Planning A Brainstorm From A to Z – Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed that if you’re looking for creativity and innovation, you need to have a plan. We also covered from A to M. If you missed Planning A Brainstorm From A to Z – Part 1, start with Part 1 first. In Part 2, we complete our brainstorm checklist that will help you plan and execute a brainstorming session.
No “No” – While it is highly likely that this was covered in the ground rules, it’s worth repeating. Brainstorms depend on the participants to feel comfortable sharing their ideas. So, let them share them. There will be time to edit later.

Opportunity – You never know where a good idea will come from. It’s important to learn to capture, consider and explore any nugget that’s offered by a participant. Even if it’s just for a moment, give each idea an opportunity to grow into more.

Planning – Great brainstorms don’t just happen. They’re carefully planned. From who to invite to what brainstorm techniques you use, think through your brainstorm session beforehand. For a simple guide, check out our Brainstorm Tips.

Quiet Place To Think – When people say the word “brainstorm” everyone immediately thinks of a group and a bunch of crazy activities. But sometimes all you need is one person and a quiet place to think. If you find the group thing overwhelming, don’t be afraid to try this brainstorm method first.

Refreshments – Busy brains need energy. You don’t need to provide a massive spread of food, but it would be nice to offer them a little something. Even bowls of pretzels or bagels. This is especially important for meetings that last 90 minutes or longer.

Snapshots – It’s incredibly important to capture the output of every brainstorm. Unfortunately, over-sized notepads don’t keep particularly well. Get rid of them. Bring a camera (or use your phone) to take pictures of your notes. They’re easy to file, and you can keep them forever.

Time Management – You owe it to your brainstorm participants to keep to a schedule. Start on time. End on time. And keep things moving in between. Don’t rush the process, but an efficiently run brainstorm session will keep creativity and innovation flowing.

Understanding – Do your brains know why they’re here? It’s essential that everyone in your brainstorm session has an understanding of what their trying to accomplish and what their role is. Just take a few minutes at the beginning and bring everyone up to speed.

Variety of Methods – There’s no right way to brainstorm. Don’t be afraid to try different brainstorming techniques and pick the ones that work best for you. For simple how-to guides for a variety of brainstorm methods, visit our Brainstorm Blog.

Wastebasket – Not every idea is a winner. Eventually, there comes a time to separate the wheat from the chaff. This can be done by the group or by a smaller team. Be sure to evaluate the ideas against the original criteria and make unbiased choices.

X Marks The Spot – Know where you’re trying to go. A good plan is the most important thing to have in a brainstorm. A finish line is a close second. It gives your brainstorm session a purpose and makes it easier to select the right brainstorm technique.

Yes Man – Make sure each person you invite is capable of carrying their own weight. Floaters have no place in your brainstorm. They’ll only distract the people who are there to do the heavy lifting for you.

Zero Interruption – Nothing derails creativity and innovation like a ringing cell phone. You don’t need to go as far as banning them from your brainstorm session, but be sure to ask your participants to put them on vibrate before the meeting starts. Regular breaks will encourage them to comply.

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Planning A Brainstorm From A to Z – Part 1


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Perfect brainstorms don’t just happen. If you’re looking for creativity and innovation, you need to have a plan. You need to orchestrate your brainstorm session to make sure you meet the goal you’re trying to achieve. From selecting the right techniques for brainstorming to outlining a strategic plan, a perfect brainstorm takes a a lot of planning and preparation. To encourage creativity and innovation, we’ve put together a simple checklist that will help you plan and execute a brainstorming session.
Atmosphere – Where are you going to hold your brainstorm? A good environment can help encourage creative problem solving and a bad environment can undermine even the best techniques for brainstorming. Keep the temperature comfortable and the lighting adequate for whatever you have planned.

Beverages – Brainstorm participants will often arrive at a brainstorm with their beverage of choice. However, a good host will always have refills readily available. At a minimum, you should at least offer water, but the ideal brainstorm session would also have coffee and soda available. A word of caution, energy drinks and other highly-caffeinated drinks can negatively effect creative problem solving.

