There is a right way and a wrong way to run a brainstorm or ideation meeting. A little preparation pays dividends. It is very important to separate the two phases of the meeting. The first part of the meeting is idea generation when you use divergent thinking. The second part is idea selection when you use convergent thinking. Here are my top tips for a meeting that will produce great ideas:
Before the meeting
Choose a diverse group. Six to ten people is ideal. If at all possible bring in some provocative outsiders to challenge the conventional thinking in your team.
Appoint a facilitator. Ideally the facilitator should be external to the group. They can use different techniques to manage the process. The manager is often a poor choice for this role as they cannot stop themselves shaping the content.
Meet off-site. Getting away from the office somehow helps to break conventional thinking. Unusual locations are good. I have run ideation meetings in a zoo, a museum, an art gallery and a castle.
Idea generation using divergent thinking
Suspend judgment. No one is allowed to criticize or even discuss an idea. As ideas are expressed they are simply recorded. This can be done on post-its, lap-tops or flip charts but no fault-finding or comments are allowed to slow the process of idea flow.
Go for quantity. Quantity leads to quality in brainstorms so don’t stop until you have a large number of ideas – typically 60 to 100 or more.
Go beyond reason. Wild ideas are useful because they challenge boundaries and provoke other fresh ideas. It is easier to tame a wild idea than to inject something radical into a bland one.
Ride on other people’s Ideas. When one person suggests a creative concept others should chip in with extensions, developments and specific ways to make it happen. Piggyback on each other’s notions.
Displace people out of routine thinking. There are many good techniques to do this – some of my favorites are Random Word, Similes, Pass the Parcel or SCAMPER.
Idea selection using convergent thinking
Set criteria. Make an initial sift of the ideas using some broad criteria agreed with the group. For example we want ideas that will please customers, increase awareness and can be implemented in the next 12 months.
Discuss the short list. When you are down to say 10 or 12 good ideas then discuss them constructively. Sometimes there is a clear consensus as to which are the best. Sometimes you might want to vote to see which are the most popular. Whittle the list down to a handful of really good ideas.
Assign actions. Start the ball rolling by assigning follow-up actions for the best ideas. Add them to your to do list and make sure they are expedited. The brainstorm is worthwhile only if it delivers actions.
You should run regular brainstorm meetings with your team. They should be fun and motivational for people. They can deliver the ideas and innovations you need to transform your organization.
Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.