How do you run a successful brainstorming session?

Does it ever feel like a complete waste of time to brainstorm? You think it’s important to get the input of your team on a subject, but the session typically just turns into a few bickering individuals, and the other participants say nothing at all.

Even if it was a good session with strong ideas, it is more likely that the meeting notes (if there are any) would end up lost in an abyss of the email chain that can never be found again. Keep these tips in mind when venturing into the realm of brainstorming.

  1. Pizza Rule

For brainstorming, adopt the’ pizza rule.’ If you’re not familiar with the “pizza rule,” it’s the principle that there are too many people in the space to have a productive meeting if you have more people in a room than you could feed on a pizza. The same rule goes for a brainstorming session: expect a very long list of truly mediocre ideas if you have a dozen people sitting around a table.

A brainstorming challenge is that many people feel it can only be achieved in one way: an open dialogue with everyone involved in a conference room. This approach is not inherently incorrect, but contributes to certain generally unrecognized social disadvantages that contribute to an unproductive meeting. Then there’s the brainstorming problem, with just a few people talking 60-75% of the time. This bias, sometimes referred to as “anchoring,” can often prevent the coming to light of other new ideas. If you want to conduct brainstorms that reveal new, more imaginative ideas, the number of people in the room begins with everything.

Related post: Two pizzas at a meeting anyone?

2. Get a mixed set of people

If the team works together on all the same tasks, goes to team meetings together, sits in the office next to each other, and hangs out all day long in the same group chats, the ideas will possibly start to get very homogeneous. Instead, invite fresh individuals from other teams to your brainstorms to help you get out of your rut and see stuff in a new way with various skill sets and experiences. It will give you the great combination of fresh insights and contextual experience that will allow you to come up with ideas that are both original and feasible.

3. More quantity please.

Quantity over quality is the top priority in brainstorming. Yeah, you read that correctly: quantity, not quality. In the discovery process of a new project, brainstorming is the first stage, so it’s important to be accessible to all ideas and possibilities. Problems occur when team members, out of fear of failure or criticism, filter out good ideas from the not-so-good ones.

4. Give the context and goals prior to the meeting

Provide at least two business days in advance of all relevant details so that people have a fighting chance of actually being prepared for the brainstorm. Describe what the desired outcome of the meeting looks like, in addition to presenting some reading materials or contextual details that help set up the justification for the brainstorm (and specifically asking them to read it, too).

This will assist people in recognizing the nature of what you are all trying to achieve in the meeting. I think you’ll find this helps you stop spending time catching everyone up so that you can quickly get to the brainstorm.

5. Make sure that people are prepared with ideas

Sometimes, when you ask them to, brilliant ideas do not show themselves. When watching TV, they pop up on the subway, in the bathroom, every moment you’re not really trying to come up with the idea. This is one reason why having a few days of lead time before your meeting is fine, but it is also why you might want to specifically ask people to think beforehand about some ideas.

With this technique, you can find that with fairly strong ideas from the get-go, you start the meeting and the group may incorporate and change them to make them even better. At the very least, whoever runs the brainstorm should come with a few ideas to kick off the brainstorm and give an indication of what a good idea looks like.

6. The meeting might not have positive outcomes you want so don’t be upset.

Only because you had a brainstorm, don’t feel like you have to pick and try an idea. If there weren’t any interesting ideas from the brainstorm, that’s great. This hasn’t been a waste of time. But when you try an idea that is not worth doing, you will waste your time. It is indeed evil to go on with the lesser of all evils.

Check out my related post: Why should you pursue your wild idea?

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