Comfy Chairs – Rigid, uncomfortable chairs make you feel like you’re sitting outside the principal’s office or in church. To spur creativity and innovation, comfortable chairs are a must. They don’t need to be loungers, just something people will relax in. Some techniques for brainstorming call for people to move around, so chairs with wheels are an obvious plus.

Dedication – You’re probably very important, and there’s a possibility that the entire office will shut down if you’re gone for a couple of hours. But creativity and innovation can’t happen when you’re focusing on something else, so put your phone away. A good brainstorm facilitator will plan adequate breaks to allow you to check in to the office. If you haven’t had a break in a while, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for one.

Ego – There’s no room in a brainstorm for an ego. Creative problem solving requires teamwork, and teamwork requires the entire group to feel empowered and engaged. If a participant can’t check their ego at the door, the group won’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas and the opportunity for creativity and innovation will be lost.

Facilitation – A facilitator isn’t a leader. Don’t dominate the group and steer the discussion. Your job is to let the creativity and innovation flow organically. As a facilitator, your job is to make the creative problem solving process occur smoothly and allow the participants to guide the discussion.

Ground Rules – Any group activity needs a few rules. A brainstorming session is no different. As a facilitator it is your job to review the ground rules with your group before the brainstorm starts and to enforce those rules throughout. For a complete set of ground rules, read The Brainstorm Bill of Rights for a good starting point.

Hierarchy – Everyone in a brainstorm is capable of creativity and innovation, so everyone in a creative problem solving session should be equal. Reinforce this fact by avoiding hierarchy at all costs. That means round seating areas with no “head of the table.” Another thing you could do is organize small break-out sessions that cut across traditional office boundaries to establish teams.

Interactivity – Don’t just let participants sit there, get them engaged. Many techniques for brainstorming require participants to move around the room and gather together in smaller groups. By shifting people around and encouraging them to interact with the group, you encourage quiet or shy members of the
group to engage in the creative problem solving process.

Jailbreak – Stop staring at the same four walls. If your office isn’t inspirational, go off-site. A new environment might spur creativity and innovation by providing new stimuli. It also helps participants mentally distance themselves from ordinary perceptions and pre-defined ways of thinking. If you host an off-site brainstorm session be sure to plan accordingly. Bring the necessary materials and select a technique for brainstorming that is conducive to your environment.

Kickstart – There are times when a brainstorm session will lose focus or momentum. As a facilitator it is your responsibility to determine if the group is capable of recovery. If not, provide a little kickstart to get the group going on the right track again.

Leadership – As a facilitator, your job is to act as a guide to help the group find creative common ground. You are not hear to lead. You are hear to help them accomplish their goals. So stand back and let the group lead itself. But don’t be afraid to speak up if the group wanders off-track.

Manpower – More brains equals more ideas. Don’t let one person try to do all the heavy lifting, and whatever you do, don’t staff your group with nothing but “creative people.” Bring in a range of experiences and philosophies. The broader the expertise, the bigger the ideas.

 

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Brainstorm Technique #12: Inside The Box


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Brainstorm Technique: Alphabrainstorming

Outside the box is a vast and intimidating place. With so many possibilities and a blank piece of paper, it can be hard to know where to start. For consumers, it’s called the Paradox of Choice. It’s no different for brainstormers. At times like these, the best place to start is inside the box. Explore every corner and crevice of the box, and once the ideas start flowing then you can break down the walls and mentally frolic outside the box.

Ideal Activity For:
creativity exercises, problem solving, concept development

Brainstorm Tools:
2-3 easel pads
permanent markers
small to medium sized meeting space
list of limitations – written on individual pieces of paper

# of Participants:
1+
How To Brainstorm Inside The Box:
Pre-Brainstorm:

  1. Review the Brainstorm Bill of Rights
  2. Review the Brainstorm Prep Checklist and answer the appropriate questions
  3. Gather supplies and book a small to medium sized conference room
  4. Assemble a list of the limitations of the project (e.g. deadline, budget, manpower, etc. the more complete the list the better)

Brainstorm Intro: (approx. time varies by experience level)

