Inspiration can be a tricky thing, especially in business settings. The constant pressure to deliver the next big idea can have the opposite effect, with workers feeling drained and uninspired. Many business leaders use the brainstorming format to push past stagnation and reinvigorate their workforce’s creative juices. However, effective brainstorming sessions take more than just getting people together on a conference call or video chat.
Businesses should focus on building a culture where their workers see brainstorming sessions to express themselves versus feeling compelled to come up with immediate solutions. Companies can use a variety of techniques to make the brainstorming process more meaningful to the business over the long term.
What is Brainstorming?
Brainstorming involves gathering a group of people together to come up with a solution to a specific issue. Some other brainstorming synonyms you might use is contemplation, deliberating, or envisioning sessions.
The idea behind brainstorming, meaning its earliest origins, came from the mind of an advertising executive named Alex F. Osborne sometime around 1939. He discovered that using the brainstorming technique seemed to boost the number and quality of ideas that emerged from the workforce.
Most brainstorming sessions consist of listening to and encouraging the free flow of ideas from participants. There’s usually someone there who leads each session and makes sure that all thoughts and suggestions get recorded for a more in-depth review at a later point. The emergence of digital platforms in recent years helped speed up the review process, increasing the productivity of brainstorming.
Osborne came up with four central guidelines for running brainstorming sessions. While the brainstorming format evolved over the years, the following principles remain vital to making them successful:
- Focus On Quantity Over Quality — Inspiration often comes from the most unexpected places. Team members should be encouraged to put their thoughts out in front of the group, regardless of feasibility. Those with more potential can be refined and developed later.
- Avoid Criticism — Team members shouldn’t fear having their ideas picked apart and scrutinized for flaws. Feedback should wait until after completing the phase of brainstorming session ideas.
- Be Open To Alternative Thinking — It’s good to have ideas in the mix that deviate from the company norm. Let team members feel free to share any ideas that may seem outlandish at first glance but could lead to real innovation for the business.
- Refine And Review — Perform a more in-depth inspection of ideas with the most promise. Try to look for connections between different ideas and work towards moving further along the problem-solving path.
There are a variety of ways to conduct brainstorming topic sessions. If you’re looking to incorporate the brainstorming process to come up with fresh ideas for your company, look for a brainstorming session template that best suits your team.
Different Types of Brainstorming
In the past, most brainstorming occurred with everyone gathered in person. Modern technology advances make brainstorming topic ideas with a group possible from anywhere in the world. If you’re looking for a brainstorming session example, below are some different types of brainstorming formats.
In-person brainstorming sessions have the benefit of allowing everyone to communicate more clearly. It’s possible to see the body language and facial expressions of everyone in the room. Seeing people express their ideas in person can avoid any misreading of a person’s tone or intent. Many believe that having everyone together in the room makes for a more positive atmosphere.
One of the drawbacks of using the in-person brainstorming format is that people who work outside of the office miss out on the experience. Another is that in-person meetings can take more time, especially if people must travel from a distance to attend.
Face-to-face brainstorming sessions involve using video conferencing software that allows everyone to see each other. It carries some of the benefits of in-person brainstorming sessions without forcing anyone to drive a long way into the office. Having the ability to see each other’s body language and match it to the words coming out often increases trust among the group. That visual connection can also improve everyone’s feeling of engagement.
Some web conference providers lock companies into onerous contracts regardless of how little they may need the service. Businesses should evaluate the terms of any agreement made with a web conferencing provider to see how well it fits their current needs.
Verbal Conference Call
Many companies opt to have conference calls without a visual link for the brainstorming process. The only requirement is that each participant has a reliable landline or mobile phone. Companies should also make arrangements with an audio-conferencing provider to ensure reliable connections between the group. Not seeing everyone while speaking can reduce distractions and help people focus on getting their ideas out logically.
The quality of your brainstorming session lives or dies on the services offered by your conferencing provider. You could end up dealing with dropped calls or low-quality audio, leading to problems with accurately hearing and capturing everything spoken during a brainstorming idea session.
