Brainstorming is the rapid non-judgmental documentation of connected ideas about a particular topic. It’s a powerful idea generation method that can help individuals or teams find more creative ideas.
I use brainstorming to expand on blog posts, articles, book chapters, and work projects. I’ve also hosted brainstorming sessions while working on marketing campaigns and other group projects at a day-job.
Brainstorming is a simple skill to learn. All you need is a topic, a pen and paper and an inclination to capture information rapidly. Hosting a group brainstorming session is a little more involved and requires some planning and rules.
In this guide, I offer basic brainstorming tips for individuals and groups so you can master the art of rapid ideation.
- 1. Invite the Right People
- 2. Prepare
- 3. Set a Clear Goal
- 4. Avoid Judging New Ideas
- 5. Use The Right Media
- 6. Use a Timer
- 7. Leave Rank And Status Outside
- 8. Use Digital Tools If Needed
- 9. Beware The Post-Mortem
- 10. Take A Photo
- 11. Brainstorm In a New Location
- 12. Repeat and Learn
- Brainstorming Tips: The Final Word
- Brainstorming Tips FAQs
1. Invite the Right People
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos famously proposed the two-pizza rule, saying:
If you can’t feed a team with two large pizzas in a meeting, you’re in trouble.
If you’re preparing for team brainstorming sessions, try not to invite more than ten people. And when a team is brainstorming, role, rank and position within a company belong outside.
If you’re brainstorming alone, you won’t face this issue.
Before a brainstorm, review the topic and objective of the brainstorm. Let others know where and when the session will take place.
Give people time to consider, research and form their initial ideas. This is particularly important for introverts who need more time to reflect on a business idea in their heads before expressing it in front of others.
Circulate any pre-reads if the topic is challenging. If you’re brainstorming alone, read through any notes and research related to the topic.
3. Set a Clear Goal
At the start of the brainstorming session, state the problem that requires a solution. Give people confines within which to work. Whether you’re working alone or with others, it sometimes helps to write this question at the top of a whiteboard.
4. Avoid Judging New Ideas
Idea generation emphasises quantity. Each one should spark two or three more. It doesn’t matter if these ideas are good or bad, even downright crazy.
During brainstorming, record new ideas without judgement. If it’s a group session, remind others there’s no such thing as a bad idea.
It usually takes a few bad ideas to warm up to a good one. And in group brainstorming sessions, a bad idea may spark a wild idea from someone else or draw quieter group members out of their bubbles.
5. Use The Right Media
Typically, an individual records a brainstorming session on a large piece of paper, whereas a team records their session on a large whiteboard or flipchart.
I’ve found A4 or letter size ideal for individual sessions. Anything smaller feels too restrictive, and anything larger isn’t portable enough.
Team brainstorming sessions are somewhat different, and a whiteboard allows everyone to see their ideas unfold. During a team brainstorming session, one person should record the group’s ideas while others speak.
It’s possible to capture more ideas if individual team members stand up while talking and annotate the whiteboard. They can scribble ideas on the whiteboard, use different coloured pens or even affix stickies or Post-its.
This way, nothing is lost.
6. Use a Timer
Nothing is more draining than a brainstorming session that lasts too long. Ideally, a brainstorming session shouldn’t last longer than 30-minutes (if alone) and never more than 60-minutes (with others).
Short snappy brainstorming sessions shouldn’t get in the way of actually acting on said ideas.
7. Leave Rank And Status Outside
If a manager starts making executive decisions during a brainstorming session, this will dissuade others from opening up.
Similarly, it’s unhelpful for one person to dominate a brainstorming session, something that inevitably happens in group discussions.
There are some ways to avoid these potential problems:
Pass around a conch: Only the person holding the conch can speak; it doesn’t have to be an actual conch, you can use any object.
Appoint a facilitator: their role is to encourage equal contributions and they don’t necessarily have to be the manager.
Rotate roles: if you host group brainstorms regularly, rotate the role of facilitator and recorder, so everyone contributes.
8. Use Digital Tools If Needed
Several digital apps support individual and group brainstorming sessions. The better ones include:
Miro is particularly good for hosting virtual brainstorming sessions with others. Individuals can log in and write ideas down on virtual sticky notes and pin them to a digital whiteboard.
For individual sessions, I use pen and paper or a large whiteboard. Digital tools slow down the process, and they can cause distractions (e.g. email, Twitter etc.).
It’s sometimes necessary to present a brainstorm, and the above tools are good for this.
9. Beware The Post-Mortem
After a brainstorming session: Let the bad ideas fade away. Avoid an overly negative post-mortem. Finish up by letting everyone go away so suggested ideas can marinate.
If an idea or topic stands out the following day, expand on this idea, either as an individual or as part of a team. Consider your next steps.
This doesn’t mean keeping and sending around minutes that everyone signs off on. It merely means quality ideas are actioned.
10. Take A Photo
At the end of a successful brainstorming session, take a photo of the whiteboard or flip chart with a smartphone and upload it to Evernote or some other archive for future reference.
Alternatively, one person can record the notes using apps like Simplenote, Apple Notes or OneNote. If you’re using a digital tool, circulate a copy of the brainstorm every one, too.
11. Brainstorm In a New Location
Brainstorming is a creative technique so consider mixing up the environment from time to time. You could host one in an unused meeting room or outside if the weather is nice. A team offsite is another good choice. If you’re working alone, try brainstorming in the park or a local coffee shop.
12. Repeat and Learn
Like mind-mapping, honing an effective brainstorming technique takes practice. Start a session the next tap you feel creatively blocked or are facing a particularly difficult problem. Give your team some chances to figure out how to work together using this technique.
Brainstorming Tips: The Final Word
Brainstorming is a great way of finding more innovative ideas either alone or with a team. It’s easy to get started, and an effective brainstorming session doesn’t take too long. A great idea awaits!
Brainstorming Tips FAQs
How long should brainstorming last?
If you’re brainstorming alone, a session should last somewhere between 15 and 30-minutes. If you’re working as part of a team, 30 to sixty-minute is more than enough time.
What makes a good brainstorming session?
A good brainstorming session is one where an individual or a small team comes up with lots of ideas fast, refines them and then picks one or two to act on.
How do I get the most out of my brainstorming session?
Prepare for your brainstorming session in advance by gathering any tools, notes and research. Work in a quiet place either alone or with your team on generation ideas for a pre-defined period without interruption. Avoid judging any bad ideas. At the end of the session, pick one or two to move forwards with.
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