Learning how to brainstorm can help you in your business and personal life. Knowing how to brainstorm is a powerful technique to get below the surface idea to explore concepts more fully. It is generally considered a group activity but it can be very effective for an individual as well.
The definition of brainstorming is the process of generating ideas within a group or individually by collecting as many ideas as possible without judging those ideas so that there is room in the discussion for well thought out concepts as well as off the top of the head wild ideas. Later they are analyzed.
A good way to come up with a tagline for your business, for example, is to brainstorm it. You might break up the process into several questions that are brainstormed separately, such as What is my customer looking for from me? What do I offer the customer? What makes my business special? What is unique about the business and its offerings?
As a group or individual activity, there are certain things you need to set up and there are certain rules to apply.
Before Brainstorming Session
Brainstorming works best when it defines a problem and then works on solutions. Naturally, the problem does not have to be a real problem, it could also be a challenge (How do we achieve great customer service?) or a great sales opportunity.
One tip on how to brainstorm is to write down the problem or problems to be brainstormed. If you do not write down what you want to brainstorm, you could get distracted as the process continues and you could go off in an unintended and unproductive direction. Naturally, if there is more than one problem or challenge, write them all down and work on them one at a time until you have exhausted them.
On how to brainstorm a problem alone, we have found that a fantastic technique is to sit somewhere where there are no distractions, none at all. No telephone, no radio, no cell phone and no coffee or water to drink. Nothing! Sit there with a pad and paper and write out the question you want to answer, the problem you want to solve or the challenge you need to respond to. Write down 20 ideas you have about it. As in the case of brainstorming, do not edit yourself or judge the quality of your ideas. You simply want to get down 20 ideas. Once you finish with your 20 ideas, write down 20 more ideas about the problem. Sometimes that goes easily. Sometimes it is like pulling teeth. If your 40 ideas come relatively quickly, go in for another session of another 20 ideas. You want to dig deeply and get to your most creative base to find the best solution.
Another tip on how to brainstorm is to supply writing pads and plenty of writing instruments beforehand. Nothing could end a session quicker than to run out of pens that write and the need to go get more. Have all of that on hand. If you will work with a chart, large pad or blackboard of some type, have all of the essential equipment ready and in working order.
Draft one person to be secretary and write down all of the ideas.
One key how to brainstorm tip is to relax and get rid of all distractions. Get away from ringing telephones, Blackberries, email on computers, voices coming in from other offices, doorbells…everything. Put on classical music but without words, which could distract. Mozart is a favorite of many who undertake brainstorming. They feel he actually enhances the process. Beethoven might work just as well.
How to Brainstorm--Start the Process
To start, ask the first (or only) question and solicit answers.
Focus on quantity, not quality, of answers and solutions. The theory behind how to brainstorm is that the larger number of answers you generate, the greater the possibility of having a great answer among all of the chaff.
Another critical point on how to brainstorm is to give yourself and everyone in the group the permission to answer the question in any way they like. Unedited answers, at this point, are critical to the process. What you want to do working alone or in a group is to have everyone get past those pat, top of the brain answers, and dig deeply for creative solutions and answers.
Some answers will be ridiculous, even stupid. Give permission for the ridiculous withhold criticism and focus on extending that idea. What else can come out of it…perhaps a pearl! You want the unusual idea because by itself it may not be much to work with but glue a ridiculous idea and a half-backed idea together, and it could add up to something. In a case like this: 0 + 1 =2!
Don’t get discouraged; it is a great process. Either singly or in a group, brainstorming might not work the first time for a variety of reasons. The reasons could include that people are inhibited or that they just do not understand the process. It also might be that managers or superiors are in the room. Brainstorming works best with a group of peers or in a non-judgmental environment where there are no repercussions to coming out with the stupidest idea in the room.
As the ideas begin to flow, push yourself or the group to think further outside of the box. Continually refocus on the key question and then offer new approaches. Sometimes it works to focus on one word and come up with as many ideas as possible about that one word.
Keep the ideas flowing; keep your pen writing do not stop writing. Push yourself and others for more ideas. While brainstorming, focus entirely on that. Do not think ahead to the next step or to breaking for lunch. Focus, focus, focus on that one key question.
Save brainstorming work in its original form for future reference. We have seen incredibly productive brainstorming sessions where groups left with great ideas to pursue but there were also other ideas discussed that could be applied as well. Specifically, we recall a brainstorming session on better customer service but during that session, someone brought up a great idea for emailing customers, which was not exactly the focus of the session. Because the leader retained all of the brainstorm in its original format, he was able to retrieve it. In fact, that email concept became the subject of another brainstorming sessions at this company.
When that question is exhausted, and there are other key questions to work on, move on to the next one, but not too quickly. Brainstorming is fun but it is work. You have heard of not leaving money on the table during a negotiation. Well with brainstorming, you do not want to leave an idea on the table. They are worth money and you want to consider them all.
When writing down ideas, do not get hung up on spelling, good grammar or punctuation. Your goal is to get down an idea in any way you can. What you are doing is trying to create a picture of a solution.
As the Brainstorming Comes to an End
As the brainstorming part of the session comes to an end, begin to organize ideas into categories. These could be good ideas and useless ideas. Try where possible to come ideas together. Get rid of what doesn’t work but do not criticize anyone, even if all of the bad ideas came from the same person. You will want him or her uninhibited for the next brainstorming session.
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