How to Brainstorm Effectively

What kind of a role does brainstorming play in your career? For me, whether I’m working with a group or trying to sort my thoughts out independently, brainstorming is an effective way to get some thoughts out of my head and on to the screen. I’ve mentioned this before in a past blog post, highlighting how a casual conversation solved a nagging office problem.

Whether you have a preferred online collaboration tool that aids your brainstorming process, or you find yourself sticking with the tried and true pen and paper method, brainstorming can have a positive impact on your organization. Regardless of what tool you choose, it can still be hard to facilitate brainstorming sessions that achieve results. That doesn’t mean you should give up. Here are three ways to make your brainstorming more effective:

Be Prepared

There’s nothing worse than when you’ve scheduled the time to meet with someone on an important subject only to realize at the start of your discussion they haven’t taken the time to prepare. They haven’t done any research on the topic, they don’t know the issues and as such, they can’t intelligently contribute to the discussion. Ultimately a lot of time is wasted as you spend half the meeting bringing the other party up to speed.

The same often happens with brainstorming sessions. Whether you’re leading the charge or have been invited as a participant, it’s important to be prepared going into the meeting. That means taking time beforehand to get some ideas and questions on paper. Bringing your own thoughts and concerns to the table not only helps you become an active participant in the discussion, it also helps the flow of ideas from quickly growing stagnent.

First Doesn’t Mean Best

When you’ve been struggling to come up with a solution for a problem, it often seems all too easy to jump at the first suggestion that comes up. Someone at the table comes up with a solution, and because nothing better has been presented yet people get really excited and believe this is the answer. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially when no better ideas seem to be materializing. Avoid this problem by having the group commit to generating at least five different ideas. While it might be tempting to just settle on the first idea agreed upon by the group, commit to brainstorming and keep going. You might end up flushing out something even better.

Have Direction

When Alice in Wonderland was wandering in the woods and stumbled upon the Cheshire Cat, she was given some great advice. It all boiled down to: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” The same can be said for brainstorming, or just about any other decision you may face. If you don’t have an objective, any pathway is a possibility. While for some this might seem liberating, it’s easy to see how it can develop into a time suck that generates no results. Make sure each brainstorming session is driven by clear directives. If you’re getting together to aimlessly generate ideas, while you might get lucky and strike upon something great chances are you’re just going to end up wasting time and leaving no further ahead than when you started.

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