How can you harness the power of a team’s creativity? Energize Brainstorming is one of the highest rated tools we teach in our Energize Universities. Your brainstorming process must be good to counterbalance the recent research that shows how average brainstorming doesn’t work well. Here I’ll share Energize Brainstorming techniques that galvanize true innovation.
There are a few major factors necessary for a truly innovative brainstorming session.
- Energizing atmosphere: The environment, team culture, leadership style and even tone of voice you use should encourage people to speak very freely about ideas, with no fear of being attacked or hearing sarcasm. You want to activate the most creative part of their minds, what we call the Artist. Direct their inner movies to energize creativity in a way that helps them feel safe, have fun, and enjoy exploring wild ideas together.
- Clear focus: The group does best with goal clarity. It helps to have a memorable, compelling goal statement that inspires action. They also need to know what criteria the end solution must achieve, and what limits the end solution cannot exceed. Provide the absolutely needed criteria and limitations, but no more than you have to. This allows freedom to explore and create, with a helpful focus. In addition, positive goals release more brain chemicals that provide motivation to create. Paradoxically, clear limits (stated positively) can help people get really creative about how to work within those parameters.
- Diverse perspectives: It helps to get representatives (of each stakeholder group in the solution) to be part of creating these important criteria and limitations. This way your goal is strategic in scope, and can dramatically increase the likelihood of coming up with a solution that works well in real life. Sometimes we interview stakeholders about the clear compelling goal ahead of time and bring some of their ideas for the solution, and even on what to change about the criteria and limits. We invite people that have to put the solution into action, and those who will be affected by the solution. The brainstorms can really benefit as well with diverse participants with a potentially helpful perspective to your desired goal. They don’t have to be part of the decision making later, but you can include them just in brainstorming.
More on each of the Energize Brainstorming Guidelines:
- Focus on clear goals: Post the goal (compelling goal statement, with the criteria and limitations) where everyone can easily read it during the entire brainstorm. This keeps people brainstorming towards the goal. You can also use this to refresh their minds’ focus periodically.
- No critical remarks allowed: Any negativity during the brainstorming can be counterproductive to the energizing atmosphere. If you wish the group would be more specific on an area; instead of telling them not to be so vague, reframe it to tell them where you’d like them to be more specific.
- Evaluation comes later: After brainstorming you should only focus on the ideas most likely to work, rather than wasting time critiquing the ones you won’t use anyway. A quick group multi-vote after brainstorming helps cull out the the ideas most likely to be used. Give each person the ability to choose the three ideas she/he thinks will most likely meet the goal (and its criteria and limitations) best. They can check mark on paper, or post dots, etc. Then you can take the top ideas to the next level of decision-making. This prevents wasting time, or lowering morale, by being negative about the low check marked ideas. To make sure people don’t miss a brilliant, but misunderstood idea, give people a chance after the mutli-voting to convince the rest of the team of any lowly checked ideas they think should be in the top idea list.
- Start solo: This is very important. Everyone involved should privately list as many ideas as they can before any discussion is started about possible solutions. This will gain far more diverse perspectives. If you brainstorm out loud together, groups tend to stick to the first idea or two, or follow the leaders or experts rather than think for themselves. Once a solo round is over, you can encourage people to add new ideas, build upon previously posted ideas, or add ideas that completely oppose any ideas up there. Multiple rounds often gain more insight and depth.
- Quantity is desired: Encourage people to post lots of ideas. That generally loosens up their concerns about only posting their best ideas. A good quantity is more likely to inspire multiple perspectives, and something truly new and useful.
- Wild ideas are helpful and encouraged: I often add crazy, silly, and even downright stupid ideas to the first brainstorm round. This encourages people to stretch their thinking, post half-baked ideas, share thoughts from other fields of expertise, etc. Much innovation requires some completely new ideas. Even the bad wild ideas might inspire great wild ideas in future rounds. I actively applaud and praise the crazy ideas to inspire people to post “risky” ideas.
- Adding to ideas is okay: People often limit themselves to discrete ideas or stop themselves from duplicating. However, many times an idea already thought of may ignite ideas for an even more sophisticated approach. This is one of the real advantages of multiple rounds of brainstorming.
- Facilitator keeps group on task and creative. Ask “What else?”: We like wild ideas, and yet people can go so far astray that the ideas have little value over time. Never criticize the ideas that are off topic, of course. Instead, periodically ask, “What else can we do to achieve ___ goal, that fulfills these criteria ___, and fits within these limits ___.” That refreshes their minds about what the target is. A facilitator should also remind people to stay positive, and that all ideas are welcome should any negativity occur. I do this even when people disparage their own ideas.
- Record everything: Ensuring that all ideas are up where everyone can see them helps in many ways. It prevents needless repetition of ideas, it helps people build off of what is there, and it inspires people with new ideas. There are many great ways to do this. The best way I know of at this point is giving everyone index cards and a sharpie marker. Tell each person to write as many ideas as they can that might help achieve the goal (state the full goal with its criteria and limitations); Write only one idea per card–this enables highly “voted’ ideas later to be moved to the top and the others to be moved away. Have people post their own ideas–I use sticky boards made of display boards with repositionable adhesive spray on them.
I hope you find these ideas helpful.
Please post below any other ideas or experiences you’ve had with successful brainstorming.