Brainstorming sessions can have great results if run effectively

One of the most accessible and common tools for creative thinking is brainstorming, a method that has been tried and improved over the years to service a variety of needs. 

What is brainstorming?

  • a method teams use to generate ideas to solve a clearly defined problem
  • a method of generating ideas and sharing knowledge, in which participants are encouraged to think without interruption
  • a group activity where each participant shares ideas as they come to mind, without analysing them

Brainstorming can take different forms, such as mind mapping, brain writing, rapid ideation, starbursting, figure storming, round robin, stepladder, etc..

What are the benefits of using brainstorming?

  • allows participants to think critically about ideas and solutions, form connections, and share with peers;
  • allows exploring and expanding one’s ability to think laterally;
  • enables the inclusion of a variety of perspectives when designing a solution;
  • bring diverse expertise into the process;
  • leads to more wholesome and relevant solutions.

One of the risks of group activities is people getting distracted and the end goal not being met. What makes a brainstorming session effective? Here are the key principles:

  • Set up the context – Explain the problem that needs to be addressed clearly. Define together the rules of engagement in the brainstorming meeting for maximum effectiveness.
  • More is more – Gather as many ideas as possible and document all of the ideas being shared, regardless of how unobvious they seem. Many ideas will not be used, but they are crucial to the process to give a wholesome view on the problem addressed.
  • No judgement – All ideas are documented without judgement, analysis, or debate. Respect the person sharing and the ideas presented. This fosters a welcoming, encouraging, and creative space and overall psychological safety.
  • Stay focused – Creative ideas can also build excitement and distract participants. Designate a facilitator who is responsible for reminding everyone of the rules of the activity and the problem being addressed.
  • Keep it fun – Allow for jokes, a relaxed atmosphere, and colourful tools (post-its, mind maps, online platforms) that encourage open thinking and not boxing or structuring ideas.
  • Choose a technique that works with the group – If there is power imbalance in the group, people with less authority might fall into groupthink, which means agreeing with one individual’s ideas without proposing personal ideas, so in this case, brain writing or step ladder techniques work better.
  • Ensure everybody shares their ideas – Each team member brings a unique perspective to the problem and the benefit of having variety is that it can lead to a comprehensive solution. Techniques like Round Robin or Step Ladder give nobody a chance to avoid sharing.
Extra resources

1. Types, ethics, how tos

2. Brainstorming techniques

3. Youtube video – An introduction to brainstorming techniques

Brainstorming is problem solving together and you’re expected to make effective contributions

A brainstorming is as successful as each participant is effectively involved. Such a workshop is also a suitable space for you to showcase your abilities and value to the company, so make sure you are a constructive participant. 

Here are some techniques that can set you apart in a brainstorming meeting:

  1. Get your creativity going before- Unless it’s an impromptu brainstorming, you might already expect it so you can do a creativity warm-up exercise. An exercise as simple as thinking of 20 different uses of a stapler or another item in the office can put your brain into a creative frame of mind. 
  2. Research – If you know the topic in advance, do research online or amongst peers about that topic to better understand it, to learn what was done before, what other people might have suggested but was not considered in the past, and to collect any other information that can lead to new ideas.
  3. Ideas as questions – During the brainstorming, if you struggle to come up with enough suggestions, ask some questions about the problem. It might lead to you and/or your peers producing newer ideas.
  4. Phrase it as you go – When you are sharing your ideas, if you feel like you have something in mind but can’t quite put it into a clear idea, think aloud and get help from your peers to phrase it.
  5. Think wild – Remember the no-judgement rule. This is a space where it is appreciated if you propose out of the ordinary, unique, and somewhat “crazy” ideas.
  6. Build on other’s ideas: When you hear an inspiring thought that gets you creating, ask for permission to build on it and allow others to build on yours, because it may lead to a more relevant suggestion.
  7. Involve others – Even if you are not the facilitator, if you see a peer who hasn’t contributed much, invite them to share as well. This will earn you respect and camaraderie, and it will enable a higher level of effectiveness for that meeting.

The first two techniques are for preparation and the following five are for sharing your ideas during the session itself. You might have to do it consciously at first, but applying all in any brainstorming will gradually become a skill set for you and you might be that colleague that everyone wants to involve in group work because they can rely on you to make valuable contributions. 

Extra resources

1. 12 Strategies to brainstorm effectively

2. 18 Exercises to boost creative thinking

3. 24 Techniques for Effective brainstorming