When a group or business needs innovative ideas to solve a problem they often turn to 'brainstorming' for inspiration.
Brainstorming happens in a relaxed, informal setting and involves lateral thinking. This generates ideas that usually don’t come from step-by-step logic.
Put simply, brainstorming encourages people to open their minds and come up with ideas that may seem crazy at first, but which can then be crafted into amazing, unique solutions.
Before you host a brainstorming session here’s how to ensure it’s impactful, rewarding, and positive for everyone involved.
Choose the right group
Where possible bring a diverse group of individuals together. A room full of like-minded people won't generate as many creative ideas, so try to include people from a range of disciplines and age groups. You don’t want arguments, but you do want lively discussion.
Find a relaxed and comfortable environment
To get everyone in the right frame of mind, find a space that allows people to unwind.
You need a welcoming, comfortable environment without any of the following: poor lighting, loud background noise (music, traffic, external conversations), uncomfortable chairs or desks, irritating climate conditions such as an office that’s too hot or too cold – and ditch any clutter!
Brainstorming spaces should make it easy for people to present their ideas and include useful items like pads and pens, whiteboards, cork boards, chalkboards, or interactive whiteboards.
And don’t forget snacks, water, tea and coffee!
Set an agenda
Although a brainstorming session is meant to be informal, an agenda will ensure the session stays on track and the group delivers useful ideas for the problem in hand. The agenda can be loose, but make sure the entire session is no longer than one hour.
Begin with an icebreaker
If people aren't used to working together, consider using a warm-up exercise or an icebreaker. Mentimeter suggests using The Brick Game.
It says: “Have the group think of as many different and unusual uses for a standard brick. Once the most obvious ideas have gone it will be fun to see some of the unusual ideas that people can come up with. Get the participants to put their ideas in an open-ended slide so everyone can see other bizarre thoughts.”
Appoint a notetaker and record ideas
Before the session kicks off, appoint one person to record the ideas that come up. This person doesn’t have to be a team manager. Post session notes where everyone can see them, such as on flip charts or whiteboards, or use a computer with a data projector.
Pick a brainstorming technique
There are several techniques that can be used during a brainstorming session in order to get the best results. The Arabian Gazette published an article on brainstorming and highlighted methods such as:
SCAMPER stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse. You use the tool by asking questions about existing products, using each of the seven prompts above. These questions help you come up with creative ideas for developing new products, and for improving current ones.
This is a method used to amplify creative conversations by making sure that a broad variety of viewpoints and thinking styles are represented. Using six roles (or ‘hats’), the framework — developed by Dr. Edward de Bono — allows teams to more easily structure abstract thinking for productive results.
Of course, there are many other frameworks you can follow. Tools such as Miro or Mural offer templates to structure a brainstorm session.
The "Yes, and" Technique
The idea behind the “Yes and” technique is as follows: Person A suggests something or pronounces a sentence. After that person B continues: ”Yes and…”. You always have to reply starting with the words ”Yes and”. Starting with ”yes, but”, ”right, but” or ”no” is forbidden.
The aim of this approach is to add, carry forward and develop the original suggestion. In a conversation we tend to reject ideas that differ from ours and without even noticing we end up dismissing others in order to satisfy our will to be right.
Use questions that drive creative thinking
Whatever type of brainstorming session you opt for, certain questions are proven to help a group visualize and assist with new creative ideas. Some of these are:
- Imagine you could get in a time machine and travel 10, 20, 50 or 100 years from today. How would our product (or service) look like then?
- How would you deal with this problem in a different country, continent, planet, universe or different dimension?
- How would you deal with this problem if you were of a different gender, age, race, or nationality?
Avoid any kind of judgement!
The best approach to a brainstorming session is to start by saying “there are no bad ideas” – and mean it!
Paul Sloane, a respected British speaker on the power of lateral thinking in business says the most important rule of brainstorming is to avoid ALL judgement.
He advises: “In order to encourage a wealth of wacky ideas it is essential that no one is critical, negative or judgmental about an idea at the outset. Any idea that is uttered – no matter how stupid – must be written down. Of course, some judgement is required at the idea selection stage. But by then the crazy ideas have had time to be considered and maybe developed into something practical.”
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