6 Tips to Supercharge Brainstorming

Great ideas. They’re the white whale of your team’s success; elusive and yet hugely important. Where do great ideas come from and how can you fine tune your team’s ideation process to catch them when they swim by?

New research into the science of creativity is supporting an old technique for generating ideas. It turns out that brainstorming —a term coined in the 1930s by ad exec Alex Osborn— continues to be one of the most effective approaches to solving a creative problem. According to new research at the University of Pittsburgh, ideas are revealed through a series of small, closely-related iterations. Idea A leads to Idea B leads to Idea C leads to... your team’s next million dollar campaign.

So, what do we know about brainstorming and how can you set your team up to find the next great idea? These six guidelines will help you supercharge your team’s next brainstorming session.

Lay the Ground Rules

A successful brainstorm starts with everyone understanding why they’re there, the rules of engagement and the broad strokes of the problem. Circulate this information ahead of your creative session so everyone comes in prepared to contribute.

Set the Stage

Sometimes creativity is stymied by the team’s surroundings. Do you work in cubeville? Is your conference room a windowless box? Try stepping out with your team to a meeting room at the library, or reserve an unused break room with comfy chairs for the afternoon. If you’re stuck in the conference room, push the tables back and bring the chairs into a circle. In short, mix things up.

Eliminate the Filters

Every idea, no matter how outrageous or unrealistic, is a good idea during a brainstorming session. The best brainstorming sessions allow ideas to build on each other and allows every idea to have the potential to lead to an amazing new direction. Facilitate the dialogue to help people feel supported and free to share any wild thought that comes to mind.

Make it Fun

Brainstorming can be an amazing way to build energy and team connectivity. There are HUNDREDS of techniques that can help your team visualize a problem or come at an idea from a slightly different angle. Check out different techniques and experiment with what works for your team.

Don’t Poison the Well

“We tried that and it didn’t work” is a toxic statement in a brainstorming session. If you have a team member who is having trouble shifting from realistic to blue-sky mode, find a way to help them understand the science behind creative exploration. If that doesn’t work, let them know that their perspective will be more helpful as you move from ideation into mapping out a tactical approach.

Stay Focused

While you should allow ideas to develop, don’t spend half of the meeting exploring only one idea. The last thing anyone wants is to go down the rabbit hole on a single wrong idea and miss a chance to find the right one. You want the group to generate many ideas and to explore their connections quickly. If the session goes on for too long, it can be easy for a team to lose focus. Build in 10 minute breaks to keep people fresh.

The next time your team is stalled out on a problem, schedule a creative brainstorming session. With the points above as your guide, you’ll realize how easy and fun it is to leverage the power of collective creativity and hone in on your next great idea.