Are you ready to take your brainstorming sessions to the next level? Because let’s be real, sitting in a room full of people staring at a blank whiteboard can be about as exciting as watching paint dry.
But fear not! I’ve compiled ten simple and effective tips to help you turn those boring sessions into idea-packed powerhouses.
With these tips in your toolbox, your brainstorming sessions are going to be nothing short of kickass. Let’s get those ideas flowing!
1. Ask a specific question
Before everyone grabs a dry-erase marker and fills up the whiteboard, the number one priority is to make sure everyone is extremely clear on what problem you’re trying to solve.
Contrary to popular belief, creativity needs some constraints in order to be effective. Yes, I said constraints. I know, I know, creativity is supposed to be boundless, but a little structure can go a long way.
One of my favorite questions to kick off a session is “how might we _____?”
So you might point back to some user research you’ve done and ask “how might we alleviate wait times for drivers at the airport?” or “how might we reduce our carbon footprint?”
You can also bring in inspiration from other sources such as competitive research. Consider what some of your competitors are doing and ask how you might provide a better solution, product, etc.
2. Start with a creative warm-up
After framing the question, always begin with a creative warmup. Your team needs to get their creative juices flowing first.
Most of your team will be coming in pretty cold or in a different mode of thinking. Going from rage-inducing traffic into an 8 am meeting, or changing your baby’s diaper and then hopping onto Zoom isn’t conducive to immediately conjuring up golden ideas. Jumping into a creative meeting after you’ve been focused on a spreadsheet for 3 hours can feel like doing the polar plunge. Talk about shocking- yeesh.
Let’s take baby steps into the cold water and get acclimated to the process.
A warm-up is a great way to boost comfort and get those creative juices flowing. It’s like stretching before a workout, except for your brain.
Here are some warmup conversation ideas:
Name the movie that’s the most similar to your life.
Share what your superhero power would be.
What 80’s fashion trend are you?
Get silly and creative to start tapping into that part of your brain!
3. No judgment allowed
There’s no room for judgment in a brainstorming session.
None. Zero. Zilch.
If you want to get the best ideas possible from your team, you will want to make sure everyone feels free to speak up without fear of being shut down.
Make sure your team understands there’s no such thing as a bad idea. Encourage your team to speak up and be heard, no matter how crazy their idea might seem.
This is a non-negotiable if you want to get the best ideas possible from your team.
The MOST important rule in brainstorming is to defer judgment.
Brainstorming is not about being right. Brainstorming is about throwing the darts and seeing which hits the closest to the bullseye.
If there isn’t psychological safety in your brainstorming session, you’re not going to get the full creativity of the team to emerge and be a part of the dynamic in the room.
Have everyone involved in brainstorming commit to deferring judgment. Create a conscious agreement to have an open mind and an active intention to hold off on believing your answer’s right or that someone else’s idea is not feasible.
There are no wrong ideas when you defer judgment. This means not judging your ideas or the ideas of others.
Don’t worry, there will be a time when feasibility is explored. For now, it’s about getting as many ideas out and into the world as possible.
Often we get in our heads and become self-conscious and too scared to share our ideas.
In brainstorming, you’re allowed to let go of self-judgment and let the ideas out. You never know what your idea might spark in somebody else.
4. Go for quantity, not quality
If you have an idea, we wanna hear it!
When you get a massive quantity of ideas out there, you have a much higher chance of one of them being highly original and highly useful.
You’re looking for the type of idea nobody else would have thought of, so you need to get a lot of the predictable ideas out into the ether before you start getting into the really interesting, innovative stuff.
Let the ideas flow, and get as many out there as you can.
Don’t hold back or censor yourself because it’s not the “best” idea you’ve ever come up with.
Encourage your peers to stop biting their tongues and throw stuff out there!
You’re building momentum each time someone shares an idea. The momentum is going to propel the whole team to the final destination- a billion-dollar idea everyone is psyched out of their minds about.
5. Dream big and go for wild ideas
The sky is the limit in brainstorming! Realists, you are so valuable and essential to teams but this is where we let the dreamers take the reigns.
When you’re brainstorming push it to the extreme, go for risky things.
Discuss ideas that will never work, or are out of budget. You’re in the land of dreams when you’re brainstorming. Don’t plummet back down to earth until you need to.
Come up with world-shaking, wild ideas that leave you a little breathless.
