Everyone benefits from creativity and fresh ideas. Even if you don’t work in an explicitly creative industry, finding new ways to solve unique problems is a valuable skill. Odds are you’ve found yourself part of a group meeting at one point or another, trying to solve a particular issue in a new way.
These creative brainstorming sessions are a great way for groups of people to compare and build on each other’s ideas. The idea is that no two people think exactly alike, so when faced with a problem, there will be countless different ways to solve it. Combining the experience and knowledge of several people at once can lead to a stronger plan than one person could have created alone.
Despite the obvious benefits of sharing ideas as a team, may people dislike brainstorming activities. Much of the disdain for these sessions is due to the claim that more time is “wasted.” I happen to find them useful for the most part, but I’ve also seen a couple that weren’t successful. Following these tips will help you avoid an unproductive brainstorming session.
Get out of the office and find a space that feels right for your group. A large company may want to rent a meeting space to avoid distractions and keep people focused. A smaller company on the other hand, may do really well tucked away in the corner of a local coffee shop. The physical location isn’t necessarily as important as the mood it sets for the group.
Try to cram a large group into a small space, or go anywhere crowded. If your team members are uncomfortable or you don’t have their undivided attention, there’s little chance you’re going to get much accomplished. Unfortunately this is also true of an in-office brainstorming session. Unless your office truly has a space for this and you can commit to the time you’ve set aside, people are likely to receive phone calls and emails which will diminish their concentration.
Planning in advance for a creative brainstorming session is imperative. Decide exactly what the group’s goals are and what has to be accomplished. For example, if the idea is to promote a new product or revamp an advertising strategy, make those goals clear and try to keep focus on efficiently solving those issues.
Try to address too many issues at once. I’m a firm believer that if everything is “the most important” then nothing is. If you give a large group of people an even larger list of problems to solve, odds are your session is going to end up chaotic and a waste of your time. The point of a focused brainstorming session is to have an issue examined from many different angles, in a short period of time.
Give your team supplies to work with. You’ll want to tailor this to your goals and the space you’re in, of course. Make use of white boards, projectors, colored Post Its or whatever else you need to get ideas documented and visible to the rest of the group. Handing out printed sheets to the group that outline the goals and list some action items is always helpful as well.
Let your ideas be strictly verbal. A creative brainstorm can get pretty intense, and ideas easily lost if they aren’t documented in some way. Even ideas which aren’t immediately useful could come in handy down the road, or be useful for another project.
Creative brainstorming sessions can be useful in any type of business, provided they are done correctly. Choosing the right location, setting goals and providing adequate supplies are just the first steps. The most important thing is getting conversations started, and providing a setting where thoughts can flow freely and team members can build on each other’s ideas. Your employees and coworkers have unique experiences and visions, it would be a shame to waste them. When done properly, a brainstorming session will be fun, and a really great team-building activity.
July 2019 Editor’s Note: While some of the best ideas come from group brainstorm sessions, there is value in self-brainstorming sessions as well! Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the busy day to day, eschewing time spent personally evaluating and thinking. But, it is just as important to make time for personal reflection as it is group reflection.
Listen to our More than a Few Words with Carrie Anton, the author of Me, Myself and Ideas, as she discusses the power of brainstorming has in generating new ideas – even if you just brainstorm as an individual!