If you ever had a brainstorming session with your team, you know what an unproductive nightmare it can be. There’s always few people who do most of the talking, and the ideas that are talked about first influence the rest of the conversation. Focus is easily lost and structure of the meeting can disappear without close monitoring.
Whether you’re going through this process on your own or with a group of people, there are ways to make it more efficient.
Set specific expectations
Before you begin the session, it is important that everyone involved knows exactly what’s expected of them, as a group and as an individual. What are the rules of this engagement? What are they expected to bring with them? Should they do some prior research and preparation? How exactly is the session going to work?
If people know precisely what’s expected of them, they are more likely to follow the rules.
Define the problem
No business activity makes sense without a goal. By defining the problem you are aiming to solve, you will define the goal of your brainstorming session.
This is the tricky part since so many people frame the problem either too wide or too narrow. It has to be something solvable that you can divide into logical pieces that can be considered separately. Defining the problem is especially important if you’re working on a challenging and complex project.
By properly defining the core problem (or problems) you ensure that your team has the right set of questions to guide them through the process.
This should be one of the most important expectations – no one is to judge anyone else’s ideas (including their own).
The brainstorming should be a judgment-free zone for all the participants. Only without any constraints can they give the best they’ve got. Keep in mind that most people take someone criticizing their ideas as a critique of their personality. If they feel attacked, they will be afraid to speak.
This is one of the moments when you want a team who is capable of both giving and receiving constructive feedback.
Generation is not evaluation
The process of generating ideas should be completely separate from the evaluation process. In the first stage, no idea is a bad idea. Quantity is the key here, not quality. As we already mentioned in one of our articles, this stage should be filling a pit with sand to build castles in later. The more sand you have, the bigger castle you can build.
Let’s take a closer look at this principle from the point of one of the most successful and creative businessman.
The Walt Disney way
It is said that Disney had three separate rooms for brainstorming and planning. It’s believed he created all of his most profitable concepts by using this 3-step technique.
- Ideas – the first room was the idea room. Disney would fantasize about all the things he could and would like to do. There were neither limits nor expectations. He would just let his brain run loose and create any concept.
- Evaluation – in the second room, he would ask: “How can I achieve this?” Then he would create detailed plans of activities needed to perform the crazy idea. Once again, without any evaluation of how practical the idea itself is.
- Critique – the third room was the idea killer. Here, Disney would be the toughest critic of his own concepts and plans. He would list out everything that is potentially wrong with the idea. Only the ones that survived the third room came to reality.
The key here is not just separating the process into chunks, but also the physical separation. You don’t have to dedicate three different rooms for each task, but make sure it’s at least three different corners of your apartment or office. It’s important for your brain to be able to switch modes when necessary.
Eventually, this is a method you need if you’re working on a particularly complex project that is difficult to grasp.
The point is to make the brainstorming session focused on asking questions instead of generating ideas on a specific topic.
You have your defined problem, now ask why, how, what, when and who. This way, you and your team will be able to cover even the aspects that are often overlooked in the project planning and management stages.
What’s your favorite brainstorming technique?