The Art of the Brainstorm: How Better Brainstorms Lead To Better Employees
At their best, brainstorming sessions are generate exciting new ideas to solve important problems. At their worst, brainstorming sessions are massively unproductive and leave everyone in the room feeling frustrated or ignored. Brainstorming is more art than science, and it’s an art that everyone in your organization should learn.
Not only does the creativity of brainstorming lead to neural changes linking widespread brain networks, but a good brainstorming session leverages the strengths of everyone involves. This leads to better employees who are critical thinkers, creative leaders, and, most importantly, feel as though their contributions are valued in the office.
Always Have a Brainstorming Facilitator
The best brainstorming sessions allow everyone to participate, but one of the greatest errors is not designating a leader. Without a facilitator, brainstorming can quickly go awry with too many wild ideas, off-topic conversations, or bickering between group members. Before starting a brainstorming session, designate a leader. This person doesn’t necessarily need to be a manager or the most senior person in the room. In fact, having a manager lead a brainstorming group can sometimes inhibit the flow of ideas. The facilitator should write down ideas and redirect conversation as needed. However, this person should avoid commenting on or evaluating the quality of ideas, as this can inhibit creativity.
Don’t Be Afraid of Adding Structure
The concept of brainstorming leads to images of creative professionals coming up with fantastic new product ideas on the fly. In reality, though, open-ended thought generation can feel unproductive. Think about a project where you’ve been given little or no direction – did the lack of structure end up making things more frustrating than easy? A lot of people would say yes to that.
Despite the creative freedom of brainstorms, it can feel daunting to get started. So instead of jumping right in with no outline, create an action plan for your brainstorming meeting. What specific problem do you want to solve? “Come up with new product ideas” is not a helpful starting place. “Identify gaps in the market for XYZ service” is more useful.
Map Out Your Ideas
Some people are visual learners, while others benefit from auditory cues. Help both out by talking about ideas as well as writing them down. This could be a list on a whiteboard, but a thought cloud is even better. Start with your central problem or objective in the middle, followed by ideas and solutions as they arise. This can allow you to group similar ideas together, facilitating the flow of ideas.
Give Everyone a Chance to Contribute
Remember that the quietest person in the room might have some brilliant ideas, but you’ll need to draw them out. But doing this well requires a classic set of communication skills – knowing what to say, when to say it, and when to just be patient and listen. The good news making communication a priority bodes well on every other part of your business; according to kununu data, companies who had the most satisfied employees happened to also have really great communication:
- Among highest rated companies on kununu (4 stars or higher), the average rating for “communication” is 4.08 stars
- Among lowest rated companies on kununu (2 stars or less), the average rating for “communication” is 1.06 stars
The key is to provide some downtime within the brainstorm in which everyone thinks without talking out loud. Then, solicit feedback from all of your group members about their thoughts and ideas, focusing on people who haven’t contributed yet.
Inhibit the Urge to Plan
There’s at least one planner in every group. While these “nuts and bolts” people are vitally important to your organization, they can stultify a brainstorming session if not properly contained. Perhaps someone throws out an idea that seems like a plausible solution. Resist the urge to start weighing pros and cons, troubleshooting problems, or creating a roadmap for implementation. That all comes down the road. For now, content yourself with generating ideas, no matter how implausible. One unrealistic idea could generate a thread of conversation that leads to your next great product, but you’ll never get there if you are weighed down by logistics and practicalities.
Opt for a Change in Scenery
Nothing is less conducive to creativity than staring at the same beige walls where you sit through staff meetings. If possible, take your brainstorming session somewhere else. A local coffeeshop, some picnic tables outside, or even a difference conference room within your office can get the creative juices flowing. Providing snacks and beverages is another great way to allow people to loosen up and get in the creative spirit.
End With a Follow-Up Plan
Maybe you had a fantastic brainstorming session in the late 1990s that came up with the idea for a smartphone years before Steve Jobs envisioned the iPhone. It simply doesn’t matter how good your idea is if you never follow through. End your session with a discussion of the next steps, and set up a date to discuss your progress or any roadblocks in your way.
- Structure is a good thing. Create an objective and stick to it.
- Designate someone to facilitate conversation and keep everyone focused.
- Assume everyone has something to contribute, and organize your session accordingly.
- Create a strategy to move from ideas to action