2 min Read
November 29, 2011

Getting the best from brainstorming

Gotta come up with something smart and creative pronto? Consider jumpstarting your project and building buy-in by having a brainstorming session. You can invite staff, board members, volunteers–anyone who’ll help you think up solutions that might work. Give them pizza and/or coffee and you’ll find most people will do just about anything for two hours.

Much of the work we do at Big Duck involves generating smart, creative solutions to challenges where there is typically less time and even less money than anyone having to deliver results would like. Over the years, we’ve found that the smaller the box, the more inventive the solution might actually be- but often it takes a few people working collaboratively to tease out the best results.

Here are a few tips I’ve found help.

  1. Before you brainstorm, brief. Don’t expect people to show up for a meeting, hear about something for the first time, and have great ideas immediately. Some people are more able to spontaneously generate ideas (often, the visionaries, entrepreneurs, and big-mouths), but many others need time to think things over before their ideas start to flow. Giving all the participants a brief (written or verbal) a week before the brainstorming session can help them wrap their heads around it and prepare notes or ideas in advance if they’d like.
  2. No such thing as a bad idea. When one person enthusiastically puts their gem-like idea out to the group only to have it immediately crushed to dust they won’t be likely to volunteer again soon, and the momentum gets killed fast. At the start of your meeting, remind everyone that the goal is to generate solutions, not shoot down ideas like a trigger-happy hunter. Set a period of time when you’ll be in idea-generating mode, then switch (deliberately) into review mode to sort through the ideas and see what rises to the top.
  3. Write on the walls. Our office is painted with IdeaPaint, so we can literally write on the walls. Noting comments, even drawing them, helps people connect visually and build on each other’s ideas.  If your walls are less fancy than ours, try taping big sheets of white paper up on the wall, using a dry erase board, or investing in those giant sticky-note pads. Give yourself as much surface space as you can so your ideas aren’t stunted by the limitations of real estate.
  4. End with a good recap. Turning your ideas into an actionable plan requires good project management skills. Consider typing up your raw notes or photographing them for reference, then sending an email summarizing the key takeaways to all participants. Be sure to identify next steps, who’s responsible, and any budget or timing variables that should be noted.

Not brainstorming in a group? Consider using Mind Mapping software or good old fashioned doodling to explore ideas intuitively and see what you come up with. I’m a fan of PIP for old-school thinking on paper, too.