My article on brainstorming sessions that make people crazy generated a lot of requests for tips to make brainstorming effective. If you follow this guide, not only will you save the sanity of your team, you may also produce some innovative new ideas that could catapult your company. Here are seven tips for brainstorming that works and won't drive your team crazy:
1. Include No More Than 10 People
The bigger the group, the less likely you will have a productive discussion. Yes, really, no more than 10 people.
2. Don't Include the Ego Invite
Brainstorming is not a popularity contest. As much as everyone may want to participate, or you feel like you have to invite a certain member of your board or leadership team to join you, resist the urge. That is exactly the reason why brainstorming sessions fail. Bring the people together who have the most to contribute to your topic, and stop worrying about whose ego you will dent.
3. Never Split Into Breakout Discussions
In small brainstorming sessions, breaking into smaller groups usually involves disjointed conversations, an inability to catch the other group up to what was discussed, and a missed opportunity for everyone in the room to hear different perspectives and build on each other's ideas. Half the group is frustrated that they are assigned a partner they don't want to talk to, and everyone wants to be in the group where the boss is.
4. Provide a Thought-Provoking Prelude
Before the session begins, send videos, articles, industry news, competitors' products, expert interviews, or other thought-provoking ideas to your attendees. Help paint the picture of possibilities ahead of the session, and encourage others to share relevant background information ahead of time as well.
5. Require Everyone's Physical Presence
It is an unusual experience when technology, audio, and video allow for an effective remote brainstorming discussion. Stop trying. If your brainstorming topic is that important to your company's success, invest in getting everyone together.
6. Set the Right Time Horizon
Are you brainstorming for product enhancements you can implement this quarter or are you looking at future products in two years time? Make it clear where you want your ideas to focus so you don't get ideas that are either too short- or long-term in their approach.
7. Book Double the Time and Finish Early
The last 10 minutes of any brainstorming session can be either pure brilliance or ultimate frustration. You are watching the clock and suddenly someone comes up with a unique perspective, or you are all at a major point of debate. Yet everyone's other commitments overrule continuing, and that energetic magic evaporates. If you think you need two hours, plan on it, but book four hours and be prepared to let people finish early. Then, if you need extra discussion at the end, there will be plenty of time. An added bonus is that giving people open space after a brainstorming session to hang around and chat outside of the formal discussion can also lead to new ideas.
As you prepare your next brainstorming session, remember you will likely have many people in the room who have experienced brainstorming sessions that have driven them crazy. Let them know that this session will be different. As you invite people and prepare the session, share these tips so everyone can anticipate a productive time and be ready to fully participate in generating new ideas.
Let me know if this helps you create the perfect brainstorm.