A great idea can come from anywhere (a.k.a. why we love brainstorming!)

Got a problem? Can’t seem to figure it out on your own? Getting nowhere trying to come up with new and innovative ideas? Maybe you should consider brainstorming.

What is brainstorming?

“Brainstorming” is an interactive, group-thinking technique used to generate ideas around a single challenge. The technique was first introduced in 1940 by Alex Osborn, a very successful advertising executive, and co-founder of the now worldwide advertising agency, BBDO, after he observed that traditional meetings were not producing unique and creative enough ideas to address their clients’ marketing problems.

How to brainstorm

Brainstorming is easy and fun. All you need is a problem or challenge expressed as a question (how can we make buying our homes more attractive to downsizers?), a facilitator (to keep everyone on track/point), a scribe (to write down all your great ideas – preferably on a large board in front of the group), and a diverse group of people (3-10) willing to participate.

Anyone can participate in a brainstorming session. In fact, it is critical to invite others not directly related to the project or issue being discussed. On our team, we know that a graphic designer can come up with an insightful strategic direction and an account manager can come up with a creative design concept. It’s OK that neither may be able to execute their ideas, what’s important are the ideas.

Tips on how to get the most out of your brainstorming session:

Introduce the problem/challenge question in advance
Though spontaneity is sometimes best, when possible provide all relevant background and briefing materials ahead of time so that everyone understands the problem. This allows participants time to think about or even research the problem if they want to. Encourage people to be open-minded when thinking about the challenge. Use outside items for inspiration – books, music, history, sports etc.

Suspend judgement
The purpose of your brainstorming session is to generate ideas, lots and lots of ideas – not to judge the practicality of each idea as they are shouted out. So anything goes – because you just never know when one wild and crazy idea may spark another more useable solution. And on that note…

Have fun
This is meant to be a fun and creative exercise. The more relaxed you are and more unconventional and out of the box the ideas are, the better. Try combining your idea with someone else’s to start a new line of thinking.

Set a time limit
An hour is generally a good timeframe to collect ideas. Your facilitator can decide if more or less time is needed depending on the number of participants and the flow of ideas. If things are just getting good, by all means keep going.

At the end of the session, (or in a second session) spend time grouping similar ideas together. Then evaluate which are the most promising ideas to take forward, which are interesting/have some merit but may require more thought or work, and those you’ll pass on.