Brainstorming: The ultimate list to spark ideas
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Brainstorming: The ultimate list to spark ideas

Here's how to come up with killer ideas in your next brainstorm session.

When it comes to developing ideas and solving problems, two heads are definitely better than one. And if you get lots of team members involved to share their ideas, it can help even more! As you might have guessed, we’ve done a few brainstorming sessions in our time. Here are our top six brainstorming techniques to keep your group discussion focussed and the good ideas flowing.

1. Leveraging Collective Brainpower

Involving a multitude of team members to share their ideas can exponentially enhance the brainstorming process. This collective approach is not just about quantity; it’s about tapping into a rich diversity of thoughts and perspectives. Each team member brings their own unique experiences, knowledge, and creative flair, making the brainstorming session a melting pot of innovative ideas.

Studies have shown that when people brainstorm together, they can create more diverse and higher-quality solutions than when working alone. The key here is to create an environment that encourages open communication and values each contribution, no matter how out-of-the-box it may seem.

To make the most of this collaborative environment, it’s essential to establish some ground rules. For instance, encourage active listening, where team members genuinely pay attention to each other’s ideas without planning their response while someone else is speaking. Also, fostering a non-judgmental atmosphere is crucial. When people feel safe to express their thoughts without fear of criticism, creativity flourishes.

One effective way to start a group brainstorming session is by using a technique like ‘brainwriting,’ where each participant writes down their ideas anonymously. This approach can be particularly beneficial in preventing groupthink and ensuring that quieter team members have their voices heard. Remember, the goal is to generate a vast array of ideas — the more diverse, the better.

2. Preparation and Advance Planning

Don’t start your group brainstorming session with a blank piece of paper. Instead, share the topic and purpose of your meeting with the team well in advance. This approach allows participants to mull over the topic in their own time, leading to more thoughtful and creative input during the session. It’s like planting seeds in fertile soil; give them time, and they’ll sprout into robust ideas.

Encourage your team members to do some individual brainstorming before the group session. They could use techniques like mind mapping, which visually maps out thoughts and ideas related to the central topic. This method is particularly effective in uncovering connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, which can lead to innovative solutions.

Another technique is free writing, where participants write continuously about the topic for a set amount of time without worrying about grammar or coherence. This exercise can help unlock creative thoughts and ideas that might not surface in a more structured setting.

Once in the group session, have everyone share their pre-thought ideas. This process not only jump-starts the conversation but also ensures that the group doesn’t get stuck on the most obvious solutions. By getting these initial ideas out on the table (literally, on Post-it™ notes), the group can then dive deeper into more innovative and less obvious territories.

3. Choosing Diverse Participants

Choose your participants wisely! Assembling a diverse group of people with different experiences, disciplines, and ways of thinking is crucial for a successful brainstorming session. This diversity is what injects a variety of perspectives and ideas into the discussion, making it richer and more productive.

Including people from different departments or even outside your organisation can provide fresh insights and challenge the status quo. For example, someone from a creative background might approach a problem very differently than someone from a technical field, leading to innovative solutions that a more homogenous group might never consider.

But diversity isn’t just about professional background or expertise; it also includes factors like culture, age, and gender. Each of these aspects can influence how a person thinks and what they bring to the table. A multigenerational team, for instance, can combine the wisdom and experience of older members with the fresh, innovative perspectives of younger ones.

To ensure a balanced discussion, it’s also essential to manage the dynamics of the group. Be mindful of dominant personalities that might overshadow quieter members. Facilitate the session in a way that encourages everyone to contribute. Sometimes, breaking the group into smaller teams can help more introverted members feel more comfortable sharing their ideas.

Remember, the goal is to create a safe space where everyone feels valued and heard. This environment not only fosters creativity but also builds a sense of team cohesion and respect.

4. Emphasising Quantity Over Quality, Initially

In the initial stages of brainstorming, focus on generating a high volume of ideas without worrying about their feasibility or quality. This approach encourages free thinking and helps the group overcome mental blocks. It’s about letting the ideas flow without interruption or judgment.

One effective way to facilitate this is by setting a clear time limit for idea generation. This sense of urgency prevents overthinking and encourages spontaneous thought. It’s a bit like improvisational theater — the first idea that comes to mind is often the most creative.

