How to make your brainstorming seriously productive!

A good ideation session is often (and should be) creative and fun for all participants, but without guidelines, potential moments of genius a brainstorming can devolve into arguments. I have experienced this many times in my early days in industry, so–to keep my team in check–I came up with some ground rules for every brainstorm session we have.

The easiest way to crush a productive brainstorm session is to end a meeting without scheduling some kind of follow-up to one or more ideas. If you don’t have time to schedule a next step to develop your ideas further, then you probably shouldn’t be brainstorming in the first place. 

To help you solve the problem at hand and think big, just follow these tips to make the most of your next brainstorming session.

1. Assemble the right team

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Too many people makes brainstorms ineffective so, size the team according to needs, but keep it under seven people. Assemble a diverse group, including representatives from various backgrounds and disciplines.

Choose an organiser to write down or record every idea and avoid inviting blockers and divers!

A blocker is someone who quickly shuts down an idea by deeming it impossible for whatever reason. Inform your team that ideas need to be realistic, but the participants should challenge themselves to come up with at least one piece of feedback that could challenge or support the idea before shutting it down.

A diver will progress beyond challenging an idea and start a deep dive into developing the idea further. But this simply isn’t the purpose of a brainstorm session. Unless the idea is something that everyone agrees is the solution and is ready for development, it is best to keep the session moving along. So avoid inviting too many divers to the session – if you want to keep it on track.

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2. Go off-site

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Avoid to brainstorm in your workplace. You need to be in a completely relaxed environment to expand your mind into a state of flow. I have generated some of the best ideas with my teams over a pool table and even in a car with a pit stop for each step during the brainstorming session and with a great dinner or a fun night out as the end destination. Much more fun and inspiring than a boardroom table.

Brainstorming should not be something that your business does on a regular basis. Even off-site and fun monthly brainstorming sessions start to feel manufactured rather than organic, and this can destroy creativity. So, pick an environment that allows people to think and be creative without distraction and take advantage of more inspiring settings.

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3. Solidify your focal point

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First and foremost  keep the central focus as benefit-oriented as possible. E.g. “Services that our audience demands”  rather than “New company services” and include value-add aspects to keep idea generation focused on benefits rather than features.

Next, it is important that you add constraints! A frequent misconception about constraints is that it suffocates creativity, when in reality the exact opposite is true. I’ll bet that you know the frustration and confusion when sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper with every colour in your crayon box at your fingertips. It truly helps if you formulate a problem statement to add meaningful constraints to your brainstorming session to provoke creative ideas.

4. Whiteboard a mind map

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One of my favourite ways to take notes during a brainstorm session is to use the mind map format. It helps to keep your eye on the central idea while organising new ideas in a non-linear fashion that groups ideas by type rather than chronologically. This spatial organisation of ideas is much more intuitive than an outline or traditional note taking. The final note taking is easy since you can just pull out a smartphone and snap a photo.

5. Balance between challenging and developing ideas

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The point of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible within the time constraints. There should be no discussion or criticism during the session.

It is important to remember that the purpose of a brainstorming session isn’t to create plans or roadmaps–it is all about creating and challenging ideas. The goal is highly levelled idea generation, so, allow the group to challenge the idea in various perspectives. The art is to balance between challenging ideas and developing an idea.

Hive-mind can be a beautiful thing. Look for ways to combine two ideas to form a single great idea—when it makes sense. However, with experience will come the sense of when it is time to move on to the next idea.

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6. Don’t forget about the after-party

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So what do you do when the whiteboard (or pool table) is fully plastered with new ideas?
The laundry list of ideas you have assembled is pretty worthless until you turn those sketches into masterpieces.

There are two ways you can go about this: Attention guidance or discussion encouragement!

The purpose of attention guidance is to bring the participants back together and direct their attention toward a specific task. Whether that task is filling out a particular idea or drawing commonalities across all ideas, the point is that the leader of the group controls where the conversation goes.

Discussion encouragement, on other hand, is far less structured. Basically, the participants sit down with the list of ideas from the brainstorm and discuss them further. They have the freedom to decide what gets expanded upon and what direction the conversation goes in.

Whereas attention guidance helps everyone process the information at a deeper level, discussion encouragement helps clarify and synthesize specific ideas.

Regardless of which approach you employ, it is crucial that you give team members an opportunity to keep the party going.

The bottomline is ...

By this point, I am confident that you have picked up on the core message; The key to a productive brainstorming session is stimulation. And the key to stimulation is changing things up. What is less mentally stimulating than routine?

It goes without saying that the list I have compiled here is far from exhaustive. I have no doubt that you can double its length in an hour simply by dreaming up new ways to get people excited about your marketing team meetings.

In fact, I would welcome to hear from you and get to know your ways to brainstorm. The possibilities are endless, and the more we share, the better we get!

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Thank you for reading my blog!​

Hi, I’m Trine! I’m a Brand Strategist & Designer from Denmark, living in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I use this blog to share simple, efficient, branding and marketing tips, and an honest glimpse of entrepreneurship!

I give professional and constructive feedback on all inquiries and comments. You won’t be disappointed! I look forward to hearing from you!