5 Tips for Effective Brainstorming

We’ve already mentioned many of the problems with the classical brainstorming method – it wastes time, generates few good ideas, inhibits participants from speaking due to a fear of being judged, promotes competition, and is just plain unproductive. That being said, I’m sure that in the near future you will be sitting in a brainstorming meeting, where the facilitators aren’t trained in the SIT method of creativity. In order to help, I’ve compiled a list of the Top 5 Tips for Effective Brainstorming.

1) Apply constraints – The common notion in classic brainstorming is to have participants throw out as many ideas as possible, the crazier and “out of the box” the ideas are, the better. When group members allow their minds to wander into the unknown, it increases their chances of innovation. Unfortunately, these wild ideas, though they yield a long list of possibilities, rarely produce results. Research has taught that if we want to innovate, constraints are an essential part of the process. Don’t assume your budget is endless, accept the limitations of the budgets and only suggest ideas that fit within it. Don’t give the meeting a three hour window, set a timer for 30 minutes and let the stress invigorate you. Don’t assume you can create any type of event, imagine the event will only be appropriate for elders living in Florida on low sugar diets. Constraints, though they seem to inhibit creativity, actually set the stage for innovation.

2) Discard Bad ideas – Classic brainstorming teaches that there are no bad ideas. Every random thought should be considered and jotted down on the whiteboard, regardless if it has any potential. But why? Why must we list ideas that are completely unrealistic? Stop feeling good about the length of your list and start listing only good ideas. Choose quality over quantity and save yourself time and heartache later.

3) Break the group up into smaller discussion subgroups – This is key! For years we assumed that the more people we gathered together to brainstorm, the more innovation would emerge. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. Big group sessions inhibit speakers and decrease productivity. In fact, research has found that 5 pairs of 2 people each, yield 80 % more results than a group of 10 working together. That number is truly outstanding! Instead, divide the group into smaller quieter breakout groups, ideally as small as 2 people each, and after each person had the opportunity to share in the smaller setting, bring all the groups back together for a larger group facilitation.

4) Zoom in on one aspect to brainstorm – Often when we try to innovate, we think of the topic as a huge insurmountable challenge – let’s innovate a new type of conference, let’s create a new way of teaching kindergarteners. As with a camera, zoom in. Focus on one aspect instead of the entire project. Try innovating the meals at the conference or the seating for the keynote speaker. Try innovating your kindergarteners homework system or the in-person drop off. By zooming in on a piece of the program, you will see a new perspective and feel less overwhelmed.


5) Have everyone write their ideas down on paper – As we mentioned earlier, often in group settings, people feel inhibited to share. It might be because their boss or superior is in the room, they are naturally shy or they are just afraid of seeming foolish. Instead of having everyone call out their ideas, hand out a piece of paper and give them 10 minutes to attempt innovation. Then, ask each person to share their ideas with the group and place the best ideas on the board. This method will allow each individual to have an equal opportunity to share and you will produce a wider and stronger representation of ideas.

So the next time you are in a brainstorming meeting, take the reins and suggest some of these ideas. I guarantee that you’ll be happier and see more results, quicker.

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