If your company’s brainstorming sessions have gone from awe-inspiring to yawn-inspiring, or if you are struggling with a new product or service, you can amp up your brainstorming process to inspire more new and amazing ideas. A well-facilitated and planned brainstorming session can produce the next Amazon Echo or Project Loon from Google, designed to provide internet access to everyone – because that’s where those ideas were generated.
The following 7 tips will take your brainstorming sessions to a new level of creativity and ingenuity...
Mix up your method.
Do you always meet in the same room? With the same group? At the same time of day? And use the same process? If so, you probably shouldn’t be surprised when you get the same kind of results. If that is the case, try something (or several things) different: Meet at a unique offsite or outdoor location. Add in some new brainstorming materials (props, magazines, competitor’s products, or even brighter colored markers/pens/stickers, for example). Try first thing in the morning instead of right after lunch or on Tuesday instead of Thursday. A happy hour brainstorming meeting, perhaps? When you create a fresh environment, you will spark new ideas and motivation.
On a similar note, starting with the end in mind has been hugely successful for Amazon. They start with an aspirational press release, writing FAQs about the new product and answering them with aspirational language and ideas as well, and they occasionally build the things they are writing about. The next step is a group debate which focuses on potential pitfalls, followed by the group developing buy-in and committing to the product. Sometimes, working forwards means a project starts out ok, but then roadblocks surface, spending mushrooms, and projects can implode after months or years of research and work. Plan and work backward – keeping the consumers’ needs in mind – to ensure better use of both resources and time.
Get in the right state of mind.
If you feed your team donuts, they might be grateful for a few minutes, but will likely crash quickly as that sugar rush invades their systems. If you have a spread of fruit, veggies, and dips and/or cheese and whole-grain crackers, on the other hand, you will feed their bodies and minds. Food can both create and combat brain fog, so plan your meetings carefully. Naturally, coffee is never a bad idea (unless it’s an evening brainstorming session and you don’t want to be blamed for employees’ sleepless nights). Skip on the soda and offer sparkling water instead. Another fantastic way to spark ideas is movement: Either do an active warm-up exercise where people are moving around the room and getting the blood flowing or literally take a short walk (across campus, across the street to the new coffee shop) to generate feel-good endorphins and more useful ideas.
Pinpoint your purpose.
The group facilitator must have and communicate an explicitly clear purpose, something that will be useful to the group and the company as a whole. This is the difference between 'how can we improve our XYZ product?' and 'how can we reduce the manufacturing costs of XYZ’s parts by 20%?' Prepare team members with necessary supporting information ahead of time and ensure you have the right people in the room when brainstorming begins. Make expectations clear and ask thoughtful questions to generate new responses.
Try brainwriting instead.
Sometimes, the first ideas out there get the most consideration, and sometimes, one or two people do most of the talking. If you are looking for a solution around these potential roadblocks, start with 'brainwriting' instead. Write first, talk second. When sharing ideas, there will be overlap so encourage the group to only throw out ideas that haven’t already been mentioned. This puts everyone, introverts included, on a more level playing field and allows some quiet time for thoughtful idea generation.
Don’t be afraid to think big.
Google espouses something called 'think 10X,' with a goal of improving something by 10 times instead of just by 10%. Encourage big, bold and bright thinking and never shame or judge brainstormers who throw out pie-in-the-sky ideas. Sure, big ideas may have to be culled into more bite-sized pieces, but that doesn’t mean they won’t inspire the next great thing for your business.
End with a prototype.
Rather than walking away and agreeing to check back later, circle back now. Google teams build a prototype right away, without any expectation of perfection but rather a focus on testing out ideas, having something to actually look at and then going from there. How can you turn your ideas into reality without wasting any time?
Brainstorming should never feel rote or tired. In truth, it can be fun, creative, liberating and team-building. If your company’s brainstorming process is less than effective, focus on freeing up your team, creating the conditions for power thinking and allowing all ideas to be shared equally.