6 Brainstorm Techniques that Actually Work
For many of us, brainstorming has become synonymous with wasting time. Why? Because the activity often turns into competition to have our voices heard. Outgoing people (read: loud) dominate the room, and the truth is that these folks don’t always have the best ideas. Or perhaps we’ve had a not-so-capable facilitator or leader who has failed to keep a group on task.
But the process of generating new ideas doesn’t have to be frustrating. Certain techniques can be implemented to ensure that each voice is heard, while also encouraging team members to think beyond traditional paradigms. Simply put: brainstorming can be creative without being competitive.
Here are six brainstorm techniques that will help harvest innovative ideas.
Brainwriting (The 6-3-5 Technique)
Developed in Germany in the 1960s, Brainwriting is a method to gather a maximum amount of ideas within 30 minutes. Guided by a moderator, six participants are required to write down three ideas on a piece of paper within five minutes — hence the nickname “6-3-5”. After the first five minutes, participants pass their worksheets to the team member sitting to their right. The activity continues until one’s original paper has circled back. In theory, 108 ideas can be generated in 30 minutes!
Advantage: Ensures quieter voices (introverts) have equal opportunity to share.
The Medici Effect
In his book, The Medici Effect, entrepreneur Frans Johansson argues that innovation comes from the intersection of diverse industries and disciplines. With this in mind, the Medici Effect brainstorming technique incorporates the idea of “borrowing” from other disciplines or organizations. When your group gathers, first identify the problem to be solved. Then ask them this: what would an organization in another industry would do? For instance, what would Apple do? How would Nike handle the funding deficit? What communication strategies would The Red Cross implement? How would Abraham Lincoln increase membership?
Advantage: Borrowing successful techniques means that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Bad Ideas First
This tactic is simple yet effective. Spend 10 minutes encouraging participants to provide as many “bad ideas” as possible. The exercise makes a perfect ice breaker — it removes the fear of failure from the room and gets participants talking. Interestingly, some of those bad ideas might turn out to be not that bad after all.
Advantage: Cultivates a culture of humour and safe participation.
The SCAMPER Method helps teams ideate through seven different types of questions, which will help you understand how you can innovate and improve existing products, services, problems and ideas. With the right leadership, SCAMPER is easy to start using, making it an efficient tool for both ideation and problem solving.
Advantage: A lateral thinking technique which challenges the status quo.
This is another simple technique to cultivate new thinking. First, the facilitator asks participants to write on Post-it Notes single words or concepts related to the problem or topic. For example, in an association brainstorming about increasing membership, it might be words like “fees”, “networking”, “no time”, “community”. Then, at random, the facilitator takes two Post-it Notes and pairs them together. The group uses the combination to inspire ideas.
Advantage: Simple and quick.
With this approach, you begin with a large six-pointed star. Write the central issue for your brainstorm at the center, then at each point of the star write six inquiry words: who, what, where, when, why, and how. With Starbursting, participants get their creative juices flowing first by establishing questions rather than providing instant answers. Once the questions are in place, then use them to stimulate discussion.
Advantages: Encourages participants to approach problems from multiple angles.
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