Anyone who works with me will tell you that I love to facilitate brainstorming sessions. I do it constantly and keep markers, flipchart paper and large and small post-it notes with me at all times.
My kids love the fact that if they open the trunk of Dad’s car, they can always find a terrific supply of Kindergarten art supplies. I have fruit scented coloured markers, construction paper, all shapes & sizes of Post-It notes, sticky stuff for sticking paper to walls, large flipchart paper for drawing pictures, scissors and all sorts of other “BRAINSTORMING GEAR”. I never know when I’ll find an excuse to start a productive brainstorming session, so it’s always good to have Kindergarten art supplies. Good to have a digital camera too!
Brainstorming is part art and part time-tested recipe. Below are 7 Brainstorming Rules that I follow that are captured nicely by Lyndsey Swinton. Lyndsey publishes a blog and email management newsletter called mftrou.com - or Management for the Rest of Us - experienced based tips, techniques and resources that get results quickly. Like Harvard Business Review management tips, Lyndsey’s resources are brief, evidence-based and easy to apply right away.
So, here are Lyndsey’s 7 Brainstorming rules with my notes. You can read her descriptions of the rules in her original article.
1. No idea too stupid
It’s easy for people to get into debates about the merits of specific ideas during brainstorming sessions - cut it off and make it clear to participants that there are no stupid ideas. A debate about one idea effectively stops further creative ideas from coming out.
2. Watch the clock
You don’t need an hour long group discussion - a tight, 10 or 20 minute session pushes people to get their ideas out while making it difficult for people to get into drawn out discussions. Keep it fast paced.
3. Record your progress
My preference is 3M Post-it Note flipchart paper and a variety of other Post-it Note products. But coloured construction paper from the dollar store and sticky tack work perfectly well too. Just make sure that you have a wall on which you can stick stuff. That’s usually the first question I ask about a potential meeting venue - “can I stuck stuff on the wall without damaging the paint?”. Whiteboards and whiteboard walls are wonderful for recording brainstorming progress. Lyndsey suggests brainstorming software like MindManager©, and that can work well provided that you’ve got a skilled user working he keyboard. I also like bring a camera and take “action” shots during the brainstorming and shots of the stuff we stick to the wall. I can take the digital pictures and transcribe them really quickly and in about an hour I can produce a slick looking session report with action photos, organized results and an action plan.
4. Quantity not quality
Lyndsey says it well: “Through quantity you will find quality, even though it might take some time and effort to get there. Ideas breed ideas”. I'm not usually satisfied until the whiteboard or wall is completely covered.
5. Use both sides of your brain
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was a favourite book of mine in University. Not everyone can easily slip into right-side thinking or move back and forth between left and right brain. The more fun you can bring into a session through ice-breakers and “kindergarten” tools like Mr. Sketch markers that smell like fruit. I love to get CEOs and senior managers opening up the Mr. Skech box of markers and deciding on their favourite flavour of marker - it gets the right brain thinking happening quickly.
6. Encourage the right mindset and have fun
Before I start facilitating a session I look around the room to find the people who are already in the right frame of mind (they’re the ones who are smiling, engaging with others and not looking at their BlackBerries). Then I subtly enlist their support by calling on them for initial session objectives, and having them relate experiences about positive brainstorming. And I use simple ice breakers to get a fun mood started.
7. Let no good idea go unheard
Every group has its wallflowers, but these people can be the source of many great ideas. I usually walk around the room while the brainstorming is happening, and keep an eye our for the people who are not saying much. Then I’ll kneel down beside their chair and gently ask them about their thoughts about the topic - when I hear their great ideas, I ask the group to listen to me for a second and praise the person for their contribution and ask them to explain it to the others. It’s amazing how well this works to boast the person’s self esteem and get their ideas out.
Brainstorming is something you can only really learn to do well by doing it over and over and over again. I learn new things every time, and it sure helps to have my kindergarten supplies on hand!
Shared Value Solutions Ltd. is one of the first 100 B Corporations in Canada. We bring the best environmental peer review, strategic advice, community engagement and traditional knowledge, land use, and socio-economic research expertise to address your challenges and opportunities. Working with leading companies, civil society, Aboriginal communities and government organizations, we drive shared value solutions.