How to make brainstorming awesome

Brainstorming should be fun and energising. But how often have you sat in a brainstorming session to find it degenerates into yet another boring meeting, dominated by one or two voices?

Effective brainstorms need planning. With some thought and preparation, they can be a space where energy sparks and ideas flow. Here are three things I’ve learned from more than a decade of leading brainstorms.

1.     Have a clear brief

Putting together a brief may not be the most exciting tip, but it is a crucial step to get you closer to great brainstorms.

A brainstorm brief should clearly define the challenge you are looking to solve and the audience you are targeting. Write your brief in advance and spend the first five minutes of a brainstorm talking the group through it and answering any questions they may have.

2.     No idea is a bad idea!

The golden rule of any brainstorm is no idea is too absurd, and so by extension no idea should be criticised or written-off as unrealistic. Remember that the point of a brainstorm is to generate as many ideas as possible and that even a truly awful idea may spark a brilliant one later. Saying ‘no’ stems the flow of ideas and makes the group increasingly reticent to put their ideas forward during the session.

If you face a situation where there is someone who has gone off topic and is throwing the brainstorm off course, carefully nudge them back to the brainstorm challenge.

Don’t say: ‘The client won’t go for that, that’s massively off brand!’

Do say: ‘That’s a really interesting idea. If we look at it from the client’s perspective of wanting to [insert challenge], how could we develop what you suggested?’

3.     Creative tactics as a catalyst

The main principal for any brainstorm is that a stimulus leads to a response. Before your brainstorm, plan between 1-3 creative exercises that will help encourage even your most practical and non-creative colleagues to come up with new ideas.

Here are two simple exercises that have worked well for me in the past.

What would Beyoncé do?

  • Get printouts of a celebrity/professional/persona, and brainstorm how they would tackle the problem. This prompts the group to think of a problem from an entirely different perspective, forcing them to think outside of the box (and have some fun)! For example:

What could Elon Musk do to get people to stop littering in Hong Kong?

How could K-pop star, G-Dragon, raise awareness of the financial pressures on SMEs?

  • Split people into teams and ask them to brainstorm for 2 minutes and then present back to the group. Then get the teams to develop and build on the other team’s ideas.

Ideas to get you fired

  • Challenge the group to come up with ideas that would definitely get you fired if you suggested them to your boss/the client. Keep nudging the group to suggest increasingly outrageous ideas as the exercise continues. This is a great tactic to push people to be creative by injecting some fun (and therefore greater freedom) into the ideation process.
  • After 5 minutes of brainstorming, reverse each idea individually to create an idea the client would love. You’ll be surprised at how much more creative these ideas are.

What brainstorming tactics have worked well for you?