19 Sep Effective Brainstorming

We’ve all experienced the woes of the whiteboard. You walk into a brainstorming meeting and it’s time to get creative, ready….go! Then ensues the wide eyeballs and waiting until a brave soul breaks the silence. So what is it that can make a brainstorming meeting more effective and really fruitful? The most important first step is to start at the end. I’ve seen too often the call to action of ‘think outside the box’ but I’m actually going to disagree with this. Boundaries and parameters need to be set for ideas so you aren’t spinning your wheels on solutions that aren’t feasible. Don’t start by throwing out ideas for a broadly-stated problem. Define your objectives for the meeting and get specific. In fact, come up with several objectives and boil them down to the best one. A good objective will be specific and multi-faceted. For example, what if I wanted to design a reusable bag that could fold into something smaller when not in use. A better description and objective would be to design a reusable bag that could a) be stored or carried in a compact way b) designed so that it can be expanded in a scalable way c) made of durable material so it lasts beyond the normal 51 uses according to this study and d) is manufactured in a cost-efficient and environmentally friendly way.

A detailed objective should be defined ahead of time so that those attending the meeting have time to brainstorm solutions and ideas individually before walking in the room. While collaboration can and does produce great ideas, the group mentality can also create the scenario where everyone gets stuck on one issue or thought. When individuals have time to brainstorm beforehand and then bring in at least a few ideas, your meeting is less likely to get too focused on one component of the objective.

Once a specific, multi-faceted objective has been defined, participants have had time to individually brainstorm and bring in solutions to the meeting, work as a group to evaluate the solutions and see what new ideas take form as you combine ideas and collaborate. This approach should produce much better results and with efficiency. Here’s more great reading on the Discipline of Creativity.