The value of a great brainstorming session can be immeasurable. Ideas are born that lead to the next iPhone, a revolutionary app, or a groundbreaking business model. But sometimes, brainstorming sessions just lead to bagels. And cream cheese. And thirty minutes of not working.
There’s a fine line between dreaming up your company’s next big goal, and just dreaming. Brainstorming can make or break a company, especially a startup. You can have people with great ideas, but those ideas won’t get out there unless you are giving your employees or group the right tools. And to make a brainstorming session worth the time, you have to make it efficient and actionable. Here are a few tips for keeping your brainstorming sessions focused and fruitful:
Clearly define the the purpose of the meeting
Like any meeting, you should come up with a set time and stick to it and also create an agenda. This will help things run more smoothly and people will be more organized. It also means you’ll be more disciplined about turning those big ideas into concrete steps.
Make sure the environment works
You want to pick an environment that spurs creativity, so maybe not a conference room with no windows. Think out of the box. Maybe your team will think better outside. Or what about a coffee shop with a big table? What about someone with a really great apartment? You want to provide a context where people feel comfortable and inspired. This one may take a few tries, but that is half the fun. “Creativity depends on forcing a change of perspective, and one of the simplest ways to do that is to change the setting,” says Michael Kerr, president of Humor at Work, a workplace culture consultancy.
Encourage Risk Taking
You want everyone in your group to feel as comfortable as possible because then they won’t be afraid to take risks with their ideas. Set a tone in the beginning that no ideas are bad. Tell them that no one should question another person’s idea. Clarifications are for another time. Also ensure that ideas don’t have to be totally original. They can build on someone else’s.
Use an ice breaker
Make everyone feel comfortable (especially with a group that hasn’t worked together before) by doing a fun ice breaker or show everyone a funny video to get them in the mood to rock the brain storm.
Give your team a head start
Send everyone an email the day before or morning of to get the creative juices flowing. This way they will come to the meeting with some ideas already.
If you’ve done everything right, then you are going to come out of this meeting with some great ideas. Be sure to track them with tools like ThinkGraph or Visio.