13 Expert Brainstorming Tips
13 Expert Brainstorming Tips

I once realized I’ve been running brainstorms, getting trained in brainstorming practices and teaching others how to brainstorm productively for over twenty years.

Wait. What year is it again? Make that over thirty years.

I put down the Geritol and said to myself, “Why not write down some of the best practices you know succeed, time after time, in delivering a great brainstorm?”

At which point my wife said, “You know we can hear you, right?”

Below is a list of tips for executing an effective brainstorm process. Because brainstorming is more than just a single meeting. Some of you may disagree with some of these pearls of wisdom, to which I can only reply, Hey! Thirty years! I’ve seen a lot of good and bad brainstorms.  And the good ones absolutely follow as many of these tips as possible.

Observe half of these and you’re in good shape for your next skull session. Hit them all, and you’ll be amazed at the result. Want even more? Download our Brainstorming and Ideation Guide.

Me, I’m off to slam Skittles and Geritol.

The can’t-fail, time-tested brainstorming and ideation tips:

1. TIME IT RIGHT

The best time of day for brainstorming? Start no earlier than 10 A.M., end no later than 4 P.M. That can be hard if you’re working with remote participants spread across different time zones, but do your best. It’s when they’re at their creative peak, after they’ve settled into their work and before they get tired, antsy and restive at the end of the day.

2. KEEP A TIGHT TEAM

There’s a technical term for brainstorms with more than 7-8 people in the room: chaos. Keep the number at a level where the group’s attention doesn’t splinter and people can listen, be heard and share more effectively.

3. SHELVE THE SUGAR

Ever show up for a brainstorm where they’ve laid out candy and soda? Like that’ll drive kindergarten-style levels of childlike imagination and hyperactivity? What happens is crash time. What’s good brainstorming fuel? Moderate caffeine and lighter fare. Nothing that’ll drain the circulation and concentration from anyone’s grey matter.

Brainstorming and Ideation

4. HAVE AN EMPOWERED MODERATOR

Whether appointed internally or hired (hint!), have a moderator who can help plan the session, lead exercises, and have the authority to keep it on track and prevent any one person from steamrolling the session.

5. NOT EVERYBODY BELONGS IN THE ROOM

Some people just aren’t good at brainstorming, and including them can actually sabotage the process. If your main intention is team building, then consider folks who might not bring anything to the mix. But if you’re after creative productivity, limit it to those you know can make a contribution.

6. THINK IT OVER, OVERNIGHT

Brainstorms suffer if you’re spending the first hour briefing people on the project. Give participants a brief the day before or have a separate download meeting. It’s a proven fact we brainstorm better if we data-dump a day early, giving the subconscious  a chance to mull it over.

7. LET THEM DO HOMEWORK

Feel free to ask invitees to bring thoughtstarter ideas to the session. Some say that’s giving people the unfair advantage of a head start. So? There’s nothing wrong with encouraging competition by giving employees a chance to work up ideas beforehand so they can jump-start things. Just make sure they know their ideas are a start, not a finish.

8. YES, THERE’S “NO”

There are absolutely bad ideas or suggestions that take you in the wrong direction, or down a rabbit hole of clichés and me-too thinking. Cut them off. A good moderator should guide the discussion back toward the light without summoning negativity or ridicule. Call it a teaching moment.

9. HAVE THE RIGHT TOYS

Kid’s toys? Nope. Have the right creative and collaboration tools, meeting supplies and materials. One way to stall an ideation? Just run out of easel paper.

10. LET’S EXERCISE!

Do a loosen-up engagement exercise beforehand, anything from having people tell jokes to everybody reciting a mantra. Use other creative exercises during the session to drive new ideas, from the classic 180º to many others that make brainstorming fun…because without fun, you’re likely not creating anything fresh.

11. GET UP, GET OUT, GET GOING

One tactic that works? Take the chairs out of the room. Whaaaat? Studies show our brains work better when we’re on our feet. Better yet? Take the team for a walk. Go somewhere that’ll stimulate invention. It doesn’t need to be a museum or gallery, but the design-y boutique up the street or the retailerwhere your client wants to place some dazzling P.O.S. or packaging ideas.

12. ZOOM WITH RULES

For online sessions, mandate that people can’t be multitasking or have  their cameras off. They need to commit to being fully engaged.

13. GO WIDE TO GET FOCUSED

Hold a divergence brainstorm first, where you can even bring in “outsiders” with fresh P.O.V.s, and get wide-open thinking. Follow it with a convergence session with your core team to refine those raw ideas into practical initiatives.

BRAINSTORMING PROCESS

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