We’ve heard the rumours – brainstorming doesn’t work.
Well we think that’s nonsense, and here’s why.
Buzzing sessions where thoughts are bounced around can be brilliant for encouraging a culture of ideas and creativity. They can help your organisation to grow and innovate whilst engaging participants and letting them know their contributions are valued. Sharing ideas to help them grow is a practice that’s been around for centuries – because it works. And it’s something that we fully advocate at Alive, with a few words of caution and our tips for running a top session.
All you need to do is watch out for the classic cloggers that’ll trip you up and then focus on the factors that’ll make your session a success.
Let’s start by looking at some of the reasons why brainstorming ‘doesn’t work’:
A cognitive bias where we tend to put undue weight on the first idea presented. The group then focuses way too heavily on this ‘low hanging fruit’ and before you know it, time has run out and it’s turned into a flop.
It’s true that ideas are fragile little things and it doesn’t take much to crush them before they’ve had chance to take shape. So it’s tempting to ban all criticism and just let all ideas flow. Whilst that’s a popular approach, it can leave the group pursuing pointless, ineffective avenues that waste time and cause untold frustration.
Often the loudest individuals in the group will dive in with their ideas and dominate the session, leaving the others out in the cold. Going along with the most dominant person in the room can be the default approach, preventing other, often better ideas from seeing the light of day.
These are three typical reasons why brainstorming can be seen as a waste of time. Yet once we’re on the lookout for them, and we’re armed with the many reasons why brainstorming actually does work there’s no reason why our sessions shouldn’t be a storming success.
13 tips on running a successful session to achieve results
Keeping in mind the super productive purpose of brainstorming, we’ve put together these thirteen points. Start by setting the scene and defining the objective with crystal clear clarity. Make sure everyone understands the brief and knows what you’re looking to achieve. Remind participants that idea generation and development is a gradual, organic process where an idea needs to be bounced around, developed and shaped. It’s not about those mythical ‘eureka moments.’ And then tick off the points on this list as you plan and move through your session.
- EARLY WARNING. Brief people on the topic in advance so participants can attend armed with a few initial thoughts and ideas, getting the session off to a flying start. Don’t let people go in cold.
- SPLIT IT UP. Consider splitting the session into two – an initial session of ideas generation, followed by a second one of categorising, ranking and judging those ideas. These could happen on the same day or you may prefer a break in between where those ideas have had time to develop.
- ENVIRONMENT IS ESSENTIAL. We’re not talking crazy swinging chairs and uber-funky mood lighting. Just comfortable surroundings with a bit of privacy will do.
- WATCH THE CLOCK. Keep it brief. Being highly stimulating and responsive can be exhausting work so plan sessions that run for around 30-45 minutes. Be clear from the outset with a couple of questions to prompt the appropriate response, making the most of your time.
- UNPLUG. Try to keep phones and other devices switched off to prevent distractions. These sessions shouldn’t be long and it’s a good opportunity to drop the digital world for a short while as you focus on the people in front of you.
- FACILITATE EFFECTIVELY. Avoid demotivation and chaos by keeping things in order as well as having someone enthusiastic to tease out those ideas if things tail off. It’s important to have someone watching out for those classic cloggers that’ll hinder proceedings. Keep it moving and make it fun!
- BRING IN SOME BOUNDARIES. To get the process moving it can sometimes be better to work within ‘constraints’. Contrary to most people’s perceptions this is when it’s easier to be more creative. So set some temporary boundaries around your subject. Perhaps try removing the constraints as the ideas start to flow.
- FOCUS! Avoid straying off the topic – which is often easier said than done. Focus on the objective at hand, have it written on the wall and check in periodically that you’re still on track. This is where your facilitator plays a vital role.
- ALLOW CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM. Use some tact and common sense to make the most of the session and identify those ideas that warrant more attention. Careful criticism is a necessary part of creativity.
- PROMOTE PECULIAR PERSPECTIVES. Encourage attendees to think about the opposites, consider a different point of view. Use props and visual stimulus to get the thinking juices flowing. Leave the left-brain at the door and collect it on the way out.
- SET SECRETS FREE. It’s natural to want to protect and preserve your own ideas. You might be super proud of your contributions – and rightfully so. But keeping them squirreled away won’t help them to develop so get them on the table. Connecting ideas is far more productive than protecting them. See how others can help them thrive.
- RECORD IT ALL. Keep a note of all that is said. Consider recording the whole thing on video to review afterwards. What may sound unusual at the start could turn into the best idea ever after a little tweak!
- BREAK AND BREATHE. Take a break and actively look for inspiration that isn’t related to the challenge in any way, then try to make a connection back. This adds a fresh perspective that comes from an unrelated source.
So it seems to us that, managed effectively, the mighty brainstorm session can actually be a triumph. It all comes down to a little forward planning, keeping a watchful eye out for those classic cloggers and knowing what works for you.
We’d love to hear about your experiences. What works well? What techniques help most when it comes to running a brilliant brainstorm session? Tweet us @AliveWithIdeas with your thoughts.
Further reading on ideas generation
There are certain practices that should be encouraged when creating a culture where ideas flow freely, happily and without fear of judgment. They can become everyday habits and can also be encouraged to flourish in others too. Here we explore fifteen great examples.
Ideas are our bread and butter. And we never run out! The secret? Maintaining everyday habits that keep our brains bursting with marvellous ideas…