It’s possible to rely entirely on written communication as an alternative to brainstorming by phone, video, or in person. However, most companies use a combination of written brainstorming templates in Word or another document format combined with a phone conference, face-to-face video meeting, or in-person gathering.
Effective Brainstorming Techniques
The core of all effective brainstorming techniques involves allowing the free exchange of ideas among workers. However, you can make sure that things remain on track by applying certain best practices to the brainstorming format. Here are three types of brainstorming techniques to employ to encourage a productive outcome.
- Set the Agenda Ahead of Time
Make sure all brainstorming session participants have an idea of the problem you’re looking to solve ahead of time. The leader should come up with a brainstorming session agenda that encompasses the following:
- Coming up with brainstorming topic ideas
- Creating a brainstorming session template
- Outlining group brainstorming activities
- Deciding on the types of brainstorming charts to follow
Once the meeting is underway, the leader should employ the group brainstorming activities outlined in the brainstorming session agenda. Some examples of brainstorming activities include:
- Creative thinking activities for employees — Come up with games or puzzles that loosen the creative flow of ideas among the brainstorming session participants. The group creativity activities should offer a fun and positive experience for everyone.
- Provide a brainstorming session example — It can be helpful to offer everyone an idea of what to expect from the brainstorming session, especially for those new to the experience. That should include
- Encourage idea sharing from others — Ask other group participants to provide you with their input before the brainstorming session.
Focus on the Problem At Hand
Laying out a brainstorming agenda beforehand can put some structure around the session without stifling the group’s creativity. It’s especially important to keep things on track when there’s a looming deadline to solve a problem. Encourage everyone to share their ideas out loud and make sure to document everything from the brainstorming session.
The leader should make sure the ideas center around the problem at hand. However, anything that comes up that might apply to another business issue should be documented and saved for a different brainstorming session.
Encourage Free-writing and Other Brainstorming Techniques
Using the free-writing brainstorming session technique at the beginning of a meeting helps people shake off the mental fog and get their brains ready for more creative processing. It involves giving everyone a writing assignment along with a specific time for completion.
Some other examples of brainstorming activities you can employ include:
- Reverse Brainstorming — Ask participants to develop ways to create a problem and then work back to how to solve them.
- Drivers Analysis — Look at the underlying issues driving the problem you’re trying to solve.
- SWOT Analysis — SWOT involves evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to an organization. Performing a SWOT analysis can help you whittling down and refining the ideas emerging from a brainstorming session.
Summarizing a Brainstorming Session
Getting through a brainstorming session is only the start of the process. You’ll need to conduct a lot more analysis on the ideas put forth and look at what you can translate into a tangible business process. Each idea should be get documented thoroughly to avoid any misunderstandings during the evaluation phase.
Encourage everyone to turn in a copy of their notes at the end of the session, then combine them with the official notes. Provide meeting participants, leadership, and other stakeholders with a recap of what occurred during the brainstorming session. All information tied to the brainstorming session should be stored in a shared, searchable location for easy access. Most companies use a document storage tool or internal wiki for this purpose.
There are a variety of tools and techniques available to help you assess the feasibility of brainstorming ideas. Crafting brainstorming diagrams can help leaders keep track of the flow of ideas discovered through the brainstorming format. You can use a brainstorming template from Word or another document tool.
Other brainstorming examples of documentation include Affinity diagrams for grouping related ideas together visually to help with decision-making. You can also try breaking each decision down into matrices that show you the impacts of each idea and catalog the pros, cons, and probable outcomes.
Alternatives to Brainstorming
Consider using some of these alternatives to brainstorming:
- Ambassador Method — Form two separate teams and work on the same problem apart from each other.
- Strolling Method — Conduct a traditional group brainstorming session for around half an hour, then send everyone out for a brief walk before coming back together. Walking provides a boost of oxygen to the brain that can encourage idea formation.
- Sleepover Method — Let those who are not interested in joining a standard brainstorming session access the notes from the meeting from those who did take part. Let them process their thoughts overnight then spend 15 minutes the next day writing out their ideas. Everyone should share that feedback with the entire group.
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