BrainstormIn order to create a win-win situation when creating brainstorming sessions, an eco-system is required to ensure the best possible output. Basically we want to achieve mind-blowing ideas in an environment conducive to these. Innovation is a by-product of brainstorming for both teams and individuals.

Getting the most out of a brainstorming session, and creating an eco-system, means first finding a comfortable place which offers no distractions – the kind of place where you know you can sit and think. Arranging and developing ideas can be assisted by Mind Mapping, and making lists is useful too. The point is to develop a structure and use tools, and rules, in an unstructured environment. Paradoxical as this might sound, it actually works.

The sort of tools and rules entail prepping a team, or getting to know your subject. If the team has never worked together before a warm-up exercise is a good idea. Making sure that everything is on hand in the room, and that refreshments are provided. This is a brainstorming session not a salt-mine, where the purpose is to generate as many new ideas as possible.

The thinking should be of a freewheeling nature, and a team should be diverse. A whole lot of people with the same expertise is highly unlikely to provide a variety of thinking styles.  One person should be dedicated to recording all the ideas, and post these where the team can re-refer to them. White boards, flip charts and/or a computer with data projector are useful for this.

The problem needs to be presented clearly, and specific criteria defined. Start of the session with quiet time, as this gives people the space they need to think. Ask the team to write down their ideas during this time (Brain-writing or Crawford Slip-writing), and then ask everyone to share – introducing each person individually. This is known as the “Stepladder Technique”, which draws everyone into the session, and can lay great groundwork for group discussion.

Remember that encouraging team players to build on other people’s ideas is one of the biggest benefits of holding a brainstorming session. Include all team members (especially the quiet ones), and make sure that everyone understands that no ideas or concepts should ever be criticised. Take plenty of breaks, don’t stay on the same tangent for too long; allow team members the freedom to tune out if they want to delve into an idea alone.

Brainstorming should be fun, although it is good to have a leader guiding the discussion. A leader can make sure only one conversation takes place at a time, and help re-focus the group. They can also throw in concepts such as provocation and random input. One thing we cannot stress enough is that these sessions are specifically designed to come up with as many impractical, crazy, random ideas as possible.

There are many tools to use to generate more and better ideas, for example Reverse Brainstorming  – generally used to improve services or products. Starbursting for developing the right questions to ask when evaluating proposals; Charette Procedure – for large groups; Role-storming, and so on.  All have a purpose, and role to play in creating the perfect brainstorming eco-system.