Have you ever scheduled an hour-long brainstorming session, had everyone bring in their best ideas, but at the end of the hour have no clear outcome? It happens to every organisation. And no, it’s not your team, it’s this whole affair that we call ‘brainstorming’; it’s actually not that great for finding solutions. But don’t be discouraged, we’re about to share with you a formula that could add a lot more value to these group sessions that you have with your team. Stay tuned…
Why aren’t brainstorming sessions always successful?
To be able to get the most out of your session you need to know what is not working and then eliminate those problems or fix them in some way. Here are some of the problems:
The session has no structure – people just show up with the intention of saying the first thing that comes to their mind.
All ideas are accepted with the intention of one person going through them later and sifting out the good ones.
There are just way too many people in the session.
Some people are not comfortable expressing themselves fully within the group setting/company.
You end up with a large number of ideas but poor quality.
As you can see, just having everybody come in a dump their ideas on a whiteboard is probably not the most productive technique.
What you should do instead
Obviously, the question arises then is why should we brainstorm at all? Why not just put one person on the job, let them come up with the idea and go ahead and execute it? The answer is because sometimes ideas have flaws and the person who had the idea is too close to it to see it. Or there is potential for the idea to grow which can only happen if someone with a different thought process hears that idea. That is why we brainstorm. But let’s figure out how to get it right.
Add structure: When you decide to call a session make sure that the participants are crystal clear on what you are looking for. For example, you have a new product and you are looking for a name. Let your team know that you need the name to reflect something about the product, like its all-natural ingredients, you need the name to be original, and you need to make an impact on your target audience. Also, add that every participant has to come up with one/two names with an explanation of the why and how. Now your team has a bit of homework before they come to the session and guess what, quality starts to improve.
Curate your group: When having your session, you also need to make sure that you stick to having fewer people in the room. Five to seven people is usually enough as long as you make sure that they are a diverse bunch. Include someone who has worked in a different industry, someone who has studied organic products, a designer, a writer, and so on. All it takes is the right combination to hit the right notes. If someone in the group is not comfortable expressing their ideas, you need to work with them at another time to help them get over their inhibitions and reach their full creative potential.
Debate: A common feature of many brainstorming sessions is a non-judgemental acceptance of all ideas. But this often gets confused with no questions asked. You can always ask someone to clarify how they plan to attract an audience of 1-lakh or more without being judgemental about their idea. In fact, asking questions is how ideas evolve. It’s how you can weed out the less impressive ideas in the early stages or build on them to make something spectacular. This is a true team effort.
Refine: Finally, once you have settled on three or four or even one good idea, then you can work on the fine-tuning to get the perfect fit. Your whiteboard should not be a clutter of ten average ideas, but a clean well-defined space where the few good ones get polished and ready for the next step. By the end of the brainstorming, you and your team should have something that you can work with which can then be assigned to one or two people to execute.
Brainstorming is an art form and like every art form, it takes a bit of discipline. As easy-going as your work culture might be, it’s not so bad to check the party at the door sometimes and put in some actual research and focus to get a gem of an idea.