Brainstorming to inspire great ideas

Are you looking for new ideas to boost your business? Or do you need to find a solution to a business issue before it becomes a real problem? Brainstorming can be a powerful way to make people feel valued and involved with more ownership.

So what is brainstorming?

Brainstorming is a technique developed by Alex F Osborn in 1939 to help working groups solve problems creatively. Simply put, it’s a way of generating thoughts and ideas without the usual limitations we place on ourselves. It can encourage collaboration and aid problem solving. Here are our top tips to make brainstorming work for your business:

The four principles of effective brainstorming:

  1. Brainstorming is about generating as many ideas as possible in a set period of time. Reserve judgement on how good, bad or realistic an idea is while you’re generating them. Evaluate them later.
  2. There should be no limits of the kinds of solutions suggested, so for example, money is no object in a brainstorming session.
  3. Go for quantity of ideas over quality at the beginning.
  4. Participants can add to or modify ideas already suggested, but you shouldn’t diminish or reject any idea during the session.

Brainstorming isn’t a free for all, random discussion. Following a process and making it structured thinking time will make it more productive and the ideas it generates more empowering for your business.

Start with an objective

What do you want to get out of your brainstorming session? For example you may want to generate ideas for new services or products you could offer, or ideas on how to market them. It’s best to have a specific goal or question to focus on: e.g. how do we boost profits over the holiday season? How can we recruit the best people to work for us?

Schedule time and get your team together

A small group of between 5-10 people usually works best for a brainstorm. Don’t be afraid of calling in people from different parts of your business. Remember, you’re looking for lots of different input, so don’t just call in people who think the same way you do.

Facilitate and focus

For a group brainstorm you need someone to act as a facilitator and/or a note taker. The facilitator should set the agenda and rules for the brainstorm, steer the group if they’re getting side-tracked and encourage everyone to participate.

Most importantly, you need some way of recording all the ideas, whether that’s on a whiteboard, sticky notes, or keeping notes on a tablet or laptop.

Encourage, don’t kill ideas

There are no stupid ideas in a brainstorm. Sure, some may initially seem impractical or costly, but don’t allow anything to get rejected immediately. Make people feel comfortable with sharing their ‘off the wall’ ideas as these can then develop into a brilliant idea.

Throw in something random

If the flow of ideas is starting to ebb, then the facilitator can throw in something to act as a catalyst for new thoughts or to take things in a new direction. Pick a famous person, character or superhero and ask for suggestions about what they would do. Choose a word at random from a book or magazine and ask for ideas connected to that word and the problem you’re trying to solve.

Evaluate and follow up

It’s all very well coming up with lots of solutions or ideas for your business in a brainstorming session, but it’s even more important to act on one or two of them and do it quickly.

Using the 6 thinking hats process can be a good way to evaluate your new business ideas, by separating your thinking into six clear functions and roles.

However you choose to do it, brainstorming can be a great way to generate ideas for growing your business. Just be focused on what you want to achieve, set out the ground rules and don’t forget to follow those ideas up with real positive actions.