6 rules for better brainstorming

28 Apr

people1If you are like our company was, any mention of ‘brainstorming’ is generally met with a collective, audible sigh. And why is that? Usually because many companies do it wrong.

The wrong/easy/lazy way is to put a group of people in a room and ask them to come up with ideas for something. And what happens? Generally, the most dominant personalities in the room overrun the session with their ideas, beating everyone into submission with their will and forcing them to accept their less-than-stellar, quasi-obvious solutions.

How do I know this?

I used to be one of them.

After several of our brainstorming sessions were going south, we decided to do something about it. Now we have some simple rules around our brainstorms that have really boosted productivity and efficiency at our agency. They’ve also created better ideas.

Rule #1 – Have a clear objective at the beginning of the session. If you don’t know what you want to find out or accomplish, your session will spiral out on a tangent quickly.

Rule #2 – Have engagement rules. Give your participants a framework of how you’d like them to brainstorm. They could be as simple as filling out Post-It notes, calling out ideas in turn or writing solutions down on one piece of paper. Regardless, if participants don’t have rules, dominant personalities will own the session.

Rule #3 – If it’s your meeting, be the moderator, not a participant. Your job is to inspire people, which is just as important as idea generation.

Rule #4 – No pessimism. As soon as people start to criticize ideas in a brainstorm, people shut off. Create a safe environment where everyone can speak freely. As the moderator your job is to encourage people to think wildly. Sometimes the right idea comes from an outlandish one.

Rule #5 – Set rigid time limits. People can do amazing things under pressure. If you give them all day, they’ll take it. Add a little time pressure and you’ll see your group really kick it into gear.

Rule #6 – Give your group feedback on the session. After all, everyone wants positive feedback.

For some great brainstorming exercises visit www.changeminds.org

Paul Williams also wrote a great article on brainstorming.


3 Responses to “6 rules for better brainstorming”

  1. Jason Finnerty April 28, 2009 at 11:09 pm #

    Another effective technique is to avoid the group brainstorming altogether.
    Instead, brainstorm individually and then bring those ideas to a summary meeting to review and dissect.

    This results in more creativity and stronger ideas.

    “brainstorming groups have never outperformed virtual groups. ”


  2. Rodger Banister May 1, 2009 at 3:52 pm #

    Thanks Jason. What we found the group brainstorming does is to bring a sense of urgency to the process.

  3. Duncan Milne May 14, 2009 at 6:32 pm #

    I believe what Jason says though has merit though. A sense of urgency can be still be instilled with individual brainstorming, put a short enough deadline on anything can make one panic and think outside the box (for instance my mother wants to have grandchildren before she’s 65; she’s 60 now and I have no prospects for a girlfriend let alone anything more. However I do have a foster child of my own in Mozambique, who costs me $2 a day, far less expensive and messy than all that messy business of REAL children.) What Jason fails to acknowledge is that the group still falls risk to the dominant personality type as they will dissect the summarized ideas to skew in their favour.

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