One google search reveals dozens of titles detailing “Why Brainstorming is Broken.” or “Most Brainstorming is Worthless” or “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work.”
And we couldn’t disagree more. We are huge believers in the power of brainstorming. We likewise are on record acknowledging the magic supplement of Chinese food to generate the best ideas. As card-carrying “E’s,” we also acknowledge the power of shutting up periodically to avoid overpowering the ideas of the “I’s”in the room. I’s can get annoyed or intimidated by fast-flowing conversation, off-the-wall ideas, and Kung Pao chicken. Similarly, the “Js” and the “T’s” in the room have to play nice. It takes careful planning and clear ground rules to allow the process to operate at peak performance.
Here are 7 tips for effective brainstorming:
- Define the problem. Map it out. Use sketch-noting or mind-mapping to reverse engineer the issues at hand.
- Lay the ground rules. It’s a cliche, but it’s true: There are no bad ideas. One idea leads to another and another. No one should be offended when his or her ideas don’t seem to be rising to the top.
- “Pre-game” the brainstorming session. Give team members the topics ahead of time. Better yet, give people the topic(s) and some related reading material. Allow time for anonymous brainstorming. Collect ideas in a basket before the meeting. Start this a week in advance.
- Divide a hot topic into two teams. It’s called a “jigsaw” or a “red team.” Have one team brainstorm one side of the issue while the other team looks for the holes (problem-solves). This builds tolerance for alternative viewpoints and attaches a real-world perspective.
- Get outside. Go anywhere other than the same old place. This removes mental and physical barriers, sending a message to everyone that you’re trying to “think different.”
- Demand humor. Make everyone submit one hilarious or outrageous solution, even if it’s on an index card. Laughing is cathartic.
- Have a trained facilitator. You don’t need to outsource your brainstorming, but the team leader shouldn’t be the facilitator. You need someone who can be a calm presence, inject levity, ensure all viewpoints are represented, and serve as an organizer of a process that, done right, should include some mayhem.