Companies all over the world over are wasting their time in brainstorms. Is this because brainstorms are a waste of time? No.

Brainstorms can be brilliant, but only if they’re run properly. All too often they’re not and:

  • staff are reluctant to take part
  • preparation is usually poor or non-existent, with no clear objective
  • those with the loudest voices (or the most senior) dominate the thinking
  • the environment isn’t always conducive to fresh thinking or idea generation

As a creative ideas company, one that’s into Co-Creative idea generation in a big way, we’ve run a lot of brainstorms and creative thinking workshops.

From experience, we’ve narrowed things down to seven essential strategies that will ensure a more effective brainstorm with brilliant outputs.


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1. Always prepare and have a clear objective

We’ve all been there. The brainstorm where everyone sits around and the organiser of the meeting leaps up to the flip chart and says something like, “We need some ideas to ensure customers engage with us not our competitors. Who’d like to start?”.

Everyone just sits there in silence as the tumbleweeds roll through the room 

To avoid this, it’s essential that your brainstorms are well planned, given a clear timeframe and have a clear objective. The tighter the objective, the better the ideas will be, as the thinking will be more focused.
For example, if the objective is to increase sales, such a broad objective will be difficult for attendees to know how to pinpoint their thinking. If the objective is ‘how do we increase sales of brand X to people between the age of 25 and 35 who are outdoor enthusiasts’ then the clarity of that objective will ensure the meeting generates ideas more easily.

So plan well and have a clear objective to get your brainstorm off to a flying start.


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2. Create an inspirational environment

All too often, brainstorms take place in meeting rooms that the attendees are a little too familiar with. Like the board room, where your boss conducts your annual appraisal. 

This can be a creativity killer. These rooms may be associated with more functional corporate activities, which can be a barrier.

Our recommendation would be to brainstorm in a different environment. This signals the intent and the importance of the session. A change of scene is really important to creativity.

If you can’t work in a different location, think about how you can dress the room you are working in to make it more fun, relevant and engaging – one that fits with the objective of the brainstorm.


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3. Allow for individual thinking time

A common brainstorming mistake is to expect everyone to start having ideas immediately.

By doing this you’re essentially in danger of losing the effectiveness of the meeting.

The extroverts in the room will be fighting to speak immediately and do as much talking as they can. The introverts will sit there in silence, needing space, calm and individual thinking time to develop their own thoughts.

A good brainstorm needs time to develop.

So once you’ve set out the objective of the brainstorm, give everyone 15 minutes thinking time to write down their initial ideas and thoughts. Calm will beset the room and ideas will start to flow.

It’ll be the longest 15 minutes of their life for the extroverts. As long as they know there’ll be plenty of opportunities to shout out ideas for the remaining part, they’ll be fine!

Another method that also works well here is splitting people into small teams and asking them to discuss the objective and present their initial ideas as a team.

Whichever route you go, individual or small team, that first 15 minutes of thinking time will make a huge difference to the outcome.


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4. All ideas are equal

You’ve heard this one a million times before. You’ve also experienced the leader speaking first in a brainstorm and everyone simply agreeing with their ideas. Or the loudest person in the room dominating with their input and selling to the group why their ideas are the best ones. 

The net result of these scenarios is where does it take you? Nowhere new. 

As the moderator of the brainstorm, it’s vital you create a culture of all ideas are equal and recognise that all ideas are good ideas. So create a comfortable environment for all attendees to speak whatever their personality types or relative seniority in the room.


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5. Create some competition

A technique that works well to accelerate the idea development is to split attendees into teams and create a mood of gentle competition to create the best idea. We recommend a maximum of five per team. 

If all attendees have the opportunity to place their individual vote against the final ideas shortlist, then one idea will become the most liked idea of the day. We’ve run workshops with toddlers, students, scientists, engineers and OAPs – whether we had a prize for the winning team’s idea or not, the element of competition really seems to get things going!


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6. Follow the two stages of ideas development

Every brainstorm needs to be structured into two stages: Identification and Selection. Same as Darwin’s theory of evolution, no less.

In any brainstorm, the first stage needs to be Identification. Identification focuses on generating as many ideas as possible, without judging any of them. In the Identification stage all ideas are good ideas.

The second stage of the brainstorm is Selection. This is where all the ideas are considered again, and tested and refined against the objectives of the workshop.

The Selection stage creates a shortlist of the most viable ideas. These ideas can then be taken forward for more robust evaluation and development at a later date against a development plan.


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7. Have a clear plan for follow up

At the end of the brainstorm, It’s not how big your idea is, but what you do with it.”

If you’ve had a successful meeting, you now have lots of ideas and everyone leaves the room buoyant. If nothing happens after that though, the attendees will soon be asking themselves what was the point? And they’ll be acceptably reluctant to attend another of your workshops.

If you’re going to run a brainstorm, it’s important you have a development plan for how the ideas will make it off the flip chart pages and into the real world. 

Maybe you’ll arrange a ‘next steps’ meeting? Or assign ideas to individuals or teams to develop? Whatever you choose, having a development plan will make all the difference!

Happy brainstorming.