The Secret Sauce to Stellar Brainstorming in 6 Simple Steps
by Cheryl Marks Young
You have an inkling of an idea. Or perhaps you don’t. Either way, a bit of brainstorming seems in order. While brainstorming sessions have become business as usual, that doesn’t mean we are doing it right. Believe it or not, the practice designed to shake things up does have guidelines you’ll want to follow.
Know the end-game
While it’s true that brainstorming is a wide-open field of possibility, you don’t begin a session without understanding why you’re there. Your brainstorming meeting should begin by clearly defining the purpose. What is the goal of this gathering? Are you looking to define a better process for tracking leads through the sales cycle? Do you want to identify your next project or service offering? A new ad campaign?
Know the objective and display it somewhere in the room. Brainstorming sessions can meander and easily get off track. Keep your target in sight to ensure you’re finding a new path to your destination and not a slew of irrelevant side trails.
More is more
A photographer will tell you the secret of getting great photos of animals and children is to get eye level and take a lot of pictures. The more frames you shoot, the better your odds of getting at least one or two real gems of your adorable golden retriever or your favorite preschooler. Brainstorming is a lot like that. The more ideas that get tossed into the ring, the better the odds of finding the right one.
Independent thinkers are a must
When brainstorming with a group, you need people willing to go out on their own direction and not head-nodders. This team should have the confidence to speak up. They should also be comfortable breaking away from the “we’ve always done it this way” minefield.
Contrarians are on deck, but not at bat
We all know that person who can find the crack in any seemingly perfect façade. If there’s a potential downside or difficulty, they’ll find it. Those people have a place in this process, but it’s not at the brainstorming meeting. This stage of the process is for dreamers. There is no ‘bad’ idea at this point. It’s all worth throwing out on the table. When you’ve narrowed your ideas down to a short list of possibilities, it’s time to open the floor up for challenges.
Keep it short, but not too short
You want brainstormers to build off one another, which means scheduling a block of time that allows ideas to flow. Yet, you want to avoid the two traps of long brainstorming sessions: fatigue and veering off course. An energized team is a creative team. That enthusiasm can wane over a long meeting. Likewise, even the most creative among us are drawing from a bucket of inspiration. The more we dip into it, the more we start to force ideas or bleed into less productive, off-topic sparks. Keep your brainstorming meetings to a bite sized chunk of the day.
Contributors are everywhere
Don’t limit your brainstorming team to specific departments or perceived skill sets. The best idea for your company’s next marketing campaign may come from a person working in your customer service department or the one processing accounts payable. Draw ideas from across disciplines in your organization.