12 Strategies for Brainstorming Effectively
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated April 28, 2022 | Published May 11, 2021
Updated April 28, 2022
Published May 11, 2021
The ability to brainstorm is a useful skill that can help you collaborate with others and generate original ideas in the workplace. Successful brainstorming involves preparation, creativity and confidence from everyone involved in the brainstorming session. Understanding different brainstorming strategies can provide you with the tools to lead productive group brainstorming sessions and come up with great ideas on your own. In this article, we explain what brainstorming is and review strategies to use it effectively in the workplace.
What is brainstorming?
Brainstorming is a method for thinking of ideas and creating plans through open discussion, usually in a group setting. It helps us be innovative on demand. Brainstorming encourages free-thinking among participants to generate as many ideas as possible, which you can then build upon and refine. It can often involve multiple methods of sharing thoughts including drawing, writing and conversation.
Sessions can be organized to meet your team’s needs but usually includes four basic rules:
No negative feedback: Eliminating criticism creates an environment to freely share thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment or being wrong.
Focus on quantity over quality of ideas: Instead of thinking of one big idea, work toward quantity to come up with as many ideas as possible. the more ideas shared, the more likely there will be more useful ideas to work from.
Use others’ ideas as launching points: Combining concepts can create new solutions. Evaluate each idea to determine which are feasible, innovative, and best suited to find the best solution to the goal or problem.
Encourage unconventional thinking: Welcoming unconventionality to a brainstorming session promotes an open space for creativity and adds to the number of ideas shared.
Why is it important to brainstorm?
Brainstorming encourages people to consider all possibilities and be creative in the workplace. The process lets team members develop the best solution for a problem by listing all possible options and reviewing their pros and cons. Some of the major benefits of brainstorming include:
Improving communication within a team
Gathering ideas from multiple perspectives
Building enthusiasm about a project
Documenting the planning process
Introducing innovative methods
12 strategies to brainstorm effectively
Follow these strategies to brainstorm effectively:
1. Start with a warm-up exercise
To begin a brainstorming session productively, start with a warm-up exercise. Warming up either alone or in a group can help you adjust your mindset to be creative, making it easier for you to think of ideas. By practicing your brainstorming skills in a fun, hypothetical situation for a few minutes, you can be more comfortable sharing actual ideas for a work project.
Ideal warm-ups before a brainstorming session should provide you with the opportunity to try improvising and generating ideas in a low-stakes context. Word association and improv games can be especially helpful when getting ready to brainstorm. Some warm-up examples include:
Coming up with synonyms and antonyms for random words
Thinking of alternative uses for objects in the office
Telling a run-on story with each person adding a single word or phrase
2. Visualize your goal
Stay on topic during your brainstorming session by having a visual representation of your goal. Think about your ideal outcome or purpose, then write it down in a central location like the center of a whiteboard. Visualizing the main topic can inspire you and give you ideas to achieve your goal. Your visualization can also remind you of the original point of the conversation, allowing you and others to adjust your focus and remain productive.
3. Document the discussion
Documentation is one of the most essential strategies for successful brainstorming. Because brainstorming involves quickly generating multiple ideas, documentation can help you reference them later and analyze the full scope of the discussion. You can document your brainstorming session by using an audio recorder, taking detailed notes or photographing any visual brainstorming aids like mind maps or sticky note boards. Write down or record every idea during brainstorming regardless of which ones you ultimately select.
4. Think aloud
Saying your thoughts aloud makes the brainstorming process feel natural and conversational. Thinking aloud can help you feel more comfortable sharing your thoughts before they become fully developed ideas. Talking out your thoughts with colleagues as you have them can inspire productive conversation and naturally enable others to build on your ideas. Even if you're brainstorming independently, verbalizing your thoughts can make it easier to recognize good ideas and talk through any challenges.
5. Emphasize variety
During a brainstorming session, focus on listing as many thoughts and ideas as you can. Instead of thinking of a few in-depth ideas, try to produce a variety of simple ideas that you can work on later. Having a large number of ideas from a brainstorming session can provide you with a useful outline for future projects and allow you to recognize which ideas have the most potential.
You can encourage variety by setting a goal for how many ideas you want each person to contribute, then compiling them together. Another strategy you can use is setting a timer and saying or writing down as many ideas as you can before the timer goes off.
6. Encourage every idea
To encourage creativity and openness while brainstorming, try to find positive aspects of every idea you and your team generate. Even if an idea isn't perfect for a project, look for its potential benefits and other positive attributes. Being supportive and encouraging to yourself and others can make everyone feel more comfortable sharing their ideas, which is critical for brainstorming success. When brainstorming with a group, give positive affirmations to your team members when they share an idea to encourage additional contributions.
7. Collaborate instead of criticizing
An important aspect of brainstorming as a group is adding to ideas and working together to improve them. Instead of critiquing ideas, think about ways you can add to them or use them to inspire your own thinking. Collaborate positively by stating what you liked about the idea. By focusing on collaborating with your coworkers when they share thoughts, you can encourage a creative atmosphere while improving the quality of ideas in the brainstorming session.
8. Ask questions
If you're having trouble thinking of ideas organically, try asking questions to get inspiration. You can ask general questions about the overall goal of the brainstorming session, inquire about specific situations or even use brainstorming prompts to get started. Another strategy is to ask about why similar projects were successful or how other companies approached related issues. By asking questions, you can encourage open-ended discussion and consider the brainstorming topic from multiple angles that you may not have thought of on your own.
9. Organize your thoughts
Once you have several ideas, organize and combine them to add structure to the brainstorming session. Charts and color-coding are useful tools to group ideas into categories or make connections between different types of ideas. Organizing your thoughts at the end of a brainstorm can also make it easier to review your notes later and understand the intention behind each idea.
10. Encourage brainwriting
Just as how the first number suggested in a negotiation may influence the outcome, the first ideas people share in a brainstorming session may affect the entire discussion. Brainwriting is a process that plays on your first thoughts and impressions. Participants write down their ideas before or at the very beginning of the meeting and then come together to talk about them. Ideally, ideas are anonymous. Ask team members to jot their ideas on sticky notes, put them on a wall and then have everyone vote on their favorites.
11. Share inspiration
To foster a constant stream of ideas, create a shared file where everyone can store their random thoughts and inspiration. Ask team members to consider a specific prompt like “promote brand awareness.” A brainstorming file gives members time to think and possibly play off each other’s ideas.
12. Schedule multiple sessions
You can get the most out of your brainstorming efforts by scheduling multiple brainstorming sessions. This gives you time between meetings to do additional research and planning, giving you ideas for future sessions and making them more productive. Scheduling multiple brainstorming sessions can also help prevent you from creative burnout and allow you to return to your ideas with a fresh perspective.
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