When your team needs new ideas, what do you do? Brainstorming is the technique of choice for most teams. I think people like it because it helps them generate a lot of ideas, requires no special training, and it can be fun. While all this is true, and no formal training is needed, there are a few basics that can exponentially improve the output of your brainstorming sessions.

Clearly Define Your Target – Pinpoint it as much as possible. If you are working on a project to increase sales, can you narrow it down? You could brainstorm: How do we increase sales from our existing customers? Or maybe the question is: How do we increase sales through new customer acquisition? These are two very different questions with potentially different strategies and tactics.

Suspend All Judgment – I think everyone knows that they’re not supposed to say negative things about somebody’s idea while brainstorming. That is true. What is less known is that you shouldn’t share affirming comments either. The challenge is to create a neutral environment. If successful, the result will be a safe place where ideas will flow more freely.

Display Your Work – If you display your work (usually on a flipchart), two really good things happen. First, the person who has shared the idea can look at what has been written and confirm that the scribe/facilitator has accurately captured their idea. Once the individual sees their idea and confirms its capture, they can release it and begin to generate additional ideas. Second, with all the ideas displayed for the entire group to see, the chances of sparks (connections between ideas), increases dramatically. Also, seeing previously stated ideas increases the chances of combining ideas to create new ones. Get a flip chart and some masking tape. It will pay for itself very quickly.

Allow Enough Time – This is the Achilles’ heel for most brainstorming sessions. We fail to allow enough time. The research shows that effective brainstorming occurs in two stages. In the first stage, what is already known is documented. On average, this stage requires 40 minutes! It is in stage two that new ideas are most often found. Brainstorming without adequate time almost always yields disappointing results.

Do you need fresh, innovative ideas to help solve a difficult problem? Try these brainstorming basics and see how it goes. I’d love to hear the results!

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.