Building a Better Brainstorm (Part 2)

Published: November 29, 2018

by Justin Difazzio

Our grumpy little cloud is back to shine some more light(ning) on brainstorming. If you’re just joining us and haven’t seen the first half of our tips for brainstorm mastery, go there! If you’ve already seen it, buckle up. It’s time for brainstormy weather!

Marketing professional Alex Osborn coined the term “brainstorming” in the 60s. He had four rules for people to follow, and they’re still the rules we live by today:

  1. Anything goes,
  2. Build on what others say,
  3. Keep judgment out,
  4. Quantity over quality.

These four rules cultivate an environment in which people feel comfortable suggesting answers. Generally, they’re good advice that helps you nail a brainstorming session, but they don’t go far enough. In the second half of our advice on building a better brainstorm, we’ll tell you how to make sure you get the most from your sessions.

man confused by computer

3. Nail the Session

In OC brainstorming sessions, we always make sure all ideas get written down. They’re far easier to remember and classify after the session if you put them on paper or, as in our case, the huge white board in our conference room. Writing everything down forces people to slow down to the speed of the writer. This may sound like a hindrance, but it actually really helps to slow down. Taking your time to think about your ideas leads to better ideas in general. It also means the group can make sure everyone’s input is being heard. The quiet person in your group (you know you have one, too) won’t get shut down by someone shouting over them.

Osborn suggests that anything is a valid idea in a brainstorming session, but we want to suggest going much further than that, even. Encourage your group to come up with a dream solution, something that may be impossible, but would be the ideal answer to your question. Take that answer and work backward as a group to find the point at which that idea becomes realistic and attainable. You’d be surprised at what kind of horse you get when you start with a winged rainbow unicorn.

4. Try a Different Approach

Finally, when you’re just not getting anywhere with your brainstorming session, you have to try something different. Switching up groups, procedures for submitting ideas, and suggesting the fantastical are all ways we’ve mentioned for spicing up your brainstorming. Another thing we’ve found helpful was drawing. It might sound ridiculous, but diagrams and flow charts and mock ups are all great ways to draw your way out of a rut. Words alone sometimes fall short, and sketching out solutions can lead to brain connections nobody was expecting.

If you’re looking for a fresh perspective, get a literal change of scenery. Take the meeting on a walk. Go outside. Move the meeting into the employee kitchen or a hallway. Anything you can do to stimulate a different brain pattern can help new ideas surface. And when those new ideas arise, don’t just say them; explain them. Your explanation of the idea may spark someone else’s ideas to start flying.

distant storm over plains

The Storm of the Century

Give some of these tips a go the next time you’re stuck in an idea drought. You’d be surprised at how much lightning you can generate with something as simple as redefining your question or changing the makeup of your group. With a little practice and a lot of input from your team, you’ll be ready to sound the alarms on the brainstorm of the century.