If you feel a little apprehensive about sharing it because it’s “too much” you’re on the right track.
Don’t limit yourself or others during the brainstorming process. Refusing to limit yourself idea-wise will help you get to the original ideas and strokes of genius.
If you play it safe, you can’t play full out.
6. Prevent Group Think
Okay, this is the trickier one.
You’ve probably been in brainstorming sessions where one person is really dominating the meeting and they say an idea, and then suddenly the whole group starts focusing only on that one idea and building on it.
This often happens when someone who holds a lot of power, like the CEO or a high-level manager, suggests an idea. There might be a lot of unspoken pressure to follow that person and go along with the program.
But semi-obligatory groupthink means death for the brainstorming process because it won’t create diverse ideas. And diverse ideas during brainstorming is the key.
Let’s acknowledge there may be power dynamics at play in the room. How we circumvent this potential idea-stopper is by getting a little creative and anonymous.
One way to prevent idea railroading is to have everyone write down a bunch of ideas without talking to each other. Take some time for individual brainstorming.
Drop them in a hat, an empty coffee cup, a pencil holder, whatever!
The facilitator in charge of this session can read them aloud or write them on a whiteboard.
Put all the ideas out there on a level playing field. Then you can share and begin to build on each other.
Use each other’s ideas as seeds to inspire you and build something else. When someone on the team shares an idea, take that as a seed, and see how it can inspire you and help you build another idea.
7. Make it visual
All hail the monkey brain!
All primates, including humans, are highly visual creatures. Our brains evolved to better process visual cues and process visual information. So the more you can bring visual aids and even tactile experiences into brainstorming, the better.
Get creative! You can draw pictures, insert photographs, craft some memes, and use colors or shapes representatively. Making ideas visual stimulates the brain and helps generate even more ideas.
8. Move your body
Our brains love when we move. Get your blood pumping. Walk around, dance, stretch, and get those creative juices flowing.
The days of the chair-bound suit-and-tie brainstorm meeting are headed to yesteryear.
With so many people engaged in hybrid or remote work models, there is even more flexibility to make these brainstorming sessions more effective.
Get everyone standing or suggest a walk-and-talk meeting on the phone.
Movement keeps everyone awake, especially useful for when the post-lunch sleepiness kicks in. And more importantly, movement keeps the blood circulating to our brains- the epicenter of good ideas.
9. Build on each other’s ideas.
Collaboration is the name of the game in brainstorming.
I want you to think of every idea as a classic yellow LEGO block. One block has a lot of potential and might be fun to hold and mess around with, but only when you link a bunch of blocks together do you create incredible masterpieces.
Each idea shared is an opportunity to expand upon, go deeper into, contradict, or attempt to improve.
Each of us possesses a unique perspective that can broaden the minds of others. Sharing our thoughts and ideas allows inspiration to strike others in a way they might never experience if you don’t take that step to collaborate.
10. One conversation at a time.
Remember your mom yelling at you and your siblings in the backseat to ask her questions one at a time on your way to the grocery store? Yeah, I didn’t understand her struggle back then but I certainly do now.
What’s beautiful about brainstorming (and 3rd-grade car rides) is it’s an activity that’s exciting and stimulating.
Your creative juices are flowing, you might be seeing a coworker really shine, visuals are catching your eye and everyone’s energy is super high. It can be a rush, and we can get so excited that we start talking over each other or interrupting, and next thing you know 27 different conversations are happening at once and we’ve all lost sight of the big picture.
Before the brainstorming session even begins I like to designate a facilitator who can keep the brainstorming in focus and moderate conversations to keep them productive and in a good flow.
A facilitator can take a group of individuals and turn them into a cohesive group collaborating and creating better results through partnership. Rotating the facilitator role allows everyone to have a chance to lead and bring their unique perspective to the table. Plus, it keeps things fresh and prevents one person from dominating the conversation.
Having a kickass brainstorming session is a critical component of any successful team or business.
By framing the session with a specific question, using creative warm-ups, deferring judgment, going for quantity and wild ideas, and preventing groupthink, you can create an environment that encourages creativity and produces innovative ideas.
Don’t be afraid to get silly and push the boundaries of what’s possible.
And remember, brainstorming is not about being right or perfect, but rather about exploring possibilities and generating as many ideas as possible.
By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to having a brainstorming session that is both productive and enjoyable. Get out there and start generating some kickass ideas!