  1. Review Brainstorm Bill of Rights with participants
  2. Establish the goal of the brainstorm by discussing the BrainBrief™
  3. Kick-off the meeting with an Icebreaker (if needed)

Brainstorm Part 1: (approx. 10-20 minutes)

  1. After quickly recapping the goal of the brainstorm session, randomly assign a limitation to each individual or group.
  2. Instruct your participants to think about how they would solve the problem if this limitation was the ONLY obstacle they faced. No other problems exist.
  3. Have teams write their ideas on easel pads labeled at the top with their limitation.
  4. If time allows (or for longer brainstorms), invite groups to select an additional obstacle when time expires.

Brainstorm Part 2: (approx. 10-20 minutes)

  1. Organize all the solutions the group has brainstormed by limitation and line the walls of your conference room or meeting space.
  2. Working as a large group, review the ideas and look for solutions that naturally compliment each other. You may also use the Forced Connections approach to combine solutions.
  3. Record linked ideas on an easel pad or mark with a shared symbol (star, plus sign, etc.) to indicate the relationship between the ideas.

Brainstorm Part 3: (approx. 20 minutes)

  1. Using the solutions selected in Round 2, challenge the group to further refine the ideas to satisfy additional limitations.
  2. Start with one of the selected solutions. Introduce limitations one at a time and identify changes that need to be made to overcome the new obstacle.
  3. Follow the same process for all selected concepts.

Post-Brainstorm:

  1. Thank all the participants for their input
  2. Select concepts for further development  (can be done alone or as part of the group)
  3. Be sure to capture all the notes and take them with you. It makes big ideas infinitely more portable and permanent.

 

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5 things The Godfather trilogy taught me about brainstorming

A movie like The Godfather needs no introduction. The little film about Don Corleone and his merry band of mobsters has become one of the most celebrated movies of the last 100 years. (Of course, one recent poll showed it’s also the movie most people lie about having seen.) So between the shootouts, the double crosses and the fish wrapped in a bulletproof vest, what could The Godfather possibly have to do with brainstorming? Plenty.

Lesson #1 – Be prepared.
“Hey, listen, I want somebody good – and I mean very good – to plant that gun. I don’t want my brother coming out of that toilet with just his dick in his hands, alright?” ~ Santino “Sonny” Corleone

Just like Michael coming out of the bathroom, you may only get one shot at your brainstorm. Preparation is key, so don’t wing it. Take the time to put together a plan. Carefully choose the attendees. Identify one goal you want to achieve and establish a brainstorm plan that will get you there. Finally, brief the participants in advance and give them enough time to prepare. Still not sure how to prepare? No problem. Follow this simple checklist and you’ll be ready to roll.

Lesson #2 – Don’t say “No” to everything.
“No Sicilian can ever refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day.” ~ Tom Hagen

For some people, this is the hardest part of a brainstorm. But in order for your brainstorm to succeed, you need to turn off your internal monitor. Do you think it was easy for Don Corleone to sit in his study at this daughter’s wedding and agree to every random request someone made? Of course not, but he did it. You can too… even for just one hour. If you can’t, you’re going to derail the entire process. It’s impossible to know where an idea might come from, so don’t stifle the creative process just as it gets going.
Lesson # 3 – Don’t talk when you should listen.
“I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I spoil them, as you can see. They talk when they should listen.” ~ Don Vito Corleone

Ask yourself one question, “Did I invite all these people here so they could listen to me and tell me how smart I am OR did I invite them here because they’re smart and I want to hear what they think?” Don’t dominate the meeting. If you followed Lesson #1, you spent time handpicking your brainstorm attendees, so let them participate. You might need to get the group started, but once they’re rolling back off a bit. Speak up with good ideas, builds or to redirect the group’s energy, but remember that this is a team exercise NOT a lecture.

