BrainstormFirst and foremost you have to frame the brainstorming session around a question that you want to answer. For instance if you want to get mice out of your house then don’t ask a question like “How do I build a better mouse trap.” Because then all you’ll do is focus on trying to build a better mouse trap. What you really want is to get the mice out of your house. Maybe it has nothing to do with mouse traps.

Tip #1: Be careful about how you frame the question that you want to answer in your brainstorming session. And choose your words carefully. That will dramatically influence the brainstorming session.

Even framing the question as how do I get the mice out of the house might preclude people from considering the possibility of leaving the mice as they are and moving to a new house. Be careful of the assumptions you make in your question.

Spread out the brainstorming
If possible try to spread your brainstorming out over a series of sessions. This will give you a chance to start out considering really wild ideas. Make sure you record everything that you and your brainstorming mates come up with. It’s a good idea to take pictures of anything you create. Then email those pictures and any notes out to the group when the session is over.

Try to choose what to focus on in the next session before the session starts. You don’t want to end a session by narrowing down the list of ideas to consider because that doesn’t give people a chance to let things percolate. And you don’t want to start a session out by narrowing down the list because that is a very rational exercise and you really don’t want to introduce that kind of thinking to your brainstorming.

Tip #2: Avoid introducing rational thinking to your brainstorming sessions for as long as possible.

With that in mind don’t shoot down any ideas just because they are too crazy, or in violation of company policy or even if they’re illegal. One of those ideas might morph into something plausible later on.

Making time
Brainstorming takes time and your time is limited. You’ll have to be creative in scheduling your sessions. This is another good reason to narrow down your ideas between sessions: it keeps everyone engaged but doesn’t use up precious brainstorming minutes.

It’s hard to say what is a good time to brainstorm because so much of that depends on specific circumstances. But here are a few bad times to try and brainstorm:

  • After lunch when everyone is suffering from a food coma.
  • Late on a Friday afternoon when everyone just wants to go home.

Tip #3: Be creative about when you schedule your sessions. Or at least don’t be stupid.

As a suggestion consider combining a brainstorming session with a weekend party at someone’s house. Play some games, eat some food and let people wonder in and out of the brainstorming area. And leave it open to family members to throw in their two-cents. You might even gets some young children to offer some suggestions: there’s a reason we have the saying, “from the mouth of babes.”

Here are a few other quick tips to consider how to brainstorm

  • movement: Please don’t try and brainstorm in a corporate meeting room unless you are trying to think of ways to be more lame. :) Get up. Get out. Wonder around. Anything is better than four walls and a big desk.
  • toys/crayons/legos: Bring things for people to play with. Encourage people to use crayons to take notes.
  • art: Get some inspiration on the walls and play some music.
  • field trip: If you can get out of the everyday office setting then do so. You probably can’t do this all the time but it’s a good way to kick off the brainstorming sessions and then bring it back to the office as you narrow down the focus.

Here are a few things that you’ll want to avoid:

  • sitting in chairs
  • taking turns
  • raising your hand to speak
  • shooting down any ideas no matter how crazy
  • using a room with bare walls

Brainstorm warmups
You don’t see athletes just jump into a competition without warming up. And you shouldn’t try to brainstorm without warming up either. That’s why it’s good to have toys to play with to get things started. One of my favorite things to do before getting down to some serious brainstorming is to get the group to brainstorm about something totally unrelated to your business. Try something like:

  • “Okay group. We’re taking the company in a new direction. We’re going to steal the XXX from the YYY museum. Ideas?”
  • If an astronaut and an ape got into a fight who would win and why?
  • Imagine you are sitting at your desk. A scientific experiment has gone horribly wrong. In 10 seconds everyone in this room is going to be transported back in time and space to Ancient Rome. What do you grab to take with you and why? ( vary to time and place to suit your needs. )

I could go on but you get the point, right? Just a few minutes of playful brainstorming about something fanciful gets the brain in the creative thinking gear and ready to pump out new ideas.

Do you have any suggestions to enhance brainstorming sessions. If so then please share in the comments below.

What do you think?