Ideas matter more than ever. Every organization is looking for them. Ideas on how to grow, better connect with customers, improve operations, engage employees, develop new marketing concepts, invent new products - the list is as endless as are the types of ideas that can be manifested. Ideas are the result of tapping into our inner creative ability (and we all have it, not just creatives, artists, right-brainers or other stereotypes of the kind of people that can come up with many good ideas). Ideas are the building blocks that help companies get to the next steps and develop innovative solutions and solve challenges.
Brainstorming is still one of the most effective ways to generate ideas.
Brainstorming has been the typical approach for how to generate ideas. Yet, it has been bashed and has flowed in and out of vogue ever since Osborn developed methods for creative problem solving in his classic book Applied Imagination (1953).
Most people don’t know how to brainstorm.
Don’t blame the concept of brainstorming; the issue with not getting the results you want out of a brainstorming session is often a lack of understanding on how to run an effective session. When done well, we can guarantee that you can generate hundreds of ideas in a few hours. Are they all good? Absolutely not. But when those hundreds of ideas are distilled into common themes and further stretched into what is not only possible, but can be commercialized, you’ll find the diamonds.
It takes time and planning.
What is ineffective is gathering a random set of people (or your go-to favorites), hustle them into a room with a whiteboard and ask them to think of new ideas. Effective brainstorming needs a plan and the plan needs to have the following:
1. A clear objective.
2. A diverse set of individuals.
3. Tools and exercises.
4. Time to prepare, moderate and analyze the output from the session.
Creativity & The Brain
Recent studies by neuroscientists, suggest that the left brain/right brain distinction does not provide us with the full or real picture of how creativity is manifested in the brain (The structure of creative cognition in the human brain. July 2013, Department of Neurosurgery, University of New Mexico). The entire creative process taps into a wide range of cognitive processes (including your conscious and unconscious) as well as your emotions. The process of creating ideas comes from your entire brain.
Include a diverse set of people to participate.
What this means is that when planning for a brainstorming session, it is important to plan ahead on who will be invited to join. Since we are all wired differently and have different life experiences, this rich diversity of thought is critical in helping generate diverse ideas. If you only include the same type of people in your sessions, you will just keep getting the same types of ideas. Diversity of thought and experience is very important. You want to include artists and engineers, millennials and older generation, introverts and extroverts, and varying tenure within the organization.
Planning & Facilitating
Now that you have your people, what will you do with them? Having a good plan with the right set of tools is just as important in generating ideas as are the people who will attend.
Have a clear objective.
Do not make this a spontaneous event. Start by having a clear objective. Everyone should know and understand what problem they are solving. Construct your objective in the following manner: “We are generating ideas to ____________.” And the more specific the better. For example, “We are generating ideas to increase revenue” will not be as effective as, “We are generating ideas to increase revenue from our new product line in the xyz segment.” The ideas generated will be sharper given the target is better defined.
Define your objective days if not weeks in advance. This is the foundational building block for your brainstorm. Once you have your objective and you know who will be there, you can start planning the various types of exercises to generate the ideas.
Establish ground rules.
Review these ground rules at the beginning of the session and don’t hesitate to remind anyone during the session if they break them:
Encourage wild ideas.
Encourage building on each other’s ideas.
Don’t judge. Be aware of using language that shuts down other people, such as the use of the word, “but”, or phrases like, “we’ve tried that before”, etc.
Stay focused on the objective.
Quantity leads to quality.
With a diverse set of individuals, you will need to employ a variety of tools to help generate the ideas. You can search on the internet and find all kinds of tools to use in the process. Some of our favorites include spider charting and picture stimulus to help the brain make connections and new leaps of association. Have all these tools and stimulus aids defined, printed or gathered, and set up in the room before the team arrives.
Break out into groups of 3 to 4 people and have them stationed at a white-board or large easel pad.
Have one word written in the middle of the page. Everyone will build off this word by writing another word that they think of or associate with the main word. Everyone can continue this simultaneously either off the center word or any new words written. Every new word should spark new ideas and the chart keeps growing.
Finally have each person write out their best or favorite ideas on a separate sheet of paper that is turned into the facilitator.