Brainstorming sessions can be inspiring, invigorating and rejuvenating.
Or it can be chaotic, fruitless and leave you feeling overwhelmed.
While a widely accepted part of most office cultures, research shows that group brainstorming may not be the most effective way to generate ideas. The Harvard Business Review reports that individuals working alone tend to produce better ideas than those working in groups, and that brainstorm groups tend to be quick to give up when they don’t feel they’re producing quality work.
But there is still value in working together to solve complex issues as a group — you just to rethink the process.
A good brainstorming session takes effort before, during and after your time scribbling ideas on a white board or Post-it Notes. It also needs to consider that not everyone comes up with ideas or participates in group settings in the same way.
Use these tips to improve your brainstorming sessions so everyone is excited to leave the meeting and get to work on your brilliant new initiatives.
Write a creative brief
Yes, we all know the sky’s the limit when it comes to brainstorming.
But it’s really not, is it?
It can be demoralizing to walk out of a meeting with a million good ideas you just don’t have the resources to execute.
To set realistic expectations, write a few sentences so everyone is prepared to be creative — within parameters.
You might write something like: We will brainstorm ideas for a creative campaign for Client X to launch their new widget. The budget is $X and the billable hours allotted are Y. The campaign must incorporate the theme of togetherness and appeal to an audience of 18-24 Hispanic men.
You might find that working within a few constraints can spur even greater creativity — and it can certainly improve how usable the ideas from a session are.
Once you’ve set the tone for the meeting, it’s time to prepare.
Brainstorm alone first
Some people show up in a brainstorm meeting without doing any pre-planning.
This is a mistake.
Spending just a few minutes before a session can help you come in with smarter, better-informed ideas. It’s also a prime opportunity to bring in different data and tools that might be difficult to incorporate in a group session. For instance, you might ask a generative AI tool to come up with a list of ideas to jumpstart your thinking. You might look back at past campaigns (for them or other clients) to discover what worked and what didn’t in the past. You could look at website or social media analytics to better understand what themes and angles that resonated with your audience and could be adapted.
This doesn’t have to be a long, complex process. But taking 15 or 30 minutes ahead of a meeting can make the entire process much more effective.
But there’s another benefit to pre-planning your brainstorming.
Recognize everyone brainstorms differently
Group brainstorms tend to be geared for extroverts who are comfortable thinking out loud and jockeying for airtime in what can sometimes be a boisterous environment. They should be given time to do that — it can be a great way to build collaborative ideas.
But yes, even in communications, introverts and neurodivergent people exist. And a free-for-all brainstorm session may not be the best way to hear their ideas and unique perspectives.
Give people the chance to submit ideas in writing before the meeting, or to follow up with additional ideas later. This allows people who need more processing time to take that while still having their ideas heard.
You may also try starting your brainstorming session with people working in pairs or trios. This can allow for collaborative work without letting some people get lost in the shuffle. Then you can come together as a group for report out.
Again, you still can have a time when everyone throws ideas out off the top of their heads and everyone “yes, ands” to their hearts content. But build in some time for those who think differently.
Don’t let ideas die on the vine
So you’ve held a wonderful, productive brainstorm session. You’re ready to clean up the conference room (or close the Zoom).
Make sure you walk away from the brainstorm with a solid idea of next steps.
This doesn’t mean you have to know exactly what idea you’re going to run with or how it will all play out. But it does mean you’ve set a timeline for when you’ll decide and who oversees interim steps, like additional research, client outreach, getting quotes, so on and so forth.
And make sure you catalog all ideas, not just the winners. You may find you’ve had such a successful and productive session that you’re overflowing with great ideas.