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10 Rules for Successful Brainstorming Sessions

Spark New Ideas and Find Innovative Solutions to Complex Product Design Challenges

Some people view brainstorming sessions as a waste of time and money, but we disagree. For creatives in all fields, brainstorming is extremely valuable for solving problems and coming up with new, profitable ideas.

However, there are several necessary steps to leading a successful brainstorming session. The following are ten rules you need to ensure your brainstorming sessions are productive and efficient.

1. Assemble a Diverse Team

It takes multiple perspectives and a collaborative team to come up with an idea or solution that’s truly unique and innovative. When you are designing new products or services, you especially want a diverse range of opinions to help address the many facets of developing and selling a new product.

From our experiences at BOOM Designs, we like to incorporate team members with the following backgrounds in our brainstorming sessions:

  • Sales– Provide sales experience on competitive products and the voice of the buyer
  • Marketing – Offer insights into consumer demand and marketing strategies
  • Design – Communicate aesthetics and usability of your product idea
  • Engineering – Advise on the feasibility of a product idea and unique mechanical solutions
  • Supply Chain – Identify challenges for building, packaging, and shipping your product
  • Customer Service – Present the voice of the consumer
  • Quality Assurance – Contribute safety standards as well as experience from monitoring and evaluating various aspects of a project or service

Whether you’re working on a new product idea or something completely different, you want diverse, informed opinions to contribute to the discussion.

2. Do your homework

It sounds obvious, but so many creatives overlook preparation because they believe in their instincts. No matter how creative you are on the spot, your brainstorming sessions can only get better when you prepare beforehand.

Encourage each member of the team to do independent research before your brainstorming session. Ask team members to answer project related questions or bring in an object that will inspire new thinking around a solution.

Preparing not only gets team members excited to attend the session, but it will save all of the time it takes to get everyone on the same page. It also provides an ice-breaker for the brainstorm session if one is needed to introduce team members and/or warm the team up to think creatively.

3. Simplify the problem

Brainstorming sessions are far less productive when you are trying to accomplish too much in one meeting. There’s a finite amount of mental and creative energy you can expend in one sitting, and you want to ensure that energy is used most efficiently.

We have found it’s best to limit the scope of the project so that everyone involved has a thorough understanding of the problem. This approach also allows you and your team to get very specific with your ideas, drilling down on key details that could make or break the success of your project.

If you are trying to solve multiple problems in one session, limit the amount of time you focus on each single problem to accelerate creativity.

Sometimes it is best to break the team into several different groups. Set up different problem stations around a room and rotate the small teams around each station. It is important to know that a well-stated problem is that much closer to solving.

4. Set a time limit and quantity goal

Following the same principles we mentioned in the last section, you want to create an environment that maximizes creative efficiency. A simple way to accomplish this is to give your team a goal of a set amount of ideas in a specific time limit.

This challenges your team in two ways:

  • In scenarios where you are struggling to come up with ideas, it forces you to think further outside the box
  • In scenarios where ideas are abundant, it forces you to narrow down on the most important ones

5. Create a fun environment

At the heart of every successful brainstorm is creating a noncritical atmosphere that is informal and non-judgemental. To do this, the leader needs to create a productive environment where there are no bad ideas, and no team member can say anything negative.

If a team member casts doubt, it can terminate the creative thought process that springs from those off the wall ideas.

A brainstorming leader wants ideas to flow freely without the fear of criticism or judgment. To do this, everyone needs to cooperate in a positive, fun, productive, informal, non-critical way from beginning to end of the session.

6. Record every contribution

Successful brainstorming sessions don’t end when the meeting is over. Oftentimes the concepts that get most of the attention while your team is together overshadow the ideas that end up being more important for your project later on.

We recommend recording every brainstorming session by recording with an audio or video recorder, by taking notes of every contribution, and even by drawing images to help you visualize different ideas. Documentation allows you to squeeze every last drop of creativity from each session.

7. Encourage building on ideas

The best ideas are often the end result of a series of revisions from one basic concept that looks nothing like the final product. Rather than dismissing contributions at the first sign of trouble, encourage your team to build on ideas by finding ways to mix multiple ideas together or to brainstorm solutions to the flaws in an idea you like.

Some of the best ideas come when you build on another team member’s idea or even combine two different solutions together.

8. Stimulate thinking

A brainstorming session is a perfect place to question everything. Question all assumptions and traditional thinking because that is what keeps the flow of creativity going.

You can’t force an “ah-ha moment,” but you can create an environment where those moments are more likely to happen. To do this, the leader of the brainstorm session may stimulate the conversation by restating the problem or stimulate a new flow that springboards off a team members idea.

Questions you may ask to stimulate thinking: What about changing the size? Piece count? Color? Price? Shape? Packaging? Material?

9. Rank/document ideas

Ultimately, you want to put your ideas to use, so it is important that you walk away from your brainstorming session with an action plan or a general sense of the direction to go next. We recommend evaluating ideas on merit, categorizing ideas, and ranking them based on your team’s feedback.

This follow-up is essential and should be done as promptly as possible. Duplicate ideas can be eliminated in this process and a ‘grading scale’ and be issued towards each idea to reduce the number of good ideas down to a manageable number. The team may even see some subjects that can be turned into future brainstorming sessions.

10. Acknowledge the teamwork

Everyone enjoys acknowledgment for his or her work, no matter how modest they act. It is a good idea to follow-up with your team after your brainstorming sessions to recognize their efforts and to let them know what came out of the session.

This boosts morale, and it also gives each person the satisfaction that their time and energy was well spent, making them more likely to participate and contribute in future brainstorming sessions.

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