The term “brainstorming” was coined by Alex Osborn, a successful advertising executive and business owner, in his book Your Creative Power: “It was in 1939 when I first organized such group-thinking in our company. The early participants dubbed our efforts ‘Brainstorm Sessions,’ and quite aptly so because, in this case, ‘brainstorm’ means using the brain to storm a creative problem and do so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.” Since then, the term has taken the world by storm.
At its best, brainstorming is a creative approach to problem-solving that encourages collaboration while eliminating judgment. That being said, we realize that not everyone sees brainstorming as an essential—or in some cases even valuable—part of the process. We’ve been there: questioning if the time invested would be worth it. However, we’ve found that by focusing on the following best practices, we can accurately forecast that our brainstorming sessions will be a resounding success.
- Let people generate ideas individually first, before coming together to discuss and collaborate.
- Assign a moderator to guide the brainstorming session in a productive direction and avoid getting off topic.
- Clearly state the objective(s) of the brainstorming session at the beginning of the meeting, including a project overview, to get everyone in the right mindset.
- Set a time limit to encourage your team to stay on track and crank out as many ideas as possible within the allotted timeframe.
- It can be easy to forget even some of the best ideas when so many ideas are being presented, so be sure to keep detailed notes, and even sketches, to reference later and serve as a reminder.
- Allow everyone to have a say and be supportive of everyone’s ideas. Rather than taking five minutes out of your allotted time to discuss reasons why a particular idea is good or bad, write down all ideas.
- Start general and end specific. To start, go for quantity over quality; once you have a solid list of ideas, you can start eliminating some that may not be applicable.
- Have fun with it! This is your team’s opportunity to come together, work creatively, and think outside the box.
If you’re still stuck—or not convinced—consider these five techniques to add a little variety to your next brainstorming session.
- Brain Writing
Separate idea generation from discussion. The elected moderator shares the topic with the team, then gives team members time to brainstorm and write down their ideas individually on their own piece of paper. Once the time is up, everyone passes their piece of paper to the person next to them. The timer starts again, and now everyone builds off of the ideas in front of them. When the timer goes off, everyone passes the piece of paper again, and then proceeds to add their own ideas to the new list of ideas in front of them. This continues until everyone in the circle has contributed to everyone’s list of ideas.
- Mind Mapping
Perhaps the most classic approach of all, this is putting the goal in the center of the board, then branching off into subtopics. Create as many subcategories as possible, as well as ideas that spring from them. Look for ideas that connect across subcategories and utilize these connections to spur more ideas.
- Mind the Gap
You know where you are (Point A) and where you want to be (Point B), and it’s that gap in between the two that needs to be filled. By brainstorming all of the ways to fill the gap, you’ll be able to more clearly see how to get from Point A to Point B efficiently and effectively. Remember: there is always more than one way to accomplish a goal, and by curating ideas from others, you may find a new path to even greater success.
- Round Robin
Sitting in a circle, go around the circle asking each person to contribute an idea. If someone says that someone already took their idea, say you’ll come back to them at the end so that they have time to think of a new one. This is a great way to ensure everyone on the team contributes at least one idea, and it helps prevent team members from avoiding contributing.
Instead of trying to think of answers to a question, have your team brainstorm questions. This will lead to even more questions—perhaps some your team may not have thought of otherwise. This is an especially valuable technique when brainstorming content development, as the answers to the questions your team thinks of should likely be answered within your content.
- Brain Writing