A brief overview of brainstorming
The brainstorming process was popularized in the 1950s by Alex Osborn, an advertising executive at Barton, Batton, Durstine, & Osborn (BBDO).
Frustrated by his employees’ inability to come up with good campaign ideas on their own, Osborn started to experiment with different collaborative exercises. Eventually, he settled on a model grounded by four simple principles:
Generate as many ideas as possible. For the purposes of this exercise, quantity is more important than quality.
Don’t judge any ideas until the session is over. People will hold back if they think they may be judged negatively.
Encourage people to think outside of the box. Although wild ideas may not be feasible, they steer the conversation in new directions.
Combine ideas. Encouraging people to build off one another makes it easier for them to contribute and boosts team morale.
Osborn developed his model with straightforward tasks in mind—naming a new product or feature, creating a slogan, deciding on the emotional tone of a new campaign, and so on. More analytical projects that require deep, critical thinking aren’t well-suited for his method.
7 Essential Brainstorming Techniques
Whether you’re introducing brainstorming to your marketing team meetings for the first time or looking for ways to refresh your ideation sessions, don’t expect it to go off without a hitch. It’s going to be a process of trial and error. Plus, every team is unique—there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Mix and match these techniques and eventually you’ll find the perfect brainstorming cocktail.
1. Work alone—together
A potential consequence of brainstorming is convergent thinking: the tendency for individuals’ ideas to become increasingly similar over the course of a brainstorming session.
Giving people time to think by themselves prior to the brainstorm. That way, everyone has a chance to take his or her thought process in a unique direction. A room full of confident people with slightly different perspectives on the issue at hand has tons of potential.
2. Assemble a team of people who really know each other
Back in 2015, researchers found that a brainstorming session is far more effective—and in line with Osborn’s findings—when the participants are familiar with each other.
Many studies that claim to undermine the legitimacy of Osborn’s model use groups of complete strangers. It’s apparent that the problem is not Osborn’s framework, but the participants’ lack of comfort with one another.
Familiarity is key.
For the best results, put together a group of employees who are not only capable of working together, but who enjoy working together, too.
3. Brainstorm questions, not answers
Sometimes the brainstorming session hits a dead end. The participants, though intelligent and close-knit, are simply uninspired.
The motive of the experiment is to encouraged employees and asking them to brainstorm questions gives them a confidence-boosting sense of control and guide the session into a right direction
4. Don’t forget about the after party
Remember: the point of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible within the time constraints. There should be no discussion or criticism during the session.
The benefit of this model is that it fosters a lot of enthusiastic participation. The downside is that it leaves no room for fleshing out individual ideas.
That’s what the after party—formally known as convergence—is for. After all, the long list of ideas you’ve assembled is pretty worthless until you turn those sketches into masterpieces.
There are two ways you can go about this: attention guidance or discussion encouragement.
The purpose of attention guidance is to bring the participants back together and direct their attention toward a specific task. Whether that task is filling out a particular idea or drawing commonalities across all ideas, the point is that the leader of the group controls where the conversation goes.
Discussion encouragement, on other hand, is far less structured. Basically, the participants sit down with the list of ideas from the brainstorm and discuss them further. They have the freedom to decide what gets expanded upon and what direction the conversation goes in.
Whereas attention guidance helps everyone process the information at a deeper level, discussion encouragement helps clarify and synthesize specific ideas.
5. Differentiate between feasible and original
As with any team-based activity, it’s important to clearly define the goals of your brainstorming session. Are you looking for ideas that can be seamlessly implemented in your current marketing scheme, or are you looking for some truly off-the-wall material?
Making this decision is a pretty big one.
Why? Because when people are instructed to pick the single best idea, they tend to pick a feasible, unoriginal concept that was generated early in the brainstorming session.
However, when people are instructed to pick the most feasible idea and the most original idea, they tend to pick one that was generated early and one that was generated late, respectively.
In other words, as a brainstorming session goes on, the ideas tend to get less feasible and more original.
So if you’re looking for something that falls in line with what you’re already doing, you can keep your sessions short and sweet. And if you’re looking for something that you’ve never done before, you should aim for relatively long brainstorms.
This is crucial. If you’re unclear about your goals as a team, you may waste time and energy running with ideas that are totally misaligned with what you’re trying to accomplish.
6. Introduce a fresh perspective
Admittedly, for this last suggestion,
If a new environment can jolt a brainstorming session into high gear, we think it follows that bringing in some people who aren’t part of your marketing team can have the same effect..
Bring in some of your coworkers from other parts of the company. It’s likely that their backgrounds in sales, customer support, and other areas will breed unique viewpoints that direct your session into uncharted territory.
Bringing it all together
The key to a productive brainstorming session is stimulation. And the key to stimulation is changing things up. Think about it: what’s less mentally stimulating than routine?
Good news: there’s no shortage of ways you can change it up. Whether you allow brainstorm to initially think by themselves, challenge them to think of questions rather than answers, or invite them to throw back some Bud Lights, what matters is that you break their routines just enough to bring out the brilliance you know is inside their heads.
It goes without saying that the list I’ve compiled here is far from exhaustive.
In fact, let’s get meta: get the team together and brainstorm some new ways to brainstorm. The possibilities are endless!