4 Brainstorming best practices

Brainstorms are frequently prescribed by us, or requested by clients and colleagues to solve complex challenges. In concept they seem simple – get in a room an collaborate for an hour –but getting the most out of brainstorms can be challenging. The collaboration, construction, and discovery processes of brainstorms can trend toward the amorphous. Below are simple ways to help drive focused and successful brainstorms. From name ideation to concepting, here are 4 things that we Northbounders like to do at every brainstorm to increase our chances of session success.

Define the objective – Success can’t be achieved if it can’t be defined
As brainstorms are often a creative process, first defining the desired output helps drive clarity by aligning participants around a north star. As exploration and ideation occurs throughout the session, it helps to provide a grounding point to come back to and a point of reference for time keeping so that the session doesn’t end with nothing to show for it.

Create an agenda – Time flies when you’re having fun
Brainstorms provide designated time to explore different ideas and solutions freely and deeply. This deep exploration is often where brainstorms are most fruitful and most fun, though unchecked they easily eat up most of a session. Posting a rough agenda on a whiteboard that outlines durations for areas of focus and activities helps prevent the group from over pursuing a single idea or getting lost in exploration. Brainstorms need flexibility for exploration but also benefit from some structure to act as guardrails.

Establish safety – Being brave requires feeling safe
The best ideas aren’t always obvious – that’s why you’re brainstorming! To maximize the contributions of the group, everyone needs to feel like they can safely participate. A direct way you can establish safety is by first declaring that there are “no bad ideas.” It’s cliché, but it gives people the freedom to push boundaries and create quickly. A more subtle way to establish safety is to write down everyone’s contributions on the board to ensure everyone feels equally heard. You can always trim down on ideas after the session.

Come prepared – Separation is in the preparation
Getting stuck is inevitable. Sometimes it’s hard to get into the creative or problem-solving mindset right out of the gate, while other times you hit a wall after you get going. Some pre-brainstorm work can come in handy for when either of these situations strike. Planned activities such as problem frameworks or timed ideation can be used to get the wheels turning again. Alternatively, some thought starters and pre-ideation can add more fuel to the fire when needed. Though brainstorms thrive off spontaneity, some pre-work and structure can often help sustain success.

I hope you found these tips helpful and would love to hear how you used them in your next brainstorming session. As strategists, we are experts in ambiguity and are navigators of possible. If you’d like help leading a brainstorm, please drop us a line.



Cameron Krueger | Senior Strategist

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