Brainstorming is when you build a long list of new ideas. Done well, a brainstorm can be an exciting, energised, collaborative and highly valuable activity. Alternatively, with the wrong behaviours and tactics, they can be an oppressive, dull and time wasting activity. Knowing how to brainstorm, both in a group and by yourself, will allow you to get the most out of this opportunity.
When Should You Use Brainstorming
You should use brainstorming to come up with new ideas. This could be on a big scale – when you’re looking for big ideas that really build into a transformation. Or you could use it on a smaller scale, looking for solutions to smaller challenges or better ways of doing certain activities.
Brainstorming is best used in a group setting. A group brings different perspectives and experiences together which is important for generating ideas. In addition to this, the flow of the conversation will spark new ideas in the group. However, you can also use a solo brainstorm to inspire your own new ideas. The ideas could be focused on what your project is doing. Alternatively, you could be generating ideas to improve how you are managing your project and the approach you are taking.
How to Brainstorm in a Group or in a Meeting
Planning your group brainstorm
Effective brainstorming starts with challenge. Having a theme focuses the mind. As such, it will be more productive than a generic “think of any idea” session.
You’ll want to think carefully about the attendees that you invite too. You should aim for 2 to 8 people. It’s not essential that they know how to brainstorm – only that they’re able to open their minds to the concept of new opportunities.
You should set the expectation with these people too that they’ll be asked to think of and contribute to new ideas.
Running the brainstorm session
Depending on the challenge that you need to take on, you may want an entire session devoted to the brainstorm. Alternatively, you may decide to dedicate only part of a meeting to generating new ideas.
It’s best to start off with a few rules for how to brainstorm. It’s important to stress the concept of “no ideas is a bad idea”. Cheesy and overused – yes. But also still critical for 2 reasons. Firstly, you never know when an off the wall idea could inspire another great idea. Secondly, closing down an idea actually has a chemical effect on people’s brains. In turn, you risk damaging creativity for the individual whose idea has been shot down. Worse still, this can also limit creativity for the whole group involved.
Other topics you’ll want to share at the start of the session include the approach that you’ll do. There are different styles and techniques for brainstorming. You’ll want to decide what’s best and explain how the session will work.
Make sure that you’re documenting the ideas as you’re going through your idea generation session. With ideas (hopefully) coming thick and fast, you’ll find it’s easy to forget ideas. A list is the simplest and quickest way of recording this live in the session. You could also try using sticky post it notes with the rule of an idea per note. This can be useful for prioritising or grouping ideas towards the end of the session.
You should have a long list of ideas once you have run your session. The first activity you’ll want to do it to group the ideas. This removes any duplicate ideas and allows you to see common themes.
Next, you’ll want to focus on prioritising these ideas – which are the best ideas to follow up on most urgently. There are several different approaches you can take with this.
The final stage is to communicate back to the team involved. They’ll appreciate the feedback as well as knowing what’s happening to the ideas they contributed to.
How to Brainstorm by Yourself
Whilst brainstorming in a group is most effective, sometimes you need to come up with new ideas by yourself. It could be from a time constraint or it could be a smaller challenge that you need to take on. Here are 3 quick tips to help you generate some new ideas by yourself
Tip 1. Decide how you will capture your ideas
Don’t just think about it, make sure you capture new ideas to review later. Without a written record of your ideas, you risk forgetting them and wasting your time. I personally find mind maps are best when I’m building new ideas by myself. However, a simple list works well too!
Tip 2. Know when you’ll be most creative
Everyone is unique and when I’m most creative won’t necessarily be the same for you. Work out when you’re at your most innovative and when you come up with your best ideas. It could be a time of day or it could be triggered by a particular activity. Does the bathtub provide bubbles of inspiration? Perhaps you spark at the start of the day instead. Either way, you need to find out when you’re at your most creative. This is key to knowing how to brainstorm by yourself.
Tip 3. Inspire new thinking by going somewhere new
A new location will put you out of your comfort zone and will get you thinking differently. It’s similar to the way of energising a boring project team meeting, you can also kick start your own thinking in this way. Maybe it’s the local coffee shop. Perhaps going for a walk. Try different places and see what works best.
What are Your Tips to Help Come up with New Ideas?
There are many aspects to coming up with new ideas and I’ve only scratched the surface in this article. I’ll be exploring more in future blog posts. In the meantime, why not comment to share your best tips on how to brainstorm below (your email won’t be published publicly).
About the Author
Oliver Banks is an expert at delivering retail change projects and programmes. He’s led and managed many different types of retail projects, working with a variety of stakeholders. Oliver loves the opportunity to improve and innovate. This brings together his engineering background, his curiosity and his passion for making things better.