More than a buzzword, brainstorming is a well-known practice in the workplace, its goal to produce ideas or solve problems. Group meetings held specifically to come up with solutions and innovations are brainstorming sessions, and they can be extremely valuable to a business or project.
Of course, you need to know when the approach is most useful and which techniques to apply to make a brainstorming session in your workplace effective.
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What is brainstorming?
The first image that pops up when you think of brainstorming is a group of people discussing problems, and coming up with ideas and solutions—but you can brainstorm on your own too.
What’s beneficial about having a team work together, however, is the sheer number of innovative ideas that can be tossed around. People have different perspectives and ways of approaching a challenge, so you’ll get suggestions in a group that you may never have thought of on your own.
When is brainstorming useful and why is it helpful?
Brainstorming sessions can be extremely helpful at the beginning of a project, before an approach has been strategized or finalized. The ideas introduced here can be melded together and used to create a plan of how to proceed, with an ultimate goal or product to aim for.
This approach is useful for everything from ad campaigns and product launches to new product ideation and customer experience improvements. You can brainstorm on how to scale your business too, looking for growth opportunities on which to focus or ways to increase production.
Your team can brainstorm on how to solve problems as well, including problems where the root cause is initially unclear. This often happens with complex projects: A process glitch keeps popping up, and you need to brainstorm for opinions as to the cause of the glitch, and then how to fix it.
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What is the goal of a brainstorming session?
The goal of any brainstorming session is to come up with as many ideas as possible.
However, for a session to be truly valuable, it ultimately needs to provide a solution to the problem presented at the outset. That question itself must be clear and very specific, and any boundaries (such as if you want immediate implementation) must be made known to the group.
This kind of clarity is crucial.
Business development mentor Bernadette Kelly tells InHerSight that everyone must be clear on the objective of the session. “A detailed outline of the goal must be planned before the brainstorm,” she explains. “Everyone involved receives a brief a few days prior so that they can come prepared with ideas. I like to write this out in one or two sentences on a whiteboard before we proceed, to ensure everyone stays focused on the task.”
How do you facilitate a great brainstorming session in your workplace?
While brainstorming sessions don’t have to have a moderator, the most productive meetings are facilitated and have a structure. It’s within this structure that participants feel free to create and come up with seemingly wild suggestions.
Here are some tips to facilitate a successful brainstorming session:
Make sure participants are prepared: They know the issue, any background information, and the goal of the session.
Stay focused on the topic.
Make sure the sessions are informal: no judgment, no evaluation.
Have visual supplies on hand (whiteboard, Post-Its, lots of markers).
Keep the group relatively small (five to seven people is often suggested as optimum).
Participants should be from different departments, backgrounds, and experiences to get a mix of ideas and perspectives.
Focus on quantity (100 ideas an hour).
Encourage out-of-the-box thinking and remember, there are no dumb ideas.
Have everyone write their ideas down, then share; otherwise, they might lose those kernels of inspiration during discussions.
Suggestions can be combined, built upon, and improved.
Kelly warns against overcomplicating brainstorming sessions. “They should be an opportunity for people to let their creativity flow without too many restrictions on how they convey ideas,” she says. “In my experience, it has always worked best when we follow a simple pattern.”
What exactly do you do once you’ve got all those ideas?
Kelly explains what works for her:
- “One by one, we review each suggestion, to collectively determine if they meet the objective.
- “Narrowing down to a top five, we then expand on the ideas. It is vital that everyone feels safe sharing ideas, so there is never a cause for embarrassment in the group. The golden rule is ‘there are no stupid ideas in this room.’”
- “The sessions usually last a few hours, where we nominate the top three thrashed-out ideas to present to the final decision-maker (to give them enough options, so they feel comfortable choosing their favorite).”
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How do you brainstorm on your own?
There are different techniques you can use to brainstorm on your own. While you can use these approaches in group brainstorming sessions as well, they’re just as effective when you’re alone.
Another is the SCAMPER technique. Each letter of the acronym stands for a word that lets you look at a problem from a different angle, helping you to come up with more ideas. For example, “S” is for substitute: What would happen if you swapped one part or person with another?
A simple technique for getting to the root of a problem is the “Five Whys.” You ask why a problem happened, and then ask why four more times to each answer. So, if the problem is that your company is suddenly getting consistently bad customer reviews, you would ask:
Why are we getting all these bad reviews? The answer might be: Our new service (delivery in 30 minutes or less) isn’t working as advertised.
Why isn’t it working as advertised? Delivery takes more than 30 minutes for half of our customers.
Why is delivery taking so long? These customers live outside our speedy-delivery range.
Why are customers outside our range asking for speedy delivery? Our marketing doesn’t clearly specify the area that allows 30-minute delivery.
Why doesn’t our marketing clearly specify that 30-minute delivery area? It will.
About our source
Bernadette Kelly is the Media Director at digital marketing agency ActiveWin, and a professional advisor for Richard Branson’s VOOM.