Creative Leadership

10 Tips for Successful Brainstorming

Creative LeadershipContrary to popular belief, you can’t just toss a bunch of humans into a room with a whiteboard and a slew of stickies, and expect them to generate great ideas. Successful brainstorming doesn’t just happen. It takes work. (and a little bit of fun!)

There are a few simple things you can do to help your team generate some truly great ideas. Here are ten tips guaranteed to boost creativity in your next brainstorming session:

1. Choose a recorder wisely. The most important person in the room during a brainstorming session is the person with the pen. All those great ideas flying around the room and the only ones that survive are the ones that are written down. Be mindful of what gets recorded and how—watch that nuances don’t get lost!

2. Ignore constraints. Ask yourself: What’s the craziest thing you’d like to accomplish if money, time, connections, and experience weren’t a factor? Only after you’ve got some insane ideas down, should you slowly bring constraints back in, drawing your goals down a little closer to earth. This works much better than going the other way!

3. Use a timer. Set a time and fill it to the brim with unbridled, unceasing brainstorming. There should be a sense of urgency that propels you forward. Don’t worry if you’re not “there” when the timer goes off. Take a break and pick it up again. Sometimes it will take a few sessions.

4. Involve Everyone. Get the best people in the room, regardless of whether they’re “creative” or “social.” Everyone has a piece of the puzzle, your job is to make them comfortable enough to share their point of view.

5. Focus on Quantity. Brainstorming is simply a numbers game. The more divergent ideas you generate, the greater probability you’ll discover a radical solution that solves your problem. Quantity breeds Quality.

6. Play music. Music stimulates the right side of the brain, gets you connected to your emotions, and breaks up that corporate shell that hardens around many of us at work. Play classical or jazz or any other music without lyrics.

7. Withhold judgment. Don’t criticize anything. This kills brainstorming on two levels. First, it stops the evolution of an idea; you never know where an idea might lead. Second, it shuts people down, they need to feel free to say absolutely anything.

8. Think Crazy. Look at every possible angle. Then turn the whole subject inside out. Push the limits of insanity. That’s where you’ll find the seed of a radical idea that might just work.

9. Follow the Rabbit. Don’t stop with blurting out an idea. Combine it with others. Improve it. Evolve it. Let it take you somewhere new. Don’t just create a huge list of individual ideas, take those ideas and connect them with each other in countless ways. This is where brainstorming gets really cool.

10. Don’t stop. Even if you find the solution to world peace—keep going until you hit your time limit. You never know what’s just around the corner. Just keep going!

What tips do you have for helping groups generate great ideas?

photo credit: @boetter

6 thoughts on “10 Tips for Successful Brainstorming”

  1. Thanks Geoff,

    You offer great suggestions. A mentor of mine offered me an important suggestion that has helped me. I’ll add it here.

    He told me to control the pen. You may not be the person recording all the notes but the final version directly from you. The leader controls the content of the newsletter, final version of the minutes, etc.

    He believed that people with an agenda can slant minutes or newsletters. If thats true then they should have the leaders slant.

    Keep up the good work,

    Dan

    1. That’s solid advice, Dan; thanks for the addition. Minutes, newsletters, etc. always have a slant—sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes not. Either way, you’ve got to be careful. Whatever gets recorded has a funny way of supplanting reality!

  2. I really like the suggestion on using a timer… With a time limit, it probably push up the adrenaline level (hopefully) and ideas will spring up much faster..

    Do you have any recommendations on how to decide the amount of time for the brainstorming session?

    1. It ultimately depends on the people in your team and the dynamics of the group. Some groups can maintain focus for an hour. Others can only make it about 5 minutes. Experiment. Mix it up a little. Break it up a bit too. Maybe you go hard for 10-15 minutes, switch to another activity/game, then return to the brainstorming for another 10-15 minutes. Every team is different, but every team has a groove.

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