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Better Brainstorming

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Brainstorming is a well known, but often poorly practised, technique for developing new ideas for all kinds of situations – management, marketing, financial planning, PR, product development and many more functions. The following tips may help improve effectiveness.

Ten Things You Should Do

  1. Too many cooks. The maximum brainstorming group size should be no more than eight. Everyone then has a chance to participate and no one should feel inhibited from having their say.
  2. Strength in diversity. Ensure you have a good mix of people from different backgrounds and specialisms. Consider bringing in outsiders, this way your brain storm can benefit from different world views and experience.
  3. The brainstorm brief. How many groups meet and solve the wrong problem? Ensure the brief is clear, simple and understood by everyone – then stick to it.
  4. You may need a catalyst. Don’t get them drunk, but a glass of wine may help people to relax and overcome their fears of speaking. Consider introducing other brainstorming stimuli such as objects, music, pictures, colours, smells. Go to the local park or other places rather than use a meeting room if you can.
  5. Big and bold. Write up every idea using coloured pens on flip charts around the room so that everyone can see them. Use simple pictures as well as words.
  6. Emphasise equality. In a brainstorm everyone is equal, all ideas must be valued and respected. Whatever position someone holds outside the room should not affect how their ideas are received and treated. Acknowledge and encourage all contributions.
  7. Quantity not quality. At stage one you need to maximise the number of ideas. Set off a chain reaction so that one idea sparks others. Detail, quality and refinement are for later stages.
  8. Be silly. The silly idea is often the seed for the sensible strategy. Encourage people to think outside the box, let their imagination run wild. Turn ideas on their head. Think of opposites. Imagine how your child or pet would solve the problem.
  9. Time’s up. Close the meeting when the stream of ideas dries up – this should be in about 20 minutes. If the first brainstorm hasn’t produced a sufficient body of ideas for the evaluators to whittle down, convene another brainstorming group with different people.
  10. Keep brainstorming and evaluation as totally separate processes. If you begin to evaluate during the idea generation stage the group will soon deflate as they see their suggestions come under attack.

Five Things You Should Not Do

  1. Don’t apply pressure. Right guys, we want five really good ideas by 11.30 – OR YOU’RE SACKED! This is certain to kill the creative process.
  2. Don’t conduct the meeting in the workplace. Seek an area (indoors or outdoors) that is free of distractions (mobiles off).
  3. Don’t allow any put downs. All contributions must be encouraged and acknowledged as the seeds to the solution.
  4. Don’t allow any a single train of thought to dominate. Prevent specialists leading discussions in a particular direction.
  5. Don’t be constrained. By trivial things such as conventional wisdom, practicality, the laws of physics or the budget. Brainstorming is about idea generation; later stages will look at making that good idea fit into the real world.

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