Conducting a brainstorming session to generate business-building ideas.
Have you ever wondered if conducting a brainstorming session would help your company grow?
Perhaps you need to come up with ideas to generate short-term sales revenue. Or maybe you’re struggling for marketing solutions. Sometimes ideas just have a difficult time coming to the surface.
Maybe it’s time you thought about conducting a brainstorming session.
Whether I’m stuck for an idea, or just want to come up with some great solutions for a specific issue, my favorite tool is brainstorming. Brainstorming can be a highly effective way to come up with a lot of great ideas in a short amount of time.
While many people think you can come up with more great ideas the more people that are involved, I’ve found that it really depends on your attendees’ capacity for creative thinking. As a matter of fact, some of the most productive brainstorming sessions I’ve ever had have been with me, myself, and I. This is especially true when I’m trying to come up with ideas for stories, topics for this newsletter, advertising concepts…things that are easy to concept solo.
Deciding between brainstorming by yourself or conducting a brainstorming session with a group of people really depends on how proficient and comfortable you are with the process, as well as what you’re trying to accomplish.
Who to invite?
If you decide on conducting a brainstorming session with a group, I’ve found that the optimum number is anywhere from four – eight, although you can go as high as 12 if you wish. Anything over 12, though, tends to become a free-for-all session.
When deciding whom to invite, take the following into consideration:
- Invite people from various backgrounds. People from different backgrounds will bring their own individual experiences to the process, which, in turn, will generate more fresh ideas.
- Make sure the people you invite can “think big.” You don’t want people who will limit themselves and others by small, non-creative thinking.
- Invite people who get along with each other. Some experts think this doesn’t matter, but I have found that the more comfortable people are with each other, the safer they will feel; and the safer they feel, the more likely they will be to put their ideas on the table.
Guidelines for conducting a brainstorming session.
These are called “guidelines” because there is no such thing as “rules” in conducting a brainstorming session. The very word, “rules,” connotes non-creative thinking, and tends to shut down the process. So stay away from rules. However, feel free to use the following to help you structure your sessions – whether an individual or group session:
Get everything off your plate so you can concentrate solely on the task of brainstorming. Pick a time when you have an hour or two of uninterrupted time so you don’t have to think about anything but coming up with great ideas.
Conducting a brainstorming session is best done in a relaxed, casual environment. In some sessions I’ve facilitated, I’ve had participants first listen to relaxing music; other times I’ve taken them through relaxing visualization exercises. One time, I even hired a yoga instructor to come walk us through some relaxation techniques! That’s a little extreme, I admit, but the point is, a relaxed mind is an open mind. Maybe it’s a simple as grabbing a cup of coffee (or beverage of your choice), putting your feet up, or sitting on the floor.
Define your problem or issue.
It’s best to define it as a creative challenge. A creative challenge is a concise phrase – typically formed as a question – that encapsulates what you are trying to accomplish. For instance, if you are trying to figure out how to improve sales revenue, your creative challenge might be phrased like, “In what ways might we encourage more people to buy our product (or service)?”
Set a time limit.Some people say 30 minutes is optimum, but I believe it’s closer to an hour. Use your best judgment, but a rule of thumb is that once the ideas stop flowing, end the session.
A little structure.
In a group session, use the first five to 10 minutes to present the problem, to give background information, and to state the creative challenge.
Don’t judge ideas.
Remember that there is no such thing as a stupid or bad idea in conducting a brainstorming session. Don’t criticize or judge anyone’s ideas just yet. Even ideas that may not be the greatest can often spur another idea that may be the idea. After you’re through brainstorming, then you can go back and edit your ideas and make them into something workable.
Don’t be afraid to take creative risks. In this process, the sky’s the limit! If you start editing yourself in the brainstorming process, you’ll start hesitating, and that will result in watered down, or “safe” ideas.
Believe in yourself.
Over the years, I’ve been in hundreds (maybe thousands) of brainstorming sessions. One thing I’ve found is that the more a person believes in himself and his ability to think creatively, the better he is at brainstorming.
Write down all your ideas.
Remember, at this point you are simply coming up with ideas, not full-blown plans. In individual brainstorming sessions, I usually brainstorm concepts on a legal pad. Other people brainstorm on their computers. In a group session, I’ve found that using a big white board, or large white pads on easels work best because everyone can see them, and it could spur still additional ideas.
Once you finish conducting a brainstorming session, take all the concepts that have been generated and narrow them down to the top four or five that you think best solve the problem. This may sound a bit daunting, but you’ll find that it’s fairly simple to pick out the best five. Find the best answer, though, is a little more difficult.
To narrow it down to the best idea, some experts advise giving each idea a score of zero to five points, depending on how well it meets your creative challenge statement. The idea with the highest score “wins.” However, I also believe “going with your gut” also works, and I have used this method to determine the best idea more often than the scoring method. Often you’ll discover that the best idea floats to the top pretty easily.
By learning to harness the power of brainstorming, you’ll find that it becomes easier and easier to generate great ideas that give your business the competitive edge.
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