Brainstorming for new ideas is a vital part of the ‘ideas’ process. Although in most cases,
there is a very clear path forward in terms of a customer or market requirement for a new
product, there could be ways of making this happen that you have not considered. If you
are a very small company, you also run the risk of utilising only one person’s knowledge
What Is Brainstorming?
Brainstorming combines a relaxed, informal approach to problem-solving with lateral thinking. It asks that people come up with ideas and thoughts that can at first seem to be a bit quirky. The idea here is that some of these ideas can be crafted into original, creative solutions to the problem you’re trying to solve, while others can spark more ideas. This approach aims to get people unstuck, by “jolting” them out of their normal ways of thinking.
Why Use Brainstorming?
Conventional group problem-solving can be fraught with problems. Confident, “big-ego” participants can drown out and intimidate quieter group members. Less confident participants can be too scared of ridicule to share their ideas freely. Others may feel pressured to conform with the group view, or are held back by an excessive respect for authority. As such, group problem-solving is often ineffective.
By contrast, brainstorming provides a freewheeling environment in which everyone is encouraged to participate. All ideas are welcomed, and many of the issues of group problem-solving are overcome. All participants are asked to contribute fully and fairly, liberating people to develop a rich array of creative solutions to the problems they’re facing.
1. Team Sport
In order to get the maximum value from a brainstorming session, involve staff from as many areas of the company as possible to harness different expertise. Where possible, participants in the brainstorming process should come from as wide a range of disciplines as possible. This brings a broad range of experience to the session and helps to make it more creative meaning that you can find better solutions to the problems you face. However, don’t make the group too big – as with other types of teamwork, groups of between 5 and 7 people are often most effective.
You can often get the best results by combining individual and group brainstorming, and by managing the process carefully and according to the “rules” below. That way, you get people to focus on the issue without interruption (this comes from having everyone in a dedicated group meeting), you maximize the number of ideas you can generate!
It can also help you get buy in from team members for the solution chosen – after all, they were involved in developing it. What’s more, because brainstorming is fun, it helps team members bond with one-another as they solve problems in a positive, rewarding environment.
Once you can coherently articulate your innovation strategy to your team, and demonstrate how the ideas you are pursuing move you forward, team members will feel engaged and can focus on your priorities, becoming more effective.
Define the problem you want solved clearly, and lay out any criteria to be met. Make it clear that the objective of the meeting is to generate as many ideas as possible.
Ask people to give their ideas, making sure that you give everyone a fair opportunity to contribute. Encourage people to develop other people’s ideas, or to use other ideas to create new ones.
Encourage them to come up with as many ideas as possible, from solidly practical ones to wildly impractical ones. Welcome creativity!
3. No bad idea
During brainstorming sessions there should therefore be no criticism of ideas: You are trying to open up possibilities and break down wrong assumptions about the limits of the problem. Judgments and analysis at this stage stunt idea generation. Criticism introduces an element of risk for group members when putting forward an idea. This stifles creativity and cripples the free running nature of a good brainstorming session.
Ideas should only be evaluated at the end of the brainstorming session – this is the time to explore solutions further using conventional approaches.
4. Structure and encouragement
Find a comfortable meeting environment, and set it up ready for the session. If you are holding a virtual session, reduce distractions by turning off your email notifications, and schedule in regular breaks to avoid fatigue. Appoint one person to record the ideas that come from the session. These should be noted in a format that everyone can see and refer to. You should also pick a facilitator and timekeeper to help structure the session.
If people aren’t already used to working together, consider using an appropriate warm-up exercise or ice-breaker. Give people plenty of time on their own at the start of the session to generate as many ideas as possible.
In a long session, take plenty of breaks so that people can continue to concentrate.
5. Follow the rules
- Defer judgement
- One conversation at a time
- Stay focussed on the topic
- Build on the ideas of others
- Encourage wild ideas
- Go for quantity
- Be visual
- Explore individual ideas in detail.
- Ensure that no train of thought is followed for too long
The brainstorming exercise is something that you should do on an annual basis so that
you keep up to date with what is happening in your market and the new technologies
If you have not conducted a brainstorming exercise before, you should consider using a
facilitator, at least for the first session.
We regularly work with businesses on an in depth, extended basis, to inform and establish an R&D strategy. Read more