Brainstorming 101

If you’re setting out to brainstorm new ideas and concepts, here’s some things I’ve experienced over the past few years that may help.

1) Get a great facilitator. Someone that’s open minded, will keep people on track and will get people to contribute.

2) Put a great question together and figure out how to answer it. It helps if you can define what you’re trying to do as much as possible. Free form brainstorming rarely turns into anything of value and usually leads to something that you probably can’t execute anyway. Make the question as specific and restrictive as possible. “How do we solve problem (x) with (y) dollars, (z) time, and existing skill sets?” You may be surprised at how many ideas you can come up with. You may get a lot of resistance at first like “You’re limiting us” but to get really creative you usually need to deal with the realities of the situation. [I forgot to include a very important point here – if somebody is telling you that your approach to the problem is wrong or suggests a different way of approaching it, listen to them. It’s possible that they’re lateral thinkers, these people make all the difference in innovation. Lateral thinkers are game changers.]

3) Put a time constraint in place. Give yourself a limited amount of time to generate ideas and the ideas you generate MUST address the question asked in #2. Don’t go over, stop on time and move on. However, people may go home and think about it a little longer. They may also have an epiphany. Make certain that you account for this as answers to problems are rarely straightforward. The subconscious may chew on it for a while and come up with something spectacular.

4) Isolate yourselves. Set aside a time and place where nobody knows where you are or what you’re working on. Turn off cell phones and focus on what you’re doing.

5) If it’s not coming together, say so. You can’t force people to come up with ideas to solve a problem. But you can create an environment where people feel comfortable and willing to participate. If it’s just not working for whatever reason then reschedule. Or move to a different location. Or get different people.

6) Create follow-up tasks, delegate those tasks to individuals and put dates and times in place to get them resolved. The task may be to do market research, speak to your target audience or get a patent attorney. Set concrete and measurable tasks that have a specific owner. Leave no latitude as to who should be running with which item.

That’s it at it’s most basic implementation. Before you get started on any session make sure you’ve got the essentials. Whiteboard, pizza, cokes, etc. The facilitator should set and enforce the ground rules and only let people deviate when it’s in the teams best interest.

If you have other experiences, things that worked in the past, things that didn’t, don’t hesitate to comment here.