Lesson #4 – Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
“There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” ~ Michael Corleone

As John P. Kotter says in his book Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, it is natural to want to shield the creative process from our harshest critics. If we can prevent them from seeing the idea before it’s finished, we can keep them from killing it prematurely. Not so. By including our biggest critics in the brainstorm process, you can accomplish two things. First, you can identify and address their objection before it has a chance to gain any momentum*. Second, you can help them feel ownership of the idea they helped create. Once they have a vested interest in the idea, they may turn from a critic into a supporter.
*This tip is based upon an assumption that your critic can abide by Lesson #2. If they can’t silence their inner censor, then look for another way to satisfy their concerns.

Lesson #5 – It’s not personal, it’s business.
“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” ~ Michael Corleone

Finally, there will come a time when the brainstorm is over and you’re faced with a list of good ideas. Unfortunately, not every idea can move onto the next stage, so some difficult decisions have to be made. Each brainstorm participant will have their own list of favorites (possibly weighted to support their ideas). It might be easy to support ideas from your boss or other strong personalities in the room, but you need to make a business decision. Go back to the goals you outlined at the start of the meeting. Measure each idea against those goals and pick the ideas that meet or exceed those standards.

In conclusion, remember one thing and you’ll be fine, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

 

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Brainstorm Technique #11: AlphaBrainstorming

Brainstorm Technique: AlphaBrainstorming

When it comes to generating ideas, simplicity can sometimes be key. More effort spent focusing on the structure of the brainstorm means less energy focused on generating ideas. With AlphaBrainstorming, the brainstorm uses something ingrained into the mind to help drive the brainstorm session.

Ideal Activity For:
concept development, idea generation, problem solving, divergent thinking

Brainstorm Tools:
2-3 easel pads
permanent markers
small to medium sized meeting space
Stickers or stamps (3 per participant)

# of Participants:
1+

How To Brainstorm With AlphaBrainstorming:
Pre-Brainstorm:

  1. Review the Brainstorm Bill of Rights
  2. Review the Brainstorm Prep Checklist and answer the appropriate questions
  3. Gather supplies and book a small to medium sized conference room

Brainstorm Intro: (approx. time varies by experience level)

  1. Review Brainstorm Bill of Rights with participants
  2. Establish the goal of the brainstorm by discussing the BrainBrief™
  3. Kick-off the meeting with an Icebreaker (if needed)

Brainstorm Part 1: (approx. 10-30 minutes)

  1. After quickly recapping the goal of the brainstorm session, ask a member of the group to offer a solution to the goal that starts with the letter A. (Person could either be selected at random or an invitation could be issued to the whole group asking someone to shout out their answer)
  2. When a solution is volunteered, record the idea on a notepad. Once the idea is recorded, the person to the left of the speaker is now challenged to come up with a new solution that begins with the letter B.
  3. This process repeats until the group has generated a solution for each letter of the alphabet. (Please note: If the ideas are still flowing, and time permits, don’t hesitate to do two or even three rotations through the alphabet.

Brainstorm Part 2: (approx. 5-10 minutes)

  1. Ask each participant to come up to the notepads and review all the answers.
  2. Once they understand the available options, they must vote for their three favorite solutions from round 1.
  3. Narrow down the solutions to the top 3-5 vote-getting solutions.

Brainstorm Part 3: (approx. 20-40 minutes)

  1. Using the 3-5 solutions selected in Round 2, challenge the group the undertake a lightning round.
  2. Start with one of the selected solutions. Ask the group to quickly alphabrainstorm builds on the concept and record the builds on a notepad. (Note: Make sure to label your notepad pages, to make organizing notes easier.)
  3. Follow the same process for all selected concepts.

Post-Brainstorm:

  1. Thank all the participants for their input
  2. Select concepts for further development  (can be done alone or as part of the group)
  3. Be sure to capture all the notes and take them with you. It makes big ideas infinitely more portable and permanent.

 

Get the WEEKLY update about brainstorming and creative thinking from BrainBoltz.com.

Please note: we talk personal infortmaion very seriously and would never sell or distribute your personal information.

