Tips for a Successful Brainstorm
Your non-profit organization is getting ready for its annual fundraising event and you’re trying to determine an appropriate theme.
The product development arm of your business has been tasked with the project of diversifying what you manufacture, of finding something that fits nicely within the spectrum of your other products and won’t cost a lot to make, but will introduce you to a new audience of prospective clients.
You’re looking to hire a new team member and would prefer to bring on someone who not only possesses the requisite skills, but also has some relational equity with folks that already work for you.
What do all of these situations have in common?
They’re all moments at which you’d likely generate some fruitful ideas by gathering a few people in a room for a brainstorm session.
In a creative field, we conduct brainstorm sessions – multiple ones – every single day. Even then, though, because we’re all human, it’s easy to forget some very simple guidelines that help brainstorm sessions go smoothly and productively. So, we’d like to take a few moments here to remind ourselves and – in turn – give you a few helpful hints as you strive to generate creative ideas at your own workplace.
SET SOME TIME PARAMETERS
Contrary to popular belief, creativity doesn’t happen in a moment’s flash of inspiration, nor does it occur completely free of all restrictions. Set up your brainstorm session for a long enough time that allows folks to warm up, get engaged and generate ideas, but not for so long a time that they begin getting bored and disengaged. An hour is usually ideal, but sometimes you’ll notice folks petering out before that or still going strong, so be ready to adapt. Also be mindful of setting the brainstorm session on a day when there are not a million other things going; otherwise, your team may be physically present in the meeting, but mentally absent, thinking about how to get back to their desks for deadlines or e-mails. (Note: Also encourage them to leave laptops and cellphones out of the meeting.)
UMBRELLA OF GRACE
Under the umbrella of grace, all ideas in a brainstorm are good ones. Now is not the time to evaluate; it’s the time to generate. Focus on getting as many ideas out of people’s heads and onto some kind of list. You can discuss their practicality and feasibility later. It will help to have one person rapidly taking notes so nothing gets lost. This sort of environment will enable your idea folks to throw out bold ideas and out-of-the-box thinking without fear of being squelched or edited, and you may arrive at some concepts beyond the normal routes your company usually pursues.
PRACTICE “YES-AND….” BRAINSTORMING
Sometimes, the best ideas are those that piggyback off of previous ideas. Encourage your brainstorm team members to listen very carefully to what’s being said and then strive for ideas that connect to, correlate with, and expand on what’s being said. The plus side is that you end up generating ideas that may later be used in tandem (for example, decorating ideas for a themed event). The downside is that too much piggybacking can get you stuck in a rut, so be sure to break up the “yes, and….” dynamic if it becomes an excuse for not generating new ideas.
MARINATE, THEN RETURN
After the brainstorm session, circulate the list of ideas to the team, let them sit with them, and wait before you reconvene. Magical things can happen as these ideas percolate, invade their dreams, and are at the forefront of their minds as they watch movies, read magazines, etc. When you reconvene to start making decisions about which ideas to pursue, you’ll find increased clarity about what will work / how to proceed / where there’s energy – moreso than if you try and make decision-making part of the brainstorm session. Give it a few days and then come back to your ideas.