During this phase, every idea is welcome, no matter how outlandish it may seem. Encourage participants to build on each other’s ideas. This collaborative approach can lead to the evolution of an initial thought into something truly groundbreaking.

To capture all the ideas, use a whiteboard, flip chart, or even a digital collaborative tool if your team is remote. Make sure to jot down everything that’s said, no matter how incomplete or rough it may seem. You can also assign someone the role of a scribe to ensure that no idea gets lost in the excitement.

Once the time is up, you’ll likely have a diverse array of ideas — some feasible, others less so. But the goal of this phase isn’t to find the perfect solution; it’s to explore the full range of possibilities. Later, you can sift through these ideas, combining and refining them into workable solutions

5. Seeking Cross-Industry Inspiration

Often, when trying to solve a problem or come up with new ideas, there’s a tendency to look within our own industry or field for inspiration. However, some of the most innovative ideas come from stepping outside our familiar territory and exploring how other industries tackle their challenges.

For instance, a technology company might learn from the hospitality industry’s approach to customer service. A fashion brand might draw inspiration from the automotive industry’s manufacturing processes. By looking at how different industries solve problems and innovate, you can uncover unique solutions that can be adapted to your own field.
This cross-industry inspiration can also come from literature, art, nature, and even history.

The key is to keep an open mind and be willing to explore seemingly unrelated areas. Encourage your team to think about how a problem would be approached in a completely different context. This mental exercise can lead to surprising and creative solutions.

To facilitate this, consider inviting guest speakers from other industries to your brainstorming sessions. They can provide new insights and spark discussions that might not occur in a more insular setting. Alternatively, you could hold ‘inspiration sessions’ where team members share interesting case studies or innovations from other fields.
Remember, the goal is not to copy what others are doing but to use their approaches as a springboard for your own creative thinking. It’s about blending and adapting ideas to fit your unique challenges and opportunities.

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These techniques can jolt your team out of their normal thought patterns and help generate ideas without any assumed knowledge.

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6. Using 'What If' Scenarios to Challenge Norms

One powerful technique to stimulate creative thinking is to pose ‘what if’ scenarios. This approach encourages team members to think beyond the usual constraints and consider possibilities they might not have otherwise.
For example, asking ‘What if we had no budget limitations?’ or ‘What if we had to create a product for an entirely different demographic?’ forces the team to think outside their usual parameters.

This kind of hypothetical thinking can lead to innovative ideas that might be impractical in reality but can inspire realistic, groundbreaking solutions.

The ‘what if’ game also helps in identifying underlying assumptions about your products, services, or processes. By challenging these assumptions, you can uncover new opportunities and areas for improvement.

To get the most out of this technique, encourage wild and imaginative responses. The more unconventional, the better. It’s not about finding immediately actionable solutions; it’s about stretching the imagination and opening up new avenues of thought.

Once you’ve generated a list of ‘what if’ scenarios and their potential solutions, you can then start to explore which elements could be realistically implemented or adapted to your situation. This process can lead to a fresh perspective on old problems and inspire innovative approaches that would not have been considered otherwise.

Remember, the key to successful brainstorming is not just generating ideas but also creating an environment where creativity is nurtured and valued. By incorporating these techniques, you can make your brainstorming sessions more productive, enjoyable, and innovative.

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🧠 Brainstorming with your team is a powerful way to solve problems.

Before your head into your brainstorming sessions, there’s a fantastic TED Talk that’s a must-watch. It delves into the creative genius behind ‘The Onion,’ renowned not only for its satirical humour but also as a powerhouse of innovative ideas. For over three decades, ‘The Onion’ has mastered the art of churning out consistently brilliant and out-of-the-box concepts. This talk, led by one of the creative minds from The Onion, sheds light on a crucial lesson: It’s easier to tone down wild, bold ideas than to spice up mediocre ones.

This presentation is a treasure trove of insights on improving team creativity, ensuring a balance between internal and external innovation, and creating an environment where every team member’s voice is heard and every idea gets the attention it deserves. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of ‘America’s Finest News Source’ and how these strategies can be applied to your brainstorming sessions to make them more effective and inclusive.

So, if you’re looking to kickstart your brainstorming journey or enhance your existing process, this TED Talk is an excellent starting point. It’s not just informative but also an entertaining guide on how to foster a vibrant and productive creative environment in your team.

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Having a braindrought? We can make the ideas rain!

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