Creativity Quotes Of The Week

 

“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” — Theodore Levitt

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” — Jack London

“All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.” — Albert Camus

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” — John Steinbeck

“Technical skill is mastery of complexity, while creativity is mastery of simplicity.” — Christopher Zeeman

Creativity Quotes of the Week

 

The secret of all those who make discoveries is that they regard nothing as impossible. – Justus Liebig

When all think alike, no one thinks very much. – Walter Lippman

Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there. – John P. Potter

At times leaders must also be followers if they wish to remain leaders. – Carl Leiden

Brainstorm Technique #10: Sense From Nonsense

Brainstorm Technique: Sense From Nonsense

When it comes to problem-solving, generating a nonsense solution can be much easier than thinking of a good, workable solution. First, there’s no pressure involved in generating a solution you know is outlandish. Second, it gets the creative wheels turning and warmed up. Finally, it lightens the mood as brainstorm participants attempt to outdo each other. With Sense From Nonsense, you’ll be given full license to explore the absurd to find nuggets of wisdom that can help you achieve your brainstorm goal.

Ideal Activity For:
concept development, idea generation, theme development, blue sky thinking

Brainstorm Tools:
2-3 easel pads
permanent markers
small to medium sized meeting space

# of Participants:
4-10+

How To Brainstorm With Sense From Nonsense:
Pre-Brainstorm:

  1. Review the Brainstorm Bill of Rights
  2. Review the Brainstorm Prep Checklist and answer the appropriate questions
  3. Gather supplies and book a small to medium sized conference room

Brainstorm Intro: (approx. time varies by experience level)

  1. Review Brainstorm Bill of Rights with participants
  2. Establish the goal of the brainstorm by discussing the BrainBrief™
  3. Kick-off the meeting with an Icebreaker (if needed)

Brainstorm Part 1: (approx. 5-10 minutes)

  1. After quickly recapping the goal of the brainstorm session, give members to the group a few minutes to work independently to generate a nonsense solution to the opportunity at hand.
  2. If you’re working with an inexperienced group of brainstormers or creative thinkers, it may be best to develop a nonsense solution beforehand that you can read to the group. This will encourage them to push the boundaries and refrain from filtering themselves.
  3. When the group has one minute left, give them a time check and ask them to put any finishing touches on their idea.

Brainstorm Part 2: (approx. 5-15 minutes)

  1. Ask each participant to pass their paper in one direction (left, right or something unique)
  2. Give the new brainstorm participant the challenge of taking the nonsense idea and looking for a nugget of wisdom.
  3. Remind them, that they’re not responsible for developing the concept. They merely need to identify what it is.
  4. To ease the process of finding the nugget, invite participants to consider the exact opposite of the nonsense solution, change one key feature for the positive or exaggerate  some aspect of their nonsense solution in a positive manner.

Brainstorm Part 3: (approx. 20-40 minutes)

  1. Invite brainstorm participants to share their nugget with the larger group.
  2. Record ideas on an easel pad and invite everyone to build on and further explore them.
  3. Encourage conversation about each suggestion by asking probing questions.

Post-Brainstorm:

  1. Thank all the participants for their input
  2. Select concepts for further development  (can be done alone or as part of the group)
  3. Be sure to capture all the notes and take them with you. It’s often easiest to take digital photos for reference at a later date.

inspired by a suggestion from @cazazz

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Please note: we talk personal infortmaion very seriously and would never sell or distribute your personal information.

More Creativity Quotes

Knowing a lot is a springboard to creativity – Charlie Rose

The creative process takes its own course. If it did otherwise, it would not be creative. – P.W. Martin

The freedom to make mistakes provides the best environment for creativity – Anonymous

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge – Daniel J. Boorstin

Very often it happens that a discovery is made whilst working upon quite another problem – Thomas Edison

Creativity Quotes

At no time am I a quick thinker or writer: whatever I have done in science has solely been by long pondering, patience and industry. – Charles Darwin

When I compose, I sit down at the piano, shut my eyes and play what I hear. – Ernst Hoffman

Like every writer, I am asked where my work originates, and if I knew I would go there more often. – Arthur Miller

The capacity to be puzzled is… the premise of all creation, be it in art or science. – Erich Fromm

Creativity is work that goes someplace: it is sustained effort toward an ideal. – Michael Drury

Fresh thinking for fresher ideas