If I were to ask you what brainstorming is, how would you describe it?
Perhaps it’s better to see what it is NOT first by looking at common myths about it:
Myth #1: Brainstorming is just a free flowing building of ideas.
Myth #2: The goal of brainstorming is simply to come up with a solution to a problem.
So what is it then?
Brainstorming is not just free form; it requires structure, planning and an active participation of each member in a fruitful dialogue. The goal of brainstorming is not just to solve a problem; it’s to expand each other’s ideas and explore possibilities.
These are what we sought to do in last Play Saturday’s activity wherein our team held a workshop about creativity and brainstorming.
With these goals in mind, we hoped to have more effective brainstorming sessions with clear focus, organized structure and discipline that will lead to more creative ideas.
So how did we go about it? We applied 10 simple but powerful tips which hopefully, you can readily use too for your brainstorming sessions:
#1: Location matters
Would you want to be brainstorming in the middle of a public coffee shop amid all the distractions and chatter? No. You’d want and need to select a quiet, comfortable area.
Prepare clear, visible writing materials for all to write on and share like whiteboards. Set a specific duration and time to brainstorm. Bring along any other items the team will need like coffee, snacks, comfy chairs, playful stuff.
#2: Set and agree on expectations
This is vital as each team member who joins will come with various backgrounds, personalities, and values. Thus, they will also have their own set of expectations.
It’s important that an assigned team leader shall set the right expectations and have everyone agree on them before starting.
Some examples we’ve tried to do are setting of issues we’re addressing. Such as:
- What problems are we trying to solve?
a) How can we increase sales this year?
b) How can we improve our user experience with us? (e.g. to be more involved during the revision process)
- What scope and limitations do we need to consider?
a) We can only spend 50$ for this event
b) We should create a funny birthday game for 25 people as 1 group only
c) We have to create a strategy to finish this project within 2 days
- Is anyone allowed to speak/suggest freely?
a) We take turns to speak after 2 minutes
b) We raise our hands if we need to interrupt
c) Everyone must share their own ideas
#3 Break the ice
After all expectations have been established and agreed upon, it’s time to add some fun to it by breaking the ice to warm them up (no pun intended).
But this isn’t just all about fun and play. Have the team do something that will challenge their creativity and problem solving skills.
For instance, we played a simple mental game during last Saturday’s workshop. In it, we grabbed any item we can find from our current positions, drew them on a sheet of paper and created a list of 100 functions we can do with those items within 10 minutes.
Aside from drawing and mental games like this, other ways you can stimulate creativity and analysis would be to have the team read something or reflect on their senses.
For example, we asked the team to draw things we couldn’t see or touch like the smell of vanilla, the pain of having a toothache or the sound of cars on the street.
#4: Define the problem
For your brainstorming to have a definite purpose and structure, it’s also crucial to state and expound the problem at hand. Be clear on it first before dwelling on the solutions.
To help you with this, ask open-ended questions that will inspire more creative ideas and answers.
Identify obstacles leading to the pain or issue.
For our workshop, we developed a case-based questionnaire for our Project Managers asking how they would approach the clients and designers about each case.
For instance, in dealing with a customer who wishes to have us redesign a website that we originally created and isn’t selling as expected, we might ask him/her:
“Where should we focus on when we re-design your site?”
“How creative can we be when re-designing the site?”
To the designers, we may ask:
“In what ways can we apply our previous best practices from other works for this website?’’
‘’How might we re-align our creativity or skills with the client’s goals and expectations?’’
Gather all the necessary data you can in advance to prepare for this step during brainstorming.
#5: Remove judgement
Simple yet easier said than done. As mentioned, each of us comes to the session with our own backgrounds and biases.
But ideas, even silly ones, flow freely when everyone knows ideas can be shared without fear of criticism, ridicule or self-doubt.
Be open-minded. Never assume someone has nothing new or interesting to share.
To empower members, team leaders can reward silly or even ‘’stupid’’ but creatively bold ideas. Avoid the word ‘’But’’ during discussions.
#6: Expect a lull
Don’t think of brainstorming as having high energy and unending flow of ideas throughout the session.
There will be a lull and to manage this, find ways you can say something unexpected, maybe even stupid but will generate more ideas.
For example, you can suddenly change perspectives. (e.g. you’re suddenly talking to them as the customer rather than as a team leader or member)
#7: Ditch the script
Although brainstorming should have a clear structure and goal, the ‘’how’’ part isn’t fixed and must be flexible to produce something creative.
Offer lots of writing materials for every member to freely write on or draw their ideas.
#8: Don’t brainstorm as a whole
To make brainstorming more empowering for each member and hence, more productive, limit your members in each group.
If you have a large group, break it into smaller pods.
To apply this tip, we divided ourselves into 7 groups for the workshop with __ members each so we can more easily reach our goal of coming up with new activities for future Play Saturdays.
#9: Separate generation and evaluation
As mentioned, you need to eliminate judgment during generation of ideas to encourage creativity.
There should be a separate time allotted to evaluate these.
#10: Gather the right team/ Seek diversity
The ideas and possibilities you come up as a group will only be as great as the members in it.
Welcome participants of various positions and background to embrace diversity of experience and expertise, including those who’re expected to say something ‘’silly’’.
For example, even if we were addressing issues of design, it helps to have members of the customer service team join the brainstorming for fresher ideas.
By applying these principles of effective brainstorming in your sessions, you too can make the most out them to generate more creative innovations, better solutions and highly empowered employees.