5 rules for more productive brainstorm sessions

Too many brainstorm sessions and meetings end in agony. Instead of generating creative solutions, participants spend most of the time bickering about each other’s viewpoints. Stop this waste of time and energy. Set some ground rules.

Creativity does not flourish in an environment without rules. For truly productive brainstorm sessions (or any session, for that matter) you need some rules.

1. No Devices

At the very start of the session, ask participants to put their devices away. Make clear that smartphones, laptops and tablets should stay in their bag or pocket. This request might be met with some resistance, but don’t be dissuaded. There are good reasons to insist. If you’re looking at your smartphone, it might give other participants the impression that you are not particularly interested in what they have to say. Tapping away on your device can also be an annoying distraction to those who are busy ideating.

Is there a life-or-death situation that requires your immediate attention, by all means, use your phone. But leave the room to do so. Take that important call on the hallway and return when you’ve taken care of the crisis situation. Or even better: wait for the break and deal with the emergency while the rest of the team grabs a cup of coffee.

2. No judging

Pointing out the flaws of an idea is certainly valuable. However, premature judging can seriously impede a creative session. If creative ideas are what you’re after, criticism should temporarily be banned. At least until there is a large number of ideas to choose from. After all, when it comes to creativity, quantity leads to quality.

Generate as many ideas as possible and don’t let common knowledge or reason stand in your way. Any idea can spark a brilliant insight. Especially strange and unreasonable ideas can be a wonderful source of inspiration. Be sure to remind the entire team; it’s much easier to tame a wild idea than it is to make a boring one interesting. In other words: go wild!

It’s a good idea to reassure people who are taken aback by all this ‘craziness’. Explain that, while for now ridiculous ideas are tolerated (yes, even encouraged), there will come a moment when these ideas are ruthlessly evaluated. Once a great number of ideas is generated, there will be ample opportunity to point out any flaws. Obviously, risks, downsides and obstacles deserve attention. But the moment for this is after the brainstorm and not during. Usually, it’s wise to clearly separate these activities by planning them on different days. As an added bonus, this leaves some time for incubation.

3. Write everything down

This rule will seem obvious. But you’d be surprised how often people lose themselves in high-quality discussions. Especially when the ideas truly start flowing. Brilliant ideas will be shared at a high tempo and once the dust settles people realise that nobody wrote anything down. Nothing is more frustrating than failing to remember that brilliant remark at the beginning of the conversation.

Make sure that each and every idea is written down. Even if you have your doubts about the quality of an idea, write it down anyway. You can always ignore it afterwards. Remember, every truly new idea will look crazy at first.

Once or twice during the meeting, remind the participants to write everything down and intervene if you notice ideas are being shared but not written down.

4. Go for quantity

Encourage people to generate many different ideas. Never stop at the first good idea. There is always a better alternative. The more ideas you come up with, the bigger your chances of finding a brilliant insight.

5. Build on ideas

An idea is not just good or bad. Ideas should be used as stepping stones. Listen carefully to what others share and use whatever remark inspires you. How can you build on this idea? Can you add something? What is the concept behind this idea? What is this meant to achieve? And by what other methods could this be goal be reached? What alternatives can you come up with? An original idea can lead to many new possible solutions. Take your time for idea sharing and encourage participants to write down any alternative that comes to mind.

If your team follows these five ‘rules’ you’ll have much more productive brainstorm sessions.

Not enough

Setting some ground rules, however, is not enough if you want a truly productive brainstorm session. If you want to get the most out of your time (and team), you also need structure, focus, a braindump and thinking techniques.

You’ll find all of this combined in Brightstorming, the application we developed to help teams be productively creative. Everything we’ve learned over the years facilitating creative problem-solving sessions has been poured into this colourful and user-friendly app.

Go to www.brightstorming.com to learn more.

The application is currently only available in Dutch, but an English version is in the making. Contact us to learn about the possibilities.

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Showing 2 comments
  • SoHoSoleil

    I think a good environment can play a vital role in creativity. A relaxing, creative space always get the best out of employees.

    • René de Ruijter

      You’re absolutely right. In one of my earlier articles I wrote about the different ways of creating an environment that fosters creativity: https://hatrabbits.com/en/creative-environment/ And if the own office space isn’t suitable (yet), a creative meeting space can be a good alternative of course 😉

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