6 Tips to Inspire Better Brainstorming
What comes to mind when you hear the word, “brainstorm”? Does it elicit happy thoughts of a productive discussion or existential dread of yet another meaningless conversation?
Your answer to this question likely is based on how brainstorming sessions you’ve participated in have been managed. When executed well, brainstorming can generate exciting new ideas and solutions to complex challenges. Yet all too often, these meetings result in frustration for participants—lots of notes on flip charts, but no clear direction forward.
There are many reasons brainstorming can miss the mark. Lack of clarity and an unfocused meeting agenda can lead to vague discussion around the issue, rather than a purposeful pursuit of quality ideas. Participants can struggle to think in new ways that are outside their comfort zones.
It is essential your team leaves a brainstorming meeting with solutions, not frustration. Here are six ways to elevate your next brainstorming session while making the experience both fun and productive.
1. Set a clear purpose for the meeting. Present the challenge and what you want to get out of the brainstorming session to your team in advance. This will provide participants with an opportunity to begin thinking through solutions. It also may help to set expectations so there is a clear direction and goal for the session. Share the problem and discussion guidelines one or two days prior to meeting so people can prepare.
2. Recruit a diverse team. The brainstorming group’s composition is critical. It should include people with diverse experience, expertise, and thinking types so ideas and opportunities are seen from multiple perspectives. It’s helpful for team members to understand their own thinking styles and strengths. Self-assessment tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Hogan Assessment, the Original Thinkers quiz, or Six Thinking Hats assess thinking styles, personalities and problem-solving approaches and provide explanations on how to apply this knowledge in the workplace. This helps create a strong foundation to maximize team members’ personalities, skills, and roles during brainstorming sessions.
3. Encourage different perspectives. We all have individual thinking styles that lead us to approach idea generation and problem solving in consistent ways. For example, a person with an analytical mindset tends to seek ideas in data and ask a lot of “how” and “why” questions, while a nonconformist personality likes to break the rules, think quickly, and develop as many ideas as possible. Sticking with your natural thinking style is comfortable, but can make it difficult to rethink and reinvent concepts.
Adopting a different thinking style for a quick burst of time can help you see things from a new perspective. At Kimberly-Clark, we employ a brainstorming tool called IdeaStorm to tap into the power of different thinking styles. Using the IdeaStorm method, one of eight different original thinking styles is randomly assigned to the entire brainstorming group, or to everyone in the group. Participants then brainstorm as the assigned thinking type to gain a new perspective. (The IdeaStorm toolkit is available for free download here.)
4. Manage group dynamics. Dominating personalities can monopolize the session and discourage quieter people from contributing. If certain group members are avoiding the conversation, tuning out, or getting shut out by others, shift the participation strategy to ensure everyone is heard. Instead of an open discussion, ask group members to go around the room, one after the other, and share their input. It also may help to call on people randomly if you feel like they are waiting for the right time to speak before they jump into the conversation.
5. Record and reset. Be sure there’s a formal process in place to capture all the ideas that result from the brainstorming session. It’s not imperative to determine whether all ideas are good ones during the meeting, but recording them ensures they won’t be forgotten. Don’t try to force a breakthrough on the first go-round. Knowing when to stop and regroup is as important as any other step. Breaks will allow people to refocus while continuing to subconsciously think through ideas. Tools such as Mindmeister and iMindMap make it easy to summarize and organize the ideas and information created during brainstorming sessions.
6. Plan for post-brainstorm. Create follow-up action items and a timeline based on the goals you established at the meeting’s outset. Assign each participant to a task and deliverable that he or she needs to present at the next session to maintain momentum. Over time, the need for additional brainstorming will decrease as problems get solved, ideas move forward, and the team begins executing the solution.
Well-run brainstorming sessions can help teams solve the toughest challenges and achieve creative breakthroughs. Leverage these six tips to unlock the power of different thinking styles, inspire innovation, and grow your business.
Frans Mahieu is a Global Marketing director at Kimberly-Clark.