When done right, brainstorming is still one of the best ways to come up with ideas to push your business to the next level.
By Jane Hosking
Brainstorming was a concept dreamt up in the 1950s by Alex Osborn, an American advertising executive who was looking for a way to energize conventional business meetings that inhibited the free flow of ideas.
But while everyone, from school children to high-level executives, has probably had a go at brainstorming at one point or another, it’s still rarely carried out in the way Osborn originally envisioned.
So how exactly do you brainstorm the right way to generate brilliant business-changing ideas? Tom Kelley, the general manager of the US-based IDEO design and innovation consultancy, believes successful brainstorming takes a lot of skill, practice, and the right method. When done well, brainstorming can be the key factor in a project or product’s success.
THE GOLDEN GUIDELINES OF BRAINSTORMING
Taking the original ideas behind Osborn’s brainstorming method and combining it with the modern flavor of Kelley’s IDEO technique, we’ve created a list of tips and guidelines for your next office brainstorm.
– ESTABLISH THE FORMAT
Brainstorming should not be thought of as a regular meeting. Participants should not take turns speaking in any orderly way or be preoccupied with taking notes. The facilitator is also a key element of a brainstorming session and the right person is usually not the boss or CEO as this can inhibit participants to share their ideas freely. Choose someone who can build the energy in the room and who will encourage people to share their ideas.
– CHOOSE THE RIGHT SPACE
There should be enough space in the room for people to move around and plenty of space for ideas to be written up on a board for all participants to see. The aim is to produce as many ideas as possible, so space shouldn’t be a limitation. If possible, fill the room with relevant things that will stimulate discussion.
– FRAME THE QUESTION
It’s vital to provide a clear statement of the problem or a question that needs to be answered, and the topic should not be too broad or too specific. For example, focusing on solving world hunger would be too broad, while focusing on what to have for breakfast would be too narrow.
– WITHHOLD THE CRITICISM
Withholding criticism and debate during a brainstorm is essential for producing as many ideas as possible. It must be understood that in a brainstorm there are no bad ideas. In fact all ideas, whether good, bad, boring, crazy, or strange should be embraced. Osborne famously said: “It is easier to tone down a wild idea than to think up a new one.” The reason is that even wild impractical ideas can lead to brilliant ideas. Quantity in brainstorming is the key, as the more ideas you have, the more likely there will be a brilliant one among them. Kelley’s company, IDEO, aims for 100 ideas per brainstorming session.
– INVOLVE THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Choosing the right participants for a brainstorm is critical to its success. Contrary to what you may think, you shouldn’t restrict participation to the senior executives in your company. In fact, you should involve people from all levels of your organization, and maybe even people from outside. Those involved should have different points of view and different areas of expertise on the topic. For instance, someone who works on a company’s factory production line might have a new perspective or idea to contribute that no one else could have ever imagined.
– MAKE THE GUIDELINES CLEAR
Both the facilitator and the participants in a brainstorm must be made aware of the brainstorming rules to ensure that everyone knows how to participate. Displaying the basic guidelines on a wall can remind everyone in the room what the method and format of the brainstorm should be.