narrowly Focused Goal. The more focused the purpose of your brainstorming session, the better. If people know they will be brainstorming ideas on how to reduce customer wait times on customer service calls, they’ll generate more productive ideas than if they’re simply asked for “customer service” ideas.
Warm the Group Up. Brainstorming tools like creating unusual lists or even a round of Mad Libs can loosen people up and get communication flowing. Simple team-building games or creativity exercises are great for breaking everyone out of their “business as usual” mindset so the ideas can flow.
Avoid Latching onto the First Idea. Brainstorming sessions often latch onto the first idea presented. It may end up being the best idea, but it prevents other great ideas from getting attention. This type of “anchoring” can also send people off onto tangents that don’t address the root problem that the brainstorming session was supposed to address.
Consider Allowing a Round of Ideas Submitted in Writing. In any group of five or six people, you’ll have one or two who do all the talking. Some participants may be shy about speaking up, but having a quick exercise where people brainstorm and write down their ideas – all of which will be read aloud – can prevent one or two people from dominating the conversation.
If you’re interested in ways to spur creativity in general, we invite you to download our free “How to Get Creative” infographic for inspiration.
Brainstorming sessions should deliver different perspectives and input from all participants in a low-judgment environment. The sessions should be exclusively about brainstorming. Analysis and further planning can take place later, but be sure that you set aside time for analysis and planning so that those great ideas don’t end up forgotten.
Having the right brainstorming tools as part of a comprehensive innovation platform can make your brainstorming sessions perform the way you always imagined they could. IdeaScale is just such a platform, providing you with everything you need to solicit, collect, evaluate, prioritize, and act upon great ideas. We invite you to learn more by downloading our Crowdsourcing to Innovate Products white paper.