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Monday, December 7, 2020

4 Techniques for Better Brainstorming

It’s often said that inspiration strikes when you least expect it, but that’s a rather inefficient way to drive innovation and creativity. Just think of a time when you, or a team you were on, needed to solve a particular problem. As soon as you begin thinking of ideas, your mind goes blank.

The point of brainstorming is to produce a comprehensive list of potential ideas, solutions or plans. When done well, brainstorming should increase participation, reduce inhibition, stimulate ideas, increase creativity and be a group process.

The general rules for all brainstorming methods are:

  • Focus on quantity first-capture as many ideas as possible.
  • Encourage and welcome all ideas - ask the team to dig deep and think beyond the obvious - every idea submitted should be captured.
  • Hold off on judgment, criticism or reality checks - this should be a “safe time.” Ideas will be discussed and debated later.
  • Use short phrases and bullet points, not paragraphs and lengthy explanations.
  • “Piggy back” on others’ ideas. Outlandish ideas can be stepping stones to good, workable ideas.
  • Although it can be helpful to give a brief overview of brainstorming rules, there’s no need to go into an elaborate explanation. “Let’s brainstorm annual priorities that will move us toward our 3-5 year strategic plan. Remember, let’s not judge the ideas but just capture and understand them first.” Then, begin your chosen method of brainstorming. As you move through the process, anticipate that someone will break the rules - that’s when the facilitator steps in and makes the correction.

Everyone everywhere uses brainstorming techniques to get the creative juices flowing. There are numerous methods for running more effective brainstorming sessions, including:

Round Robin

Ask for a volunteer to start the brainstorming process with one idea. The facilitator captures the idea on a flip chart for all to see. Ask the volunteer to choose whether to go to the right or the left, allowing the person sitting next to them to offer one idea. The facilitator continues to chart the answers, going around the room until everyone has had a chance to contribute at least one idea. You can then try to take a second pass around the room if the ideas are flowing freely, or you may open it up to anyone who has another idea not previously mentioned.


If you’re working with a group where equal participation is not an issue, you may be able to open the brainstorming session up by asking for ideas, allowing people to offer suggestions in any order at all. Be sure to chart all ideas with short bullet points using the participants’ words. This method can go fast, so you may want to ask for a volunteer to help chart answers using a second flip chart.

Group Pass

Each person in the group starts with a piece of paper, writes down one idea, and then passes the piece of paper to the next person. The next person then builds on the original idea, adding a few thoughts. Continue around the room until the owner gets their original piece of paper back. You can then ask each person to take a minute to review their original idea and share with the team.

Silent Reflection

Some people need a little time to think and formulate their ideas. Instruct the team that you are giving them a certain amount of time (5-15 minutes, depending on the topic) to think and write down their ideas. You can ask them to write their ideas on sticky notes, one idea per note, or list them on a sheet of paper. If you use sticky notes, you can then ask them to read one idea at a time and place them on the wall, grouping all similar ideas together. If they are written on a piece of notebook paper, you can use the Round Robin method to share and chart the ideas.

Brainstorming is a terrific technique for idea generation, coming up with alternatives and possibilities, discovering fatal flaws, and developing creative approaches. But it’s only as good as its participants and facilitator. The better you are at selecting participants, setting the stage, and encouraging discussion, the better your outcomes are likely to be.

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