During that past several decades, I have facilitated thousands of brainstorms.
While most brainstorming produces several ideas — some brainstorming is more powerfully productive, producing hundreds of ideas.
Why? What makes some brainstorming more powerful?
Better Brainstorming Techniques
Put these best practices to work in your next brainstorm:
- No fear. Don't let the fear of the clients — the folks who need the answer — to squash the creativity of the brainstorm. Keep the clients far away from the brainstormers.
- Have fun. Fun isn't silly. Fun is engagement. Keep smiling. Enjoy moments of whimsy. Keep on task, but think about brainstorming as "applied fun."
- Define roles. Brainstorms need facilitators, scribes and participants. And, far away, clients. (Here is a page to keep everyone on the job.)
- Explain the question. In the best brainstorms, facilitators clearly define the question. And all the participants understand it. It's simple and written on the wall for all to see. In weaker brainstorms, the participants can't quite articulate the question they seek to answer. It's better to brainstorm a clear question that might not be quite the right question (and re-brainstorm a revised question tomorrow), than to brainstorm an unclear question.
- Separate idea generation from idea assessment. Don't judge the ideas as they are expressed. Say "yes" to everything today. Tomorrow, the clients can review the ideas and make hard decisions about which ones to pursue (in further brainstorming).
- Celebrate quantity over quality. Usually, we think we need to produce great ideas. In brainstorming, we seek to produce many ideas, because — if we produce enough ideas — some of them will be worthy. Sure, some will be bad ideas, but don't worry about that. And really, who are you to say what is a bad idea? Bad often leads to great. (See "Springboard.")
- Springboard. If you hear an idea that you think is goofy, don't focus on why it is goofy. Focus on what other ideas it could lead to.
- No long stories. State your idea in one sentence. And don't start your sentence with an unnecessary disclaimer like "This is probably a bad idea..." or "I don't know if someone has already thought of this..." Just say it.
- Everyone talks. Don't dominate the conversation. And don't remain silent. Everyone in the pool!
- Be heard. If your idea is not written for all to see by the scribe, stop the brainstorm — right away — and make sure your idea is recorded.
- Brainstorm iteratively. One brainstorm rarely answers the question. Brainstorm today. Tomorrow, pick some of the ideas for further brainstorming. Brainstorm again. Apply. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
- Keep it short and sweet. Brainstorm for 90 minutes at the most. Sixty minutes is probably better.
And I often use Go Artie!, the 62-minute brainstorm guide.
And here is a page to share with everyone before the brainstorm.
The First Brainstorm
We warm up with a practice mini-brainstorm. We brainstorm our own ground rules for our brainstorming. It's a nice, ironic start. And an easy way for me to demonstrate some of the ways we do not want anyone to brainstorm.
That's not all the work for the first day, of course. We brainstorm on brainstorming for 10 minutes. Then we head straight for our real question.
Why rules? Isn't this brainstorming, dude?
Yes, brainstorming is best when it's open minded. But "open minded" doesn't mean a reckless disregard for the question-at-hand and the intended outcomes.
So, for principled brainstorming, we need some guidelines.
Am I missing something here? If so, let me know.
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