Brainstorms conjure up a wide range of pictures and feelings. In my experience, people who participate are often hoping that someone will have a sudden stroke of inspiration, similar to the ancient story of Archimedes shouting “Eureka!” (I’ve found it) after unexpectedly discovering the solution to detecting fake gold.
Ideation sessions rarely pan out that way. Sometimes, the options generated do not hit the mark, leaving the team at a standstill or needing to reconvene again. In other cases, the group may zero in on one concept too soon, failing to consider other strong possibilities. In the best of scenarios, attendees come up with many feasible and intriguing alternatives.
While that “eureka” moment may not always come to fruition, there are ways to optimize brainstorming sessions, so participants are more likely to generate several great ideas.
10 Tips to Boost Brainstorming
Before the meeting
#1 – Identify the attendee list.
Take some time to determine who would be best equipped to enhance the discussion. Some considerations include the teams who are impacted by the project as well as expertise or prior experience that may contribute to a strong understanding of the initiative. I would encourage you to also consider the cognitive diversity of the potential participants to be sure you have a variety of thinking and behavioral tendencies taking part.
#2 – Give advanced notice.
There is a common misconception that brainstorming needs to be unplanned. As we know from the Emergenetics Attributes, many people, especially those with Structural preferences and first-third Behaviors, may not enjoy approaching work spontaneously. Schedule the conversation with at least a few days’ notice, so attendees can prepare in the way that best speaks to their preferences – whether that’s conducting research, looking for best practices, connecting with their network or taking an innovation walk.
#3 – Provide an overview and agenda.
Make sure invited participants know what the session is about. Before the discussion (ideally in the meeting invitation), circulate a high-level overview of the challenge, opportunity or topic at hand that explains why the conversation is needed as well as what the goals or intentions are for the project. This will particularly appeal to the Analytical and Conceptual Attributes. An agenda can also help to set the stage for success by clarifying expectations as well as optimizing the time you have together.
#4 – Explain any constraints in advance.
Open ideation can be fun, free-flowing experiences that produce brilliant possibilities, and in most instances, there will be some requirements or limitations that exist when conceiving solutions. That’s OK! Creativity can absolutely exist in the shadow of constraints. Whether those restrictions are budgetary, system-based, time-based or something else, be mindful to share them upfront to increase the likelihood that the group will come up with feasible options.
#5 – Invite clarifying questions.
Encourage participants to reach out with any inquiries about the topic or potential guardrails. If they are comfortable, they can ask those questions publicly, or they can offer them one-to-one. Just be sure to share the answers with the whole group so that everyone has the same information going into the discussion.
During the meeting
#6 – Revisit the overview.
When the group gets together, be mindful to reacquaint everyone with the high-level topic and agenda for the conversation. Again, invite questions and clarifications to gain alignment before the brainstorming begins.
#7 – Set a positive tone.
Building a psychologically safe space will encourage attendees to share more ideas, build on one another’s input and propose unusual or novel concepts. Use the improv’s tip of saying “Yes, and…” and be sure to set a “No judgment” ground rule. These practices will remind participants that all thoughts are welcome and each suggestion will be considered with an open mind. While all team members will benefit, these tactics are especially helpful to those with Social, Conceptual and third-third Flexible preferences.
#8 – Have multiple ways to communicate.
Even with advanced notice, some individuals, particularly those in the first-third of Expressiveness, may feel more comfortable writing down their inputs rather than talking through them, which may appeal to the third-third of Expressiveness. Be mindful to create opportunities for ideation that resonate with each approach. At Emergenetics, we’ll often encourage people to initially brainstorm on post-it notes or use virtual/physical whiteboards and then discuss the suggestions as a group.
#9 – Invite input from everyone.
It’s important to take note of the contributions that colleagues are making to ensure that each person is given a platform to offer their thoughts. Proactively inviting those who may be in the first-third of Assertiveness to provide any additional inputs can help them to feel more comfortable stepping into a conversation that may come more naturally to those in the third-third of Assertiveness.
#10 – Determine next steps.
After all the ideas are out in the open, set a timeline to revisit the concepts and plan the way forward. Instead of immediately filtering the list, I recommend leaving a day or two for “thoughts in the night.” That way, if new considerations are spawned after the discussion, employees have an opportunity to bring them forward. Creating this space before the refinement process also allows colleagues to reflect on the benefits and drawbacks of the options before a solution is chosen.
By making time for preparation in combination with on-the-spot ideation in a brainstorming session, attendees are more likely to walk away with a series of thoughtful possibilities. It all starts with just a little planning and foresight to make the experience and outcomes that much better for your participants!
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