Brainstorming about brainstorming: How to inspire creative collaboration

Posted on February 9, 2010

Categories: Blog

Brainstorming is often random.

A great idea can occur to you while showering, driving, or even sleeping.

But when you want multiple people to assess needs and develop a creative solution, you must take the initiative. You can’t just wait and hope for inspiration.

Here are 7 keys to effective brainstorming…

Environment. It helps to meet someplace that is conducive to fresh thinking. By going to a different environment, you focus more of your attention and imagination on the task.

Explain. The facilitator of the meeting should begin by describing what needs to be figured out, and why. Don’t take for granted that everyone understands all the factors involved. If it’s a problem that needs to be solved, explain it in detail. If you need to conceive a new strategy, service or ad, first define the parameters.

Encourage. The facilitator needs to sincerely encourage everyone to participate. Make clear that any and all ideas are welcome, however half-baked… because sometimes a wild suggestion can inspire a more sensible, constructive one. Many people won’t participate if they fear ridicule and judgment. Participants should feel it’s truly a cooperative process, not a competition to see who’s smartest or most clever.

Explore. Initial brainstorming can be kick-started with “What if?” speculation. The facilitator should encourage the feeling that “we’re just throwing ideas out, to start considering the possibilities.” The aim is to make people feel that this exercise is an enjoyable challenge for the group.
Express. To encourage suggestions, you need to give credit for them. The facilitator should write participants’ ideas on a white board, flip-chart, or sheets on a wall. When people make insightful points, the facilitator should express appreciation and encourage them to elaborate if they’re so inclined.

Evaluate. Sometimes the best idea is evident right away — the enthusiasm of the group is clear and unmistakable. Often, however, there is only a big menu of possibilities, so it’s time to review them and determine which would be best. In that case, the facilitator should remind everyone of the criteria for success. (Perhaps the facilitator offered the criteria when explaining the purpose of the meeting, or maybe developing the criteria was the early part of the brainstorming.) The facilitator should set the right tone for the evaluating process, asking participants not to be unkind in critiquing an idea because its advocate and other supporters could take it personally. This is why it’s important to have fair and objective criteria by which to evaluate an idea. For example, if it’s a marketing idea: Affordable? Timely? Targeted? Lead-generating? Brand-enhancing?

Execute. Ideas are rarely implemented instantly. But participants should have the satisfaction of knowing that some action will follow all the talk – even if it’s a decision to meet again to narrow down the possibilities and settle on the best way to proceed. Those who participated should feel that something valuable was accomplished so they’ll be all the more eager to participate in future brainstorming.