Brainstorming is at the core of problem solving. Putting multiple minds together to develop solutions or create new ideas is effective because it allows the free flow of information and exchange of ideas. But it's more than just putting a team of people together in the same room with a notepad and a pen. There are several unique approaches to brainstorming that can multiply the effectiveness of your team. Here are five ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
The Crawford's Slip Method
The Crawford's Slip Method isn't a new concept; in fact, you've probably used it more than once without realizing it. The goal of this tactic is to encourage all participants to share their ideas without feeling criticized or judged openly, a common problem in group brainstorming sessions. To use this technique, have each member of your group write down their best ideas on a slip of paper (a sticky note works well for this).
Once everyone has written down their ideas, they can be displayed randomly for all participants to see and discuss. No one knows who suggested each idea, so every concept is treated equally.
The Worst Idea Ever
Amp, a marketing and PR agency, uses creative tactics in the company's group brainstorming sessions. In creative industries like marketing and advertising, coming up with innovative ideas and solutions must be a regular occurrence. One tactic they've employed is a switching-the-tables concept, asking participants to focus on the worst ideas they can think of instead of the best.
Why does this work? Because sometimes the worst ideas can uncover hidden problems with easy solutions, and sometimes turning a really bad idea upside-down can result in the best solutions.
The Lotus Blossom Technique
InnovationTools.com discusses an experiment conducted by psychologist Peter Watson, which essentially found that people tend to oversimplify and make assumptions when they've found a process that works, and it's very difficult to step outside of that framework of thinking.
The Lotus Blossum technique, an idea originally developed by Yasuo Matsumura of Clover Management Research in Chiba City, Japan, aims to overcome this typical thought pattern. The lotus blossom, in its physical form, has a central core surrounded by petals which can be peeled back to reveal more and more leaves within.
Mimicking this visualization, brainstorming using the Lotus Blossom technique involves a circle diagram. Write the central theme in the center circle and create a series of circles surrounding it, where you'll list secondary components of the idea. Continue this pattern by surrounding each secondary circle with additional sub-circles, and so forth, until you've hashed out every potential idea and aspect related to your project.
Scott Berkun, writer, speaker and author of four best-selling books on innovation and creativity, including Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds, offers several tips for making brainstorming sessions more interesting and thought-provoking. One of his commonly used techniques is roadblocking.
The Roadblock technique can be used in two ways: Either removing all assumed roadblocks from the problem, such as costs, time frames or other essential resources, or adding a few outrageous roadblocks (even if they truly don't exist) to stretch participants' thought processes.
Expanding the Limits: Ask Weird Questions
If this exercise seems weird, it's because it is—and it was designed to be. Dudye.com, a site dedicated to the creative process for initiating design projects, suggests that asking off-the-wall questions during brainstorming can be just the ticket to get your participants to expand outside their own walls. To use this technique, ask random, completely unrelated questions during the brainstorming session. A few examples:
What's your favorite animal, and why?
What would life be like without television?
What if fish started breathing air?
Again, the stranger the question, the more thought-provoking it will be to your participants. An added bonus: You might lighten the mood with a few laughs, which can help break the ice and relax the atmosphere.
More Brainstorming Tips
There are dozens of ways to get your team's creative juices flowing, and many of them aren't what you'd expect. Using the five examples above is a good starting point, but you'll likely develop your own techniques as you grow accustomed to facilitating meetings and learning what works to motivate your team.
Here are a few final tips on facilitating brainstorming sessions:
Set ground rules
Define the problem and identify constraints before beginning
No idea is a bad idea
Every participant should have a chance to share their ideas
Allow participants independent time before and during the meeting for a few minutes to collect their thoughts and ideas
Angela Stringfellow is a PR and MarComm Consultant and Social Media Strategist offering full-circle marketing solutions to businesses. Angela blogs via Contently.com.