How to Bring Out the Best in Your Next Brainstorming Session

Cathy Cain-Blank of CC Marketing creates custom email communications for promotional products distributors and other small/midsize companies. She is a periodic contributor to the Maple Ridge Farms blog.

cartoonWhether the problem you’re trying to solve is for a prospect, client or your own business, you don’t have to extend your daily run or shower hoping a winning idea will hit you. A structured brainstorming session can help. Here are a few guidelines to follow:

Get out of the office. You need a neutral, relaxed environment to generate ideas freely. Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group, says that when he holds a brainstorming session he gets everyone out of “that stuffy, cramped office, which isn’t going to be conducive to creative thinking.”

Don’t think outside the box. If you have limited resources, being told to think outside the box isn’t helpful, says Shawn Coyne, co-author of Brainsteering: A better approach to breakthrough ideas, because you’ll end up with ideas you couldn’t possibly implement. Instead, he suggests you think inside a carefully crafted box with enough structure to help guide your thinking without over-constraining it.

Limit the group size and type. Fill a room with too many people and you’ll end up with a few who monopolize the session, those who contribute on occasion, and others who don’t say a word. Invite the people who have the most experience with the problem as opposed to the people whose title suggests they belong in the session. Coyne suggests small groups of 3-5 people. With two people, one ends up dominating. If you get to six or seven, natural conversational patterns take over and the group will subconsciously split into two sub-groups, which is disorientating.

Keep your focus as benefit-oriented as possible. Sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper is frustrating. Aaron Aders, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Slingshot SEO, recommends formulating a problem statement to add meaningful constraints to your session. “Services our market of buyers demands” is a specific focus for a brainstorming session. “New service for buyers” is not.

Schedule a follow-up. Don’t drop the ball after your group has gone to the effort to come up with new ideas. Make the commitment to let participants know which idea will get used. Chances are it will impact their ability in the future to come up with suggestions more in line with the objective.

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