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10 secrets to amazing brainstorms

The brainstorm. It’s a popular buzzword you’ll hear at any company, big or small. And when it’s executed properly – when heads are joined and ideas are fizzing to life and there’s energy in the air – brainstorms work brilliant. But all too often they’re a complete waste of time, failing to get started, and leaving people in a low-energy slump afterwards.

Want to extract every last drop out of these sessions? Here are some tips to keep in mind.

There’s someone in charge

Keep everyone on track by making sure that someone is taking ownership of the session, and is there to steer the ship and take notes. If that’s you, foster an environment where discussion is liquid, loose, but has an agenda all the same.

Institute a time limit

The best brainstorms are invariably quick-fire sessions where time is tight and ideas are generated in a stream of consciousness style. Asking people to concentrate for more than 45 minutes is a mistake.

You’ve got constraints in place

A good brainstorm session is practical. It solves a problem at hand. Ideas that would never work within budget, or wouldn’t work for the client, aren’t worth your time. So start off with some clear restrictions in place.

Reinforce the goals

By the same token, as chair, it’s your job to reinforce what the end goal is: what you’re striving for.

Bad ideas do exist

There’s no such thing as a bad idea, the adage goes. Only there is. Wasting time talking about an idea no one is showing enthusiasm for will only grind the gears and drain enthusiasm from the room. Gauge audience interest, write down the idea if need be, then move on – time is too precious to waste.

No one wants to feel like they’re at school

People feel hemmed in quickly, and if they’re all sitting around while you’re stalking the front of the room, they won’t be relaxed to say anything, let alone get creative.

Break up the session so that people can walk around and talk in pairs; if pairs want to leave the room and talk somewhere else, that’s fine too. Just make sure you have an agreed-upon time to reconvene.

Stimulate discussion

Have your pairs come back and talk through their ideas. Often people are self-conscious, because they feel they haven’t got a fully-formed idea. Of course they haven’t. You don’t expect them to. Words or thoughts are enough. A phrase can be a trigger for an associated term that is pregnant with possibility. Have your pairs adding to one another’s ideas.

Keep tech to a minimum

Phones and laptops are barriers to great ideas. They’re a perfect excuse for people to zone out and stop listening. Have people engage verbally with eye contact and keep information-gathering to a single laptop hooked up to a projector.

As for jotting down the ideas themselves – a pen and paper always works a treat.

Group ideas together

Often you’ll find that people are thinking along the same wavelength and coming up with ideas that are broadly similar. Group these threads together and see if that sparks something or produces a more fully-formed idea.

End a brainstorm with actions

All meetings should end with actionable points, and that goes for brainstorms too. Whether it’s settling on the ideas you like best and assigning further research to persons in the room, or scheduling a follow up session later in the week, make sure you all leave feeling you’ve accomplished something in the time.


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