There are no bad ideas in brainstorming, or at least that's what we've always been told, but there are bad brainstorming sessions. Sometimes a brainstorm can get overly confrontational or, worse yet, go on all day! Here are a few tips on how to effectively and productively brainstorm:
Find a Moderator
Find someone who understands the goal thoroughly, and someone who has the ability to manage time and people properly to moderate the brainstorming session. This person will not only be in charge of keeping the group on task but will also make sure that, if things begin getting tense, everyone has the ability to speak freely without fear of getting torn down.
Understand the Goal
Make sure you have a goal in place and that everyone around the table understands that goal. This seems simple, but in many brainstorming sessions you'll find, once the ideas begin getting shouted out, it's very easy to get side tracked. The moderator should reinforce the goal in order to keep people on track. There might also be sub-goals that will help narrow the ideas, but we'll discuss that when we talk about "funneling ideas".
Create a Cut Off Time
Brainstorming could last days if you let it keep going, but there is only so much time that brainstorming is truly productive. This time constraint will keep everyone on task and will possibly even help the process. Imagine having months to finish a paper, most people wait until the end to actually do the work - brainstorming is the same way. Without the time constraint, you might not get the best ideas because everyone is waiting for other people.
The moderator should start with gathering ideas in a very broad way and, as time passes, the ideas should begin getting more narrow until you get to a very focused solution. If the moderator does not begin funneling you will have a hard time truly finalizing ideas as each idea will just continue pilling up. This focusing should move things forward and keep conversation going in a linear way.
Group think is no good. Try to work as a team but avoid compromising too much where idea begin to become less creative or extreme. The idea of brainstorming is that each idea is a good idea, the more you compromise the less creativity you will get out of the experience. It's ok to build off ideas, but let the original idea remain.
Brainstorming is fun and it is a great way to get new ideas flowing with your team, but if not done correctly it can be time consuming and tense. Try these ideas out at your next brainstorm and let us know your brainstorming tips!