Brainstorming session can be helpful when trying to solve problems. But there’s a fine art to getting the most out of them, so here are my nine tips for how to use brainstorming sessions more effectively.
Tip #1 – Try mirror brainstorming
This is a good technique to help see things from a completely different perspective. For example, instead of asking, “How do we improve customer satisfaction?” try asking, “How do we make our customers dissatisfied?” By asking such a question, you may generate fresh insights.
Tip #2 – Set objectives
Ensure everyone involved knows why you are doing the session and what you are trying to achieve. This sounds like common sense, and it is, but it often gets ignored.
Tip #3 – Get the timing right
Set a good time to do it. Research shows that 10am is when humans are at their most creative while sessions after lunch should be avoided.
Tip #4 – Keep the group small
A large group can cloud the issue at hand and lead to more questions than solutions, so keep numbers low.
Tip #5 – Warm up
Begin by encouraging a relaxed atmosphere and don’t be afraid to laugh. Allocate a bit of time for some warm-up thinking, like a quiz or a quick discussion on something trivial and unrelated. This will help relax the mind and help unburden it from any pressures which may keep it from thinking freely and creatively.
Tip #6 – Record ideas
Ensure every idea is recorded, even ideas that sound silly. Quite often it is the silly ideas that can lead to great things. Silly ideas also relax people and help to make more introverted participants feel more confident in their ability to participate.
Tip #7 – Don’t stop
Do not stop to discuss and critique ideas, just let them flow. Do not stop to dismiss ideas at this stage. And, importantly, do not stop at the first great idea.
Tip #8 – Cater for differences
Encourage ideas to be shouted out and (IT) written down, to cater for different personality types. Give people a bit more time to think – yes, some will be quick off the mark, but others will take longer to warm to the task.
Tip #9 – Post brainstorming session
The brainstorming process does not stop when you have left the room. Once you have recorded all the ideas during this session, you need to do something with them. Don’t be forced into rushing full steam ahead with the thoughts. Give ideas time to soak in and develop.
Write up all the ideas and display them somewhere everyone can see them and be reminded of what was discussed. Agree a time limit for how long these ideas will remain visible – maybe a week – and allow more ideas to be added. Soft thinking will follow naturally, and this often serves as a platform for some of the best ideas.
After that you can agree a method of working through all the ideas and determine which ones should be prioritised. Some people are more intuitive, and can spot the good ideas, while others prefer more of a process. A good tip is to simply ask “how, when, who, why, what, what if and where” of each idea. You can even look at the opposite of each idea and see where that takes you.
You’ll soon begin to generate a picture of which ideas are strongest. Don’t forget to refer to your original objective, reminding yourself what you were trying to accomplish in the first place, to ensure you achieve your goal.
I hope these tips are helpful. Problem solving isn’t always a quick or simple process but, as an adviser, it’s what you do every day. Have fun, embrace your experience and remember that no idea is a bad idea – unless you tweet it to the world after a couple of drinks and before it is fully formed.