Great ideas don’t burst onto the scene like a lightning bolt or a light bulb suddenly popping up above your head. A better analogy would be to a pot of soup – throw everything into the pot and let it simmer until you have a tasty stew! Here’s the thing though, you can’t throw subpar ingredients into that pot and expect to come out with something delicious. Successful brainstorming sessions are your garden for growing quality foodstuffs for your hearty stew.

The purpose of Brainstorming

In order to understand what goes into a successful brainstorming session, we first need to explore the reasons that we’re having a brainstorming session in the first place. This is more than just another meeting, more than just a time to get together.

Why do we brainstorm?

Idea generation

This is the classic and core reason for a brainstorming session – to harness the creative power of the team in order to get fresh perspectives and new ideas onboard. Growth and success require constant innovation and response to challenges, which are fueled by new ideas.

The more volume of ideas the better for your business – good ideas and not so good ideas, conventional ideas and out-of-the-box ideas, colossal ideas and miniature ideas, obvious ideas and obscure ideas. During a brainstorming session there is no such thing as a lousy idea, because even the most absurd or seemingly worthless one could be a jumping off point to the best thing that’s ever happened to your company. This is not the time to debate the merits of an idea, only to acknowledge its existence. The last thing that you want to do is to stifle creativity by poo-pooing someone’s imagination.

Team building

A brainstorming session allows your team to bond. That’s important. You want your team to learn to rely on one another and to feel connected so that they are invested in your company and in its success. People who feel as though that they are respected and appreciated are more comfortable being open and taking risks, which is necessary for growth. A positive brainstorming session allows the space for comfort and connection.

Keep in mind that in order for a brainstorming session to be a team building experience, it should be done in a caring and inclusive environment. Brainstorming sessions can easily turn into a negative and toxic environment should disrespect or ridicule creep in. The leaders of the session are in charge of creating that safe space for innovation and exploration.

Company improvements

Another reason for brainstorming sessions is to examine your current processes and strategies. It’s likely they can be improved upon. Your goal here is to improve the way that things work in your company, setting yourself up for the best possible outcomes. Often, we get caught up in our current processes and procedures, failing to recognize inefficiencies. Free form, open brainstorming sessions bring together the minds of your company and allow them to fill in the gaps and make connections that are just not possible when everyone is working with their heads down.

The structure of good brainstorming sessions

While creativity should be allowed to flow naturally and organically, you need to create the right kind of environment for this to happen in. This must be an intentional process, one that leaders have to knowingly foster in order to make it happen. Don’t mistake openness and responsiveness for lack of organization. There is a science to the process.

Set behavioral expectations

Yes children, we do have to lay out the rules of our brainstorming session. It’s important to make it clear to everyone that negativity is not acceptable, this is a safe space for any and all ideas.

Brainstorm at the right time and place

Brainstorming should happen at the beginning of campaigns and projects. Make it a regular occurrence in your company, one that naturally comes whenever you have a new opportunity. Another option is to create occasional brainstorming sessions when you feel as though you’re stagnating as a company. If things are going just ok, but you feel like there are opportunities that you might be missing but just can’t put your finger on, then schedule a brainstorming session to get the juices flowing and to create space for improvements.

I suggest holding your brainstorming session outside of the office. Being in a new setting often gets the brain juices flowing a lot faster! If that’s not possible, try re-arranging a conference room. Anything but the same old, same old.

Set the right kinds of objectives

In order to get the creative solutions you want, you need to have objectives that allow for creativity. Objectives should not include a premade solution, which will keep your people from reaching their full potential. For instance if you were trying to design a new interface for customers to login, you would want to be clear about your objectives. “Allow customers to access XYZ” is an objective that leaves room for creativity, where a goal like “create a new front page login interface for customers” is much more limiting.

Individual solutions

Ask that participants come up with a couple of ideas before the session begins. Once a session starts, it’s easy for everyone to start jumping on the bandwagon of a person who already has something going. When everyone comes to the table with things that they’ve come up with before you begin, you’re much more likely to get a broad swathe of inspiration.

Keep going

Don’t stop because you’re frustrated. If the team seems to be at a standstill, encourage everyone to keep pushing through. A good goal is to come out on the other end with five or more alternative solutions. Any less and you’re going to feel stifled in your choices. Keep in mind that they don’t all have to be perfect or even reasonable, but having a large number of options is the indispensable part of this whole process.

Create guidelines

Create a set of company guidelines for brainstorming sessions that lay out how you expect people to behave, when you expect to brainstorm, what kinds of objectives you want to have, what kind of preparation you expect from everyone before you begin, and what you expect the product of these sessions to be. This way you can get down to business with everyone on the same page. You may also consider including the purposes of your brainstorming sessions in the mix.

The process is not what you’re here to discuss, so clear up the process well before you begin.

Brainstorming is where a business gets its mojo. It’s where the great ideas that fuel the next steps are created. When you incorporate the elements of a successful brainstorming session into your company, you’re filling that soup pot with the right mix of veggies and spices, plus you’re heating it to the right temperature and not allowing it to overcook. Delicious.

How did you come up with your last great idea? Tell us in the comments!


Pete Peranzo

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