When you bring a group together to generate creative ideas, chances are, there will be a few participants who dominate the discussion, a few who do nothing but criticize and a few who do nothing at all. This dynamic discourages innovative thinking, leading to the same old stale solutions. That's why it's helpful to learn about brainstorming techniques that produce results instead of wasting everyone's time.
Using these 10 brainstorming methods, which emphasize democratic participation and unfettered creativity, you might just unlock surprising and unexpected answers to your questions and conundrums.
Start with individual ideas. Pose a question to your group and encourage participants to write down ideas on their own before the brainstorming session begins. Individuals who brainstorm by themselves come up with more (and often better quality) ideas than groups who brainstorm together. This also ensures that group members who aren't as outgoing are still heard.
Make it a group effort. Bring together no more than 10, but ideally 5 to 7 participants. Group brainstorming allows people with different backgrounds, experience and ideas to see each other's suggestions in a new way. This kind of collaboration can potentially unlock ideas that no one person would have come up with on their own. It's also a great team-building exercise, and helps participants feel more invested in the final product.
Withhold judgment. The key to a successful brainstorming session is withholding judgment of ideas. The idea is to generate as many ideas as possible, and group members will be more likely to throw out their thoughts in an environment that isn't immediately critical.
Go radical. Even the craziest, most impractical suggestions may hold some kernel of possibility. Participants should be encouraged to speak their minds freely, whether they think the ideas would work or not.
Push for quantity over quality. Encourage your brainstorming group to generate as many ideas as possible. Don't develop individual ideas too much, as that's not the point of your initial brainstorming session.
Avoid 'groupthink'. This is where some brainstorming sessions go wrong: when individual participants decide not to speak up so they don't appear unsupportive of the group's consensus. If the rest of the group is enthusiastic about a certain idea, they may pressure a single person who presents an alternative into agreeing with them. Lack of disagreement may lull a group into false complacency that they've reached the best idea. Be sure to explore alternatives, and re-examine initial ideas that were rejected.
Have group members write ideas instead of speaking them. Even in a supportive, non-judgmental environment, introverted members may not feel comfortable speaking up. Try the Crawford Slip Method instead. Distribute a certain number of Post-It notes or other scraps of paper to each group member and ask them to write an idea on each one. Then, individual ideas can be grouped with similar ones.
Take a mid-session break. It's tough to keep up momentum when you're generating so many ideas in a short period. A break will allow members to regroup, refresh their minds and engage in small talk that could lead to additional ideas when the group reconvenes.
Build on the ideas of others. A variation of the Crawford Slip Method involves writing down an idea on a piece of paper, and then passing it to the right, allowing another group member to expand upon it. Encourage participants to build on the idea without criticism, even if it seems impractical.
Try the Stepladder Technique. No brainstorming group is perfect, and there are always going to be members who fight for dominance, criticize others or fail to contribute at all. If your initial brainstorming technique doesn't seem to work out, use the Stepladder Technique to encourage members to contribute on an individual level. Essentially, this technique involves encouraging individual thought before the group comes together, and then bringing people in to share their ideas, starting with a core group of two and adding additional members one at a time.
Know of other brainstorming techniques that are effective? Leave us a note in the comments below.