There are 3 main areas of the brainstorming process. They are to generate new wild ideas, to build/expand on existing ideas and to capture all thoughts around the brainstormed topic. I last wrote that doing this has 6 steps to setup an effective brainstorming session and then a number of rules to follow or use for the session itself. That is what I will explore here:
1. Defer Judgment
This is the one thing that will or break a brainstorming session. It’s so hard to do and absolutely must be a rule you follow to keep ideas flowing and to allow people to contribute in their way without a filter applied or any kind of judgment on their ideas. You shouldn’t moderate anything in brainstorming and really anything goes. All ideas. Weird, difficult, unrealistic, and any other ideas must be allowed. These in fact allow people to be comfortable with the creative process and you want to promote and encourage ideas, not instill a fear of blurting out a dumb idea. There is no reason to have any criticism in a brainstorming session and if you see that or moderation of ideas at any time, put an end to that and reinforce that you welcome weird and even what seems like bad ideas.
2. Everyone Participates
Make sure that everyone has a chance to participate and to be heard. The facilitator should ask each person for their ideas and to expand on things. Take note of the group, some people will start to lead and share more which is great but you don’t want any one person to dominate the session or you lose the value of the diversity in the group. If the environment and tools tailor to audible, visual and kinesthetic people (as I outlined in the first article) then you should be able to easily have everyone participate. You just need to make sure that is happening in the session and limit how much you let the dominate vocal styles contribute without leaving room for others.
3. High Energy
Energy is important to activate the mind and so keeping the group alert, energized and active helps with creative thinking. You can do this with expression, motion, positive encouragement on every idea, toys and physical objects, and of course the facilitator should be as energetic as possible. Speak with passion about capturing ideas and push the group to participate, keeping everyone’s energy levels up. Provide candies, or juice or other energy foods. You can provide wheatgrass juice, too but for that you’ll need a wheatgrass juicer. Some groups might like to brainstorm in an environment that energizes them. Perhaps music on will help, or holding a session outdoors. Add something to the session to ensure keep a high energy level.
4. Faster is Better
Faster is related to high energy in that if you run the session quickly, you must do this with high energy to encourage people to be quick. However, faster also means that you want the initial ideas and reactions from people as soon as they come to mind. You don’t even want individuals filtering or moderating their own ideas before they share them (see #1). Spontaneity and speed is what makes brainstorming really work so do everything you can to keep the group moving quickly and going fast!
5. Quantity versus Quality
If you encourage everyone to work fast, it’s more likely that you will get more ideas. More ideas mean more options and generally this leads to much better results.
6. Encourage Wild Ideas
Wild and audacious ideas are often needed to break from a rigid problem that has no immediate or useable solution. Since that is where brainstorming sessions are typically needed, it only makes sense to encourage
7. Build on Each Other’s Ideas
Every idea created has the potential to build more ideas. What one person starts with can easily be shifted or modified into a whole new idea so always encourage people to modify ideas in order to keep generating more. If you have a low point in a session without a lot of new ideas, ask people to add ideas and changes on any of the items already captured in the session. Ask people to think of opposites to certain ideas just to spark their thinking. Ask questions differently even when after similar results.
8. Keep on Track
This one requires a delicate balance. You must allow ideas to diverge to new areas that might seem off topic (at least a bit) in order to let the creative process thrive and to not stifle people’s participation, yet, at the same time, you must control the group to stay on tasks so that the focus is to solve the problem at hand. Depending on the group and individuals, things can often lead into other problems, design work on an idea or even to evaluating what will and will not work with any of those ideas (which is also judging them again). Anytime things diverge too far, ask the group to come back to a previous idea or new ideas back on the original problem and don’t allow any further discussion on those areas off topic. It is the not the time nor place for that and so you must keep things on track for the brainstorming itself.
9. Short Discussions
Inevitably, the will be some discussions going on for some of the ideas and while you can’t eliminate these, you can ensure they are brief. Discussion generally leads to designing solutions or confrontation between individuals, neither belong in a brainstorming session. Use discussions with the purpose of exploring a subject further and to lead only to new ideas and things to capture, instead of any evaluation of an idea. Remind the group of these items when it happens and bring it back to generating ideas.
10. Capture Everything
Capturing and recording the ideas is critical to a good brainstorming session as well. The way you do this first of all is important and you must have a method that works live in the meeting. You want everyone to see it as many will require that visual aid to help their own creative thoughts. I recommend using a flipchart or whiteboard as well as sticky notes for individuals to add thoughts onto that can quickly be put up in front of everyone.
When other point of capturing ideas is to capture EVERYTHING. This again goes back to the most important rule of deferring judgment because if you choose what to capture and not to capture from people’s ideas, you are really filtering them out and you impact those who’s ideas that were not captured and they will be less likely to keep contributing if you have “filtered” out their ideas.
11. Organize and Filter AFTER the Brainstorm
Don’t attempt to organize or filter anything while you are looking for ideas and in the brainstorming session. This turns on logical thinking and will suppress the creative mind from producing more ideas. Stay focused on the brainstorm and wait to do any organizing and filtering of those ideas afterwards. If you need the same people or plan to do it in the same session make sure you have some break because switching modes as you want the ideas to stir in the minds of those involved before switching back to task mode. Give people a chance to add more ideas in that break and to think on them individually.
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