At its best, brainstorming is an energizing conversation in which team members pool their unique strengths to generate exciting new ideas and solve complex challenges. All too often, however, these meetings result in frustration – lots of notes on flip charts, but no clear solutions to the challenges at hand.
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There are many reasons why a brainstorming might miss the mark. Fuzzy goals and unclear meeting agendas can lead to aimless discussions rather than purposeful pursuits of fresh ideas. Participants may struggle to think in new ways that are outside their comfort zones. Dominating personalities can drive the conversation and discourage others from contributing.
It is critical your team leaves any brainstorming meeting with solutions, not frustration. Here are four ways to harness your next brainstorming session's potential while making the experience both fun and productive:
1. Frame the Problem First
Present the challenge to your brainstorming group in advance. This will give your team the chance to start thinking through solutions before the session begins. It may also help to set expectations so that there is a clear goal for the session. Share the problem and parameters of the discussion a day or two prior to the meeting so people have time and space to ruminate on them.
2. Maximize Diversity
A brainstorming group's composition is critical. Make sure it includes people with diverse experiences, expertise, and thinking types. This will guarantee ideas and opportunities are approached from multiple perspectives.
It's helpful for team members to understand their own thinking styles going into the brainstorming process. Self-assessment tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Hogan assessments, the Original Thinkers quiz, or the Six Thinking Hats can help team members gain insight into their own personalities and problem-solving approaches. This helps create a strong foundation to maximize team members' strengths during brainstorming sessions.
3. Think Differently
We all have our own individual thinking styles that influence our approaches to problem-solving. For example, a person with an analytical mindset will tend to seek ideas in data and ask a lot of "how" and "why" questions, while a nonconformist personality likes to break the rules, think quickly, and generate as many ideas as possible. Sticking with your natural thinking style is comfortable, but it can leave you in a creative rut.
Adopting a different thinking style every once in a while can help you see things from a new perspective. At Kimberly-Clark, we employ a brainstorming tool called IdeaStorm to tap into the power of different thinking styles. In the IdeaStorm method, one of eight different original thinking styles is randomly assigned to the entire brainstorming group, or to each individual in the group. Participants then brainstorm as the assigned thinking type to gain a new perspective.
4. Record, Refocus, Revisit
Put a formal process in place to capture all the ideas that result from the brainstorming session. It's not imperative to determine whether all ideas are good ones during the meeting, but recording them ensures they won't be forgotten. From there, assign action items to the ideas that are most likely to accomplish the session's goal. Repeat the process as many times as necessary.
Don't try to force a breakthrough on the first go-around. Knowing when to stop and regroup is as important as any other step. Breaks will allow people to refocus while continuing to subconsciously think through ideas. Tools like Mindmeister and iMindMap make it easy to summarize and organize the ideas and information created during brainstorming sessions.
Effective brainstorming can help an organization solve the toughest challenges and achieve creative breakthroughs. By taking the right steps, you can leverage the power of different thinking styles to generate better ideas, inspire innovation, and grow your business.
Thomas Merrill is the senior director of global RD, innovation, and capability for Kimberly-Clark.