I was invited to a brainstorming session a couple of weeks ago, I jumped at the chance – I love brainstorming sessions, I tend to come out of them with more ideas for my own work as well as contributing some to the session.

But this one fell flat and I’ve been thinking about what went wrong and what makes a good brainstorming session. Here’s what I’ve come up with;

Choose a time when participants have some energy to be creative; Friday last thing might not be the time of the week when people are feeling their most energetic or creative – or it might be a good opportunity if you can move them to a different environment and finish the week on a high.
Go somewhere different, or do something different to make the participants feel they’re outside the office and away from their work. One friend spent 50 euro at IKEA to buy everything needed to create a picnic environment for his brainstorm.
Choose a mixture of participants; you want a mixture of approaches, ideas, thought processes. Try to have a mixture of introvert and extroverts – but make sure the introverts get a chance to be heard. If the brainstorm is about a creative issue, for example a product name, make sure there are people in the group from the target audience – and make sure their voices are heard.
Make sure the purpose of the brainstorming is clearly defined; “re-imagining how we work” or “naming the new product”.
Be very clear on the process – even if not all steps are disclosed to the participants up front. The process should include;

  • set ground rules – everyone’s ideas are valid, no ‘black hat‘ reactions, no blocking, no evaluating of ideas
  • a briefing, outlining the purpose, the context, and how the outcomes of the brainstorm will be used
  • an exercise to switch people’s thinking out of their daily grind mindset, I’ve used masks to reinforce that we needed to look at the question through different eyes
  • an exercise to generate ideas – this should be a no holds barred free for all idea session
  • order ideas – group or order the ideas, for example if the exercise is around naming a product you might group the names into types such as “emotional”, “descriptive” and “new word”
  • discuss – it’s important to discuss how everyone arrived at their ideas, sometimes this will help convince at the next step, or help people think of new direction

I always go into a brainstorming hoping we’ll get the perfect answer, sometimes that doesn’t happen. It’s important that you drive towards the goal but don’t force it; if the right answer doesn’t come out of the brainstorm be positive about what has been offered and reinforce what the next step will be.
Do something original to make the brainstorm fun. Our meeting rooms have glass walls and after the brainstorm were I used masks I had several people ask if they could join the next session. Dare a little, it will be appreciated.

The best brainstorming session leaves everyone feeling positive about the project, and invested in the outcome – even if it wasn’t “their” idea that was chosen.

What was the best brainstorming you’ve been to?

image Brainstorms at INDEX: Views /Jacob Botter/ CC BY 2.0

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