Brainstorming is one of the most familiar and popular methods for generating ideas worldwide, especially in creative industries. We take part or lead brainstorming sessions every day, for every project and for every challenge we face whether alone or in a group.
Brainstorming is on of the most popular methods in the design thinking ideation phase, where we are encouraged to generate ideas and solutions for problems, features, issues, and for developing a product’s strategy.
You remember some of your brainstorming sessions, some of them were amazing with tons of creative ideas and solutions generated, others were so terrible and boring with useless ideas generated and hours wasted.
What makes these brainstorming sessions amazing and effective? and what makes others terrible and useless? What is is the difference? How to improve our brainstorming sessions output?
It’s not a magic wand that makes your brainstorming sessions outstanding, but, it’s about avoiding some unproductive habits and processes that make the sessions ineffective.
1- Starting Brainstorming Sessions With ill-defined Goals
Brainstorming sessions that start with no clear goal, ill-defined goals or ambiguous goals end up being ineffective and useless.
With goals not defined well, people don’t know what is expected from them, they don’t know what to do and they feel dis-attached during the brainstorming session.
How to improve? Define your goals well, make people aware of the brainstorming session goals and objectives. It could be:
- Thinking for features to solve a certain pain point for your users.
- Generating ideas for a better experience for a specific flow.
- Finding solutions to improve the user journey.
- Use “How Might We” technique.
“Write down clearly what you are brainstorming. Using a ‘How Might We’ (HMW) question is a great way to frame a brainstorm (e.g. HMW give each shopper a personal checkout experience?).”
– dschool, Bootcamp Bootleg
2- Working In A Judgmental Environment
Brainstorming sessions with a judgmental attitude from the one who leads the session or the participants end up early with a few amounts of normal ideas and solutions.
With judgment, people will stop thinking of ideas and will feel disappointed during the session.
How to improve? Encourage participants to stop judging ideas and to focus on generating more ideas. You can encourage them with:
- A starting simple activity to illustrate the value of different perspectives. (Ex: Pass it on game)
- Encourage them to build on others’ ideas and perspectives.
- Encourage weird and strange ideas to encourage on being crazy.
“Wild ideas can often give rise to creative leaps. In thinking about ideas that are wacky or out there we tend to think about what we really want without the constraints of technology or materials. We can then take those magical possibilities and perhaps invent new technologies to deliver them.”
– OpenIDEO, 7 Tips on Better Brainstorming
3- Focusing On The Quality Of Ideas
Brainstorming sessions which aim to the quality of the ideas rather than the quantity of them, deep in details end up with bad ideas and ordinary ones.
The goal of brainstorming sessions is to generate ideas as much as you can, regarding their quality or details. The details will come later.
In a study concluded, brainstorming groups given quantity goals generated both more ideas (an average of 29.88) and significantly higher quality ideas (20.35) than those given a quality goal alone (averages of 14.24 and 10.5).
How to improve? You can focus on quantity rather than quality by:
- Explaining that we need quantity rather than quality.
- Set a goal for the team to generate a number of ideas in a certain amount of time. (Ex: Using the 6-8-5 technique)
- Whenever you feel that the participants are digging in the details, correct the road.
4- Using A Language That Turns Off Creative Thinking
Creativity can be killed during your brainstorming sessions by using language. Some phrases discourage people from being creative and turn off their creative minds.
Using phrases like “I’m not saying you are wrong but..”, “We have tried this before,” and “It’s too hard to implement in the present,”
These phrases will make the participants filter every idea they are thinking about before saying it and there will be a lot of missed creative ideas.
How to improve? STOP using these phrases and whenever you hear someone use them, explain that we are aiming for quantity and creativity and encourage more positive phrases.
5- Participants With Similar Backgrounds And Experiences
“Creativity is just connecting things.” – Steve Jobs
Brainstorming sessions with people from the same backgrounds and experiences are not the best way to unleash creativity.
People with similar backgrounds (Developers or designers) and experiences will have similar thoughts, perspectives and point of views which is not the best way to generate ideas.
How to improve? Diversity is the key. When you are choosing your participant, try to:
- Don’t include people who work on the same project, have the same thoughts and have similar discussions every day together.
- Have different backgrounds and experiences, mixing between developers, designers, marketing, accounting, and HR.
- Having people with different perspectives, the logical person, the creative one, the weird one.
Brainstorming sessions can become a very powerful tool for you and your team. It’s about changing the mindset and the mentality of you and your team to unleash the creativity and get the results out of it.
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