Whether it’s this year’s big product launch, next month’s team building activity, or coming up with an innovative marketing campaign for Q3, effective brainstorming can help you overcome challenges and reach new heights.
But the key word is “effective.” Too often, brainstorming means getting a group of people together and letting them go wild sharing whatever idea pops into their head. There are several downsides to this approach:
- There will be a disproportionate number of ideas from the loudest, most experienced people in the bunch. This approach doesn’t effectively engage your most creative people — introverts.
- Earlier ideas tend to get more credit due to “anchoring bias.”
- In an effort to avoid confrontation the group will often skew toward the most mediocre ideas. This is called “regression to the mean.”
This doesn’t lead to those whammo! out-of-the-box ideas that brainstorming sessions are meant to uncover.
Here are four brainstorming methods you can use for virtual and face-to-face meetings that will help get the best results from all participants.
The “Stop, Start, Continue”
This method of brainstorming is perfect for generating brand new ideas and reevaluating the old way of doing things. It works well with strategy and process-related challenges.
How it works:
Present a topic (it’s always best to let participants know the topic in advance of the meeting), and have participants work individually and write down — on multi-colored post-it notes or on their computer in a virtual meeting situation — the ideas they have that fall under the categories Stop, Start or Continue about the topic.
For example, if you’re discussing lead generation, you might write:
- Stop calling every single lead that comes in
- Start qualifying leads
- Continue outreach via email.
Once your team has written down their ideas, regroup and one by one bring the ideas to the table. If this is a face-to-face meeting, group the post-it notes on a whiteboard under the Stop, Start, or Continue categories. If it’s a virtual meeting use a virtual whiteboard, like GoToMeeting’s drawing tools, or have people add their ideas to a Google doc and share your screen with the document open so everyone can see it. This way everyone has the chance to voice their ideas, and the team can compare notes.
The “Write Blind”
Have you ever led a brainstorming session only to be met with the sound of crickets chirping? It’s not fun, but it’s avoidable as long as you give your brainstorming session some structure. Write Blind is a simple concept that gets creative juices flowing. It can be a stand-alone brainstorming technique or can be used at the beginning of any brainstorming session.
How it works:
Introduce the topic and have participants write freely for ten minutes in a stream of consciousness around this topic. Maybe it’s word associations or just random ideas that pop into their heads. After ten minutes have passed, have everyone share their random thoughts and use these as jump-off points for discussion. Make sure you give everyone a chance to contribute. It’s always a good idea to set a time limit on how long you’ll discuss a single idea so you don’t spend too much time on one or two ideas. The point is to get as many ideas out there as possible. And remember to leave all judgments at the door!
The “Next Steps Storm”
This method helps your team decide which concrete steps they need to take to get from point A to point Z. “Next Steps” are clear and precise actions that need to occur in order to reach an end goal. It’s a good way to kick off complex projects that involve many stakeholders. With the input from the team, you’ll be able to think through all the action items and possible hurdles giving you a great start to putting together a comprehensive plan of attack.
How it works:
Get your team together and have them write down what they believe are the next steps to achieve a particular goal. The next steps have to start with an action verb like call, email or meet. In other words, something that will keep the process going. Keep the “next steps” to a few words, like “design new logo concepts.” It also has to be very clear who needs to do what, for who, and when. Regroup and have the team reach a consensus about the necessity and order of the next steps — depending on the complexity of the project, this may need to be a separate meeting.
The “Telephone Brainstorm”
This method is a great way to combat groupthink, encourage mutual creativity, and involve more introverted co-workers who think and share better in smaller groups.
How it works:
Once the topic has been presented, form a core group of two people. These two then discuss the topic sharing their viewpoints and ideas (remember, this can also be done virtually or in a physical space). Once the two people discuss the topic, one person leaves the room and a new person comes in to talk with the core group member left. The new person discusses their ideas first. This encourages new ways of thinking instead of anchoring to early ideas. Then the core group member shares and the discussion continues. After the allotted time, the core member leaves the room and a new person comes into the room to discuss the ideas. This goes on until everyone has had a chance to brainstorm two at a time, swapping and accumulating ideas. Get the group back together and discuss your findings.
The key to brainstorming is to ensure the topic is crystal clear to all participants and that they are in an environment in which they feel comfortable voicing their ideas. Remember, the point of brainstorming is to generate a large volume of ideas — quantity is the most important factor in this stage of the ideation process. Following these techniques will help you generate a lot of ideas that can serve as jumping-off points for further discussion or more refined ideas.