Alex Osborn introduced the brainstorming technique in the 1950’s, touting its ability to enhance creative performance by almost 50% versus individuals working on their own. Here are five steps to ensuring that brainstorming sessions are not only productive, but foster breakthrough ideas.
- Share context and goals a few days before the meeting. Offering pertinent important information at least two business days before the meeting enables attendees to prepare properly. Including relevant reading materials and the ideal outcome of the meeting helps team members to begin thinking within the session’s parameters. Be specific about what you are looking for, i.e. initiatives to streamline production or new advertising taglines. The more details participants have ahead of time, the more likely they will be to want to prepare and participate—Dale Carnegie’s 3rd Human Relations principle, ‘Arouse in the other person an eager want.’ Another by-product benefit of this step is that time won’t be wasted bringing everyone up to speed when the session kicks-off.
- Challenge participants to attend with ideas in hand. Breakthrough ideas are more likely to come to mind in the morning, not whenever the brainstorming session may be scheduled. A scientific study of brain circuits confirmed that creative activity is highest during and immediately after sleep, while the analytical areas of the brain become more active as the day continues. Since participants will have a few mornings before the actual session, they should be able to attend with at least a few ideas in hand. This is Mr. Carnegie’s 21st principle at work, ‘Throw down a challenge,’ when you follow the first step and include a request for ideas.
- Set the space up for success. If possible, avoid using a tight space. According to Neuroscientist John Kounios, “If you’re in a cramped space…your visual attention can’t spread out. It’s focused in this narrow space. Just as your visual attention is constricted, your conceptual attention becomes narrow and focused, and your thinking is more likely to be analytical.” Also make sure that the space has whatever tools are needed, e.g. Internet access; screens to display Powerpoint presentations, white boards, etc.
- Foster an environment of trust. Often times, people withhold their ideas because they worry that others may think they’re bad. Therein lies the rub because all ideas help generate more ideas, even the bad ones. As such, it’s important to hear all of them. One way to combat this inherent anxiety factor is to open by saying that you want to hear everyone’s ideas, even though you yourself have had a few bad ones in the past. This aligns with Dale Carnegie’s 26th principle, ‘Let the person save face.’
- Outline and assign action items. Everyone’s time is extremely valuable, so to prevent anyone from asking what ever happened with the output from the brainstorming session, be sure to create action items. When you re-cap the session, assign action items to the appropriate team member and circle back with them at a mutually agreed upon date.