A brainstorm can be a powerful tool to create great ideas. However, it’s not uncommon brainstorming is seen as ’20 minutes of fun’ – like it’s not a real business meeting just because you are creating divergent ideas. These brainstorms can harm the reputation of the technique as the productivity of sessions organized this way is very low.
Fortunately, saving the reputation of brainstorming is easy. These are the ten commandments for organizing and participating in a productive brainstorming session:
- You will be on time
- You will have an agenda
- You will appoint one participant as the scribe
- You will have no distractions or interruptions
- You will be clear about the goal of the brainstorm
- You will not recognize ‘ranks’ in a brainstorm session
- You will time your brainstorm
- There will be no discussions during the brainstorm
- Remember brainstorming is about quantity, not quality
- You will have a back-up plan
1. You will be on time
This is of course always a good rule to live by in and outside of office meetings, but for brainstorming this is extra important. Someone entering the brainstorm at a later point resets the sessions productivity completely by breaking the creative flow. Usually the value of late-comers tends to get less and less as they enter a brainstorm at a later point, running miles behind the ideas of the participants, often repeating them or not contributing in fear of repeating the ideas of others. See the ‘Productivity curve of the brainstorm’ for more details.
2. You will have an agenda
This seems to be the most overlooked point during a brainstorm session. A brainstorm sessions is not twenty minutes of fun and then creating a result. Have an agenda, pick one or more brainstorm techniques, plan ahead!
3. You will appoint one participant as the scribe
Obvious but essential. Appoint someone to take notes during the session. Write down everything. It pays to have someone with some experience in writing here – as ideas start flowing, the phase increases and its important to have readable, and complete notes of the meeting.
4. You will have no distractions or interruptions
This adds to rule number 1; turn of mobile phones, hold your calls and make sure you have the time to sit the brainstorm out. Interrupting the creative flow is very damaging to the output of your brainstorm.
5. You will be clear about the goal of the brainstorm
The power of a brainstorm is also a risk. You can run completely off-topic and ending up with original, but irrelevant ideas. Create a good mindset by being clear about you’re the goals brainstorm. However, keep in mind this is not a ‘SMART’ exercise. Your goals can be abstract, broad, or narrow, the important thing is to know what you want out of it.
6. You will not recognize ‘ranks’ in a brainstorm session
In a brainstorm sessions there are 3 functions, and they have nothing to do with your ‘rank’ or function within the organization itself. First of all there is the brainstorm manager – the one who made the agenda, formulated the goals and arranges everything. Secondly, the scribe – a person taking notes. And third there are the participants. Within the brainstorm it is essential all participants see each other as equal, otherwise factors of fear or intimidation will limit the usefulness of your output.
7. You will time your brainstorm
In our different techniques pages, you will find pre-made agenda’s indicating the time for each phase. Keep track of these times because they correspond with the productivity and creative flows with your participants. It is also the reason why rule number 1 and 4 are vital – these times are seriously influenced by interruptions preventing you from peaking.
8. There will be no discussions during the brainstorm
But isn’t discussion necessary for new ideas? It is – but not during the brainstorm. A brainstorm is about creating new ideas – the evaluation comes later. Therefore, there will be no discussion amongst participants during the brainstorm session on ideas.
9. Remember brainstorming is about quantity, not quality
This relates to the previous point, but it’s also about the mindset of your participants. They should know this is not a contest for having the best idée, the most realistic idea, or any other qualification based on the quality of the idea. This is about generating lots, and lots of ideas to inspire one great idea.
10. You will have a back-up plan
It will happen a brainstorm just doesn’t get off the ground. A slow day, the theme doesn’t strike a chord, or you picked the wrong brainstorming strategy for your participants. Make sure you have a back-up plan like changing the topic, changing the strategy, or adjusting your goals. A few efficient and simple back-up plans are having a controversial issue you are sure everyone has an opinion about as a new subject, or changing the context of your brainstorm so something more ‘close to home’ like the office, the news, or family members.
Example of a controversial issue:
If the brainstorm with the goal to create ideas for a campaign selling toothbrushes to children doesn’t go anywhere, change toothbrushes into cigarettes. This triggers new thoughts and once you get new ideas flowing, switch back to the original topic.
Example of bringing it closer to home:
Taking the same brainstorm from Example 1, switch ‘children’ to ‘your children’ – or the children of the school across the street.