Is Your Brainstorming Broken? 7 Secrets of Effective Idea Sessions

BrainstormingAs the saying goes, you either lead the market or chase it. How does your team respond to the changes the business world brings each day? Do they look to case studies or seek to create them? Do they see challenges as obstacles or opportunities?

As history shows, companies that are willing to invest in innovation and lead the market are often rewarded. But, interjecting creative, fresh ideas into the workplace isn’t always easy. How do you know which ideas will work? And, how do you develop great ideas to begin with? You can add more creativity to your workplace by seeking the input of your team through brainstorming. Try these seven secrets for effective brainstorming.

1. Identify the problem.
Perhaps the most overlooked step in brainstorming, defining the specific problem that needs to be addressed is the first critical step in helping you develop a specific solution. Otherwise, you may be creating more problems than you’re solving. So, make sure you develop and can clearly articulate the reason to generate new ideas, or you’ll just be organizing a party.

2. Gather a group.
As wonderful as your own ideas may be, great brainstorming doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Research shows that small groups of five to 10 people work best, allowing for participation and ensuring everyone’s ideas are heard. When selecting group members, make sure they know about the topic, are willing to speak up in a group, and enjoy the process of generating ideas. And, don’t forget to ask a group member to write down the ideas that are developed.

3. Share the plan.
Before you meet with your group, let your brainstorming team members know the purpose of the meeting and what you want to accomplish. Are you coming up with general ideas for innovations, or do you want to accomplish one, specific objective, like what creative direction to take on an upcoming project? Share a concise explanation (no more than one page!) of your background on the projects and brainstorming objectives so your time is spent on ideas rather than on explaining the process.

4. Enable openness.
Let all participants know from the start that the environment of your brainstorming session is openness rather than criticism. Establish a few simple ground rules, such as no judgment on whether an idea is good or bad at this stage in the process. Let people know you’re trying to uncover ideas, and that these ideas will be recorded and analyzed after brainstorming is complete. You want to avoid your creative session turning into an intellectual argument over one idea versus another – a waste of time that is counterproductive for creativity.

5. Assign a facilitator.
Because of the nature of ideas, good brainstorming can create ideas for other problems and opportunities as well. So, make sure there’s someone responsible to let team members know their off-topic ideas will be recorded for future discussion and empowered to re-direct the conversation back to the meeting’s original problem. To make sure your session and attendees stay on track, clearly establish who will call the shots and keep people focused on the topic at hand. This may be you, but in some situations, it might be more productive to establish an objective facilitator who’s not as closely tied to the project. Clearly designate that person as the one in charge of keeping things on track to empower their efforts from the get-go.

6. Inspire ideas. Seek inspiration outside your normal work setting, like music, art, writing, games, activities, or even an offsite space. Ask group members to share every idea they have for the problem – new or old, fun or wacky, the more ideas you have to work with, the better. When people are free to bounce off each others’ ideas, your brainstorming will be more effective and fun.

7. Act on your ideas. The best ideas in the world don’t merit much unless they’re put into practice. That’s why what happens after brainstorming is just as important to delivering good and creative solutions. Take a few days to evaluate the list of options you’ve created. Pick the best idea and then work on developing the team, strategy, tactics, and timeline you’ll use to put it in place.

Ultimately, what will build your business is the ability to put your ideas into action. Avoid the urge to over-complicate the problem solving process. Remember – there’s really no such thing as a perfect plan. Use the insight and ideas of your team to create simple, effective solutions that will help your business thrive.

Your Brainstorming Ideas
What’s your favorite tip, story, or creative tool you’ve used in brainstorming? Share your ideas in the comments section!

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