Brainstorm or Bust: How to Make the Most of Yours

January 24, 2014by Sean Mullen

Brainstorming first came into vogue after ad agency exec Alex Osborne wrote his book “Your Creative Power” in the late 1940s. According to Osborne, the most important part of any brainstorm is the complete lack of criticism or feedback. The thinking was simple: if people are free from judgment they could generate a higher volume of good ideas.

Getting a bunch of people together to brainstorm often feels like a good thing. It fills our giant post-its and white boards with words. It makes everyone feel “creative.” And we all walk out of the room feeling like we contributed.

Quality and Quantity Count
Unfortunately, research has shown, and continues to show, that brainstorming simply doesn’t produce the quantity of quality ideas we think it does. It comes down to two things:

First, ideas need to be evaluated and debated. It makes them better, more effective and usable. Evaluation is the special ingredient that sorts the good from the bad. And provides the feedback for transforming the good into the brilliant.

Second, a smaller team – say two people – knows they are on the hook for solving a problem. Ownership leads to nurturing. Compare that with a large group that’s assembled in a conference room for an hour or two. What happens when the session is done? Everyone leaves and moves on to their next task. Where’s the ownership?

Dial Up Your Group Brainstorm and Own It
You can take the same principles of ownership behind a two-person brainstorm and apply them to any size group. Keep these five things in mind the next time you feel a brainstorming session is necessary.

1. Clearly define objectives for the session. What is the problem you’re trying to solve? The more specific you get, the better.

2. Provide inputs. Buckets or zones of exploration always help get things started. These can be derived from your message strategy and target research.

3. Share evaluation criteria. Yes, the ideas will be evaluated. Is budget an issue? Or, are there timing, production or product limitations that will make some ideas more feasible or relevant than others. Let people know how their ideas will be evaluated.

4. Allow time for feedback or critique. Just make sure you are very clear when the time for ideation ends and the time for feedback begins.

5. Hold team members accountable. Contributors should leave the room knowing exactly what to do next. Make sure it’s clear who is responsible for what.

How do you get the most out of your brainstorm sessions? Share your tips in the comments.

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