When done right, brainstorming offers tons of perks. But that begs the question: how exactly do you do it right?
There’s a bit of strategy involved in pulling off a successful brainstorming session. Here’s the information you need to get the very best ideas out of everyone on your team.
Brainstorming ground rules
One of the best ways to set yourself and your team up for brainstorming success is to establish some ground rules for what is and isn’t allowed during that session. Fortunately, Osborn did most of this work for you when he first came up with the concept. When he implemented brainstorming within his own advertising agency, he identified the following core principles:
Rule #1: Generate as many ideas as possible during the session.
While it can seem counterintuitive to most of us, brainstorming is about quantity rather than quality. By placing the focus on getting as many ideas as possible, people are more willing to share things that they otherwise might write off as irrelevant or over the top.
Rule #2: Criticizing ideas is not allowed.
You might hear this referred to as non-evaluation (and it’s also a key concept of the Atlassian Open mindset). Brainstorming isn’t about critiquing ideas on the spot — it’s simply about generation. That lack of immediate feedback empowers people to share ideas more openly without the fear of failure or disapproval.
Rule #3: Wild and ambitious ideas are welcome.
During a brainstorming session, you want people to think big. That’s exactly why this principle (which you might hear called “freewheeling”) exists. It encourages more creative thinking, because people know that they’re not just allowed — but actually encouraged — to think outside of the box.
Rule #4: People are encouraged to build on other ideas.
Finally, there’s a concept called “piggybacking.” While criticisms aren’t allowed, brainstorming participants are welcome to build upon other people’s contributions. This creates a more collaborative atmosphere, where good ideas get even more traction.
Those ground rules are a helpful start, but there are a couple of other tips you should keep in mind when structuring your brainstorming session.
First, pay close attention to who you’re including in the conversation to ensure you have a diverse group of participants at the table. Research has consistently shown that diversity drives creativity and innovation, so incorporating different voices will improve your chances of getting varied (and ultimately better) ideas.
You can also try hosting your brainstorming sessions in a different space — whether it’s a picnic table outside or that beloved coffee shop around the corner. Basically, break from routine and get away from the office conference room.
That level of novelty improves the neuroplasticity of our brains, which activates our ability to think about things in new ways. So, in short, changing up your scenery could lead to even bigger and better ideas. Plus, we could all use a break from the office, couldn’t we?
You have your brainstorming session scheduled and organized. Uhhh...now what? Your team is all just staring at each other slack-jawed. How do you get the conversation rolling?
Below are just a few of the many different tactics that teams can use to get things started and make their brainstorming discussions that much more productive:
- Brainwriting: With this technique, team members share ideas by writing them down independently rather than shouting them out together. It’s especially helpful if you know you have a number of introverts on your team.
- Starting with an embarrassing story: Beginning the conversation with something that’s potentially embarrassing immediately puts everybody in a more vulnerable and open state of mind — which makes them more willing to share ideas.
- Giving ideas time to marinate: Even though the excitement is strong, you might not want to jump into action on an idea right away. Research shows that even a brief break can give you time to strengthen that suggestion even further.
- Figuring storming: This tactic involves putting yourself in the shoes of someone else to think about how they might handle the situation. It can be effective because it challenges us to get away from our own biases and perceptions.