12 Brainstorming Techniques for Unearthing Better Ideas From Your Team

12 Brainstorming Techniques for Unearthing Better Ideas From Your Team

If you want to hold brainstorms that unearth better, more creative ideas, it all starts with the people in the room. 12 Team Brainstorming Techniques for Getting to Good Ideas 1) Invite a diverse group of people. This is one reason why it's good to provide a few days of lead-time before your meeting, but it's also why you might want to explicitly ask people to think of some ideas beforehand. Yes, there's a fine line: Squashing bad ideas could lead people to fear speaking up, missing out on good ideas as a result. But if you're giving every idea equal due regardless of merit, then you get off-track real fast and end up down a bad idea rabbit hole. If people can speak freely, but not feel stupid for doing so, you'll get more ideas out -- which makes it more likely you'll land on a good one. If you have a team where taking smart risks -- regardless of outcome -- is rewarded, people will have a better sense of what ideas are worth pursuing and what's worth passing on. Sometimes in-person meetings aren't the right format for unearthing good ideas. It wasn't a waste of time. Perhaps you'll get another group of people in a room to iterate on them -- or even the same group once they've had some distance from the ideas.

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If you want to hold brainstorms that unearth better, more creative ideas, it all starts with the people in the room. Like, the actual number of people in the room.

That’s my first tip for you: Follow the “pizza rule” for brainstorming. If you’re unfamiliar with the “pizza rule,” it’s the idea that if you have more people in a room than you could feed with a pizza, there are too many people in that room to hold a productive meeting.

The same rule goes for a brainstorming session: If you’ve got a dozen people sitting around a table, expect a really long list of truly mediocre ideas.

So, what else can you do other than bribe a group of two to six people with pizza to unearth good ideas? So glad you asked.

12 Team Brainstorming Techniques for Getting to Good Ideas

1) Invite a diverse group of people.

If your team works on all of the same projects together, goes to team meetings together, sits next to each other in the office, and hangs out in the same group chats all day … well, needless to say, the ideas will likely start to get pretty homogenous.

Instead, invite new people from other teams to your brainstorms — people with different skill sets and experiences to help get you out of your rut and see things in a new way. It’ll give you that great mix of new perspectives and contextual knowledge that’ll help you land on ideas that are both original and doable.

2) Keep the meeting to 22(ish) minutes.

Nicole Steinbok advocates this technique, and it’s one I’ve used with positive results. (I usually round up to 30 minutes, but what’s a few minutes among friends?) It works particularly well for people like myself that thrive under the threat of a deadline.

In my experience, having a limited amount of time to brainstorm only works if all participants are actually ready for the meeting. (More on that in a minute.) But two other tenets Steinbok harps on are a no-laptop rule, and a no off-topic-banter rule. While some might disagree with the latter, I have found that aggressive time constraints help keep people on task and delivering their best ideas as a result.

3) Provide context and goals well before the meeting.

“Well before the meeting” doesn’t mean that morning. Offer any pertinent information at least two business days in advance so people have a fighting chance at actually being prepared for the brainstorm.

In addition to providing any reading materials or contextual information that help set up the reason for the brainstorm (and explicitly asking that they read it, too), describe what the ideal outcome of the meeting looks like. This will help people come into the meeting understanding the scope of what you’re all trying to do. I think you’ll find this helps you avoid wasting time catching everyone up so you can get to the brainstorm right away.

If necessary, run your meeting like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and dedicate 30 minutes specifically to quietly reading in a group to bring everyone together — especially if they won’t have time to read before the meeting.

4) Ask people to come prepared with some ideas.

Often, great ideas don’t show themselves when you ask them to. They pop up on the train, in the shower, while you’re watching TV … basically any time you’re not actually trying to come up with the idea.

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