Brainstorming has bad press. Studies show that it can be a very inefficient way to generate new ideas. That’s because brainstorming has its traps. It can generate social loathing, which is our tendency to make less of an effort when we are in a group. It can also be a source of social anxiety, when we worry about what other people will think of our ideas. But what if the problem isn’t brainstorming itself, but how we do it? Here are some ideas to make brainstorming a resourceful exercise that has a real impact on your business.
Step 1: Set up the Scene
Good brainstorming starts with a facilitator. A facilitator keeps everyone focused on the direction and desired outcome. It should be someone neutral. In fact, the best facilitators tend to be consultants, outsiders who don’t have skin in the game. They act as a buffer to ensure you get the most of your brainstorming without hurting team morale. They mediate conflicts to get the best ideas from everyone without creating lasting resentment.
Good brainstorming doesn’t need to happen face-to-face. You can achieve the same results through a video conference. The important part is to ensure participants can see each other’s faces. It enables them to capture non-verbal cues, which makes communicating more seamless. That also means you should avoid brainstorming via phone calls or online chat rooms like Slack.
If you’re opting for a video conference brainstorm, make sure everyone is ready. The downside of conference calls is that communication relies on technology. So if Jon’s microphone isn’t working, or Emily as a bad connection, the rest of the team will get frustrated. And it’s much harder to get people to collaborate when in a negative mindset. So remind participants to test their equipment fifteen minutes before starting.
If you’re opting for offline brainstorming, make sure the environment is neutral and comfortable. More on that in an upcoming article.
Step 2: Add Structure
Despite popular knowledge, structured brainstorming is the best kind of brainstorming. It ensures you’ll get results in a cost-effective way. So start by building an agenda going over the general topics you want to cover. Having a written structure will actually create more freedom. It enables participants to outsource the mental work of staying focused. That means they have more brainpower to dedicate to problem-solving and ideas. Here is an example of a brainstorming structure covering company strategy and messaging.
At the beginning of the session, open the agenda and make sure all participants have it open as well. For each of the topics in the agenda, describe the specific problems that need solving, or the ideas that need refining. Let the facilitator take the lead and give their take, then have participants build on it. Once everyone agrees on the expected outcome for each topic, list them down in the document.
Step 3: Enable Dialogue
Now that everything is ready to go, it’s time to get started. Go over each topic and address the agreed-upon outcomes in order. If you’re a founder or team manager, do not give your take right away. Remember to be humble. The goal of brainstorming is not to communicate your vision, but to hear new ideas and solve problems.
This is when having a facilitator becomes crucial. They can open discussions and bounce ideas between participants. They know what language to avoid and will have an easier time remaining neutral.
Write down all the ideas in one sentence summaries. Update these sentences as more participants add their own take. Then go over each of the ideas and find synergies and compromise between them. Finally, write in a couple of sentences the outcome that received the most support. Repeat with all the topics until you’ve gone through the list.
Step 4: Build a Task List
Once you have a list of desired outcomes for each problem, it’s time to distribute the work. Start by rephrasing the outcome into individual tasks, working backwards. Make sure each of the tasks starts with a verb/action.
Here is an example. Let’s imagine that one of the outcomes is “Create a community of advocates to help us improve our brand image.” To build this community, you need a platform where they can exchange with you. For this platform to be active, you need to find the advocates. To find these advocates, you need to figure out who among your users are advocates. To figure that out, you need to determine the characteristics that make a user an advocate. And so on.
Once you have your list of actionable tasks, assign them to specific people and give them a deadline. So your final list for this specific idea could look like this:
Create a community of advocates to help us improve our brand image:
- Determine the 5 key factors that make a user, an advocate – Emily, June 5
- Apply key factors to list of customers and find at least 1,000 users – Emily, June 7
- Invite the 1,000 selected advocates to join the community and get at least 20% of them to accept. Include perks. – Jon, June 15
- Create a Facebook Group for the community of advocates and invite the ones who accepted. Make sure at least 80% of the ones who accepted join – Jon, June 20
- Start daily discussions with advocates to ask their take on what they want from the group, and get their ideas on how we can improve our brand image – Jon, June 30
- Organize follow-up meeting to discuss findings and implement next steps – Latifah, July 1
Step 5: Get to work!
At the end of a good brainstorming session, participants will feel heard and accomplished. Capitalize on that after the session. Share the document again with everyone and congratulate them on their efforts. If you’re using a task management platform, don’t create individual tasks yourself. Instead, ask participants to add their assigned tasks to the software themselves. It will give them a stronger sense of ownership and accountability.
So now you have all the tools you need to create an effective brainstorming session. The one thing you may be missing is the facilitator. Gravitr can help. It takes only a few clicks to buy a 2-hour brainstorming session with a facilitator. They will ensure your session follows all the rules of a successful brainstorming on your behalf. Here is a link to sign up to reserve your session.