What is brainstorming? Simply defined, it is the process of coming up with new ideas or answers to problems.
More specifically the concept of brainstorming in a business setting is the exchange of views amongst peers or teammates that are designed to generate creative ideas to improve procedures, fix issues, and increase productivity.
While this may sound like a simple task of sitting in a room and having a quick chat to cure all of a team’s problems, anyone who has ever been in a brainstorming session knows there is much more to it than that.
To have a truly successful discussion, it is vital that everyone on the team be aware of the rules of brainstorming. And alternatively, the manager or leader of the group needs to find ways to keep everyone engaged in the conversation from beginning to end. Read on for the rules every team should follow and a list of 30 power brainstorming examples you can use to keep everyone involved.
Rules for Brainstorming
- Always set a time limit.
- Maintain focus with a brainstorming leader.
- All ideas should be considered no matter how bad it may seem at the time. Avoid judgment.
- Ensure everything is written down or recorded.
- Offer opportunities for everyone to share their ideas.
If you want to know how to brainstorm, this is one of the most basic versions of this process that you’ll find. Before your meeting, share the concern that will be discussed and have everyone in the group prepare at least one idea each to share with the rest of the team. Each member will share only one idea that will be written down and if someone takes another person’s idea they must share a different one when their turn comes.
While getting the whole group together is important, try meeting with your team members one-on-one to get their insight. This will open the door for honest communication without fear of negative comments or feedback from other people on the team.
3. Crawford Slip
When it comes to brainstorming methods, this is one of the best ways to get suggestions from teammates who may be too nervous to share their opinion out loud while still in a group setting. Prepare between two to three identical pieces of paper for each member of the group and have everyone take a few minutes to write down their ideas alone. Gather the comments and have the focus leader read each one aloud to begin the discussion.
4. Charette Procedure
If you are brainstorming with a larger group, the Charette Procedure is good for teams of ten or more people. The idea is to split up into smaller groups and assigning each group a single piece of an overall topic. Each mini team will then present their findings to everyone else.
5. Bad Ideas First
A fun activity to kick off your planning session is to spend 5-10 minutes sharing bad, absurd, or outright silly ideas. Who knows? What someone might think is a bad idea could be the perfect solution to the problem.
6. SWOT Analysis
A common practice on both a company and team level to do a SWOT Analysis, which looks at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your processes. Knowing everything from the team’s strengths and weaknesses to other factors that threaten their success can immensely help when deciding how to accomplish a project or task.
7. Pros & Cons List
While this is often a technique teenagers use on whether or not they should date someone, it can also be an effective brainstorming technique for business. Consider the pros and cons of each idea that comes up to determine whether it is worth pursuing as a solution.
8. Use Mind Maps
Mind mapping with online tools like MindMeister is a great way to determine all the pieces of the puzzle and what each one entails. Having this information makes it much easier to make informed decisions during a meeting.
Fully remote teams are becoming more common as time progresses, leaving a tremendous need for doing brainstorming online rather than in a room together. Project management tools like Toggl Plan offer insightful visuals, timelines, and project overviews that make it easy for teams to get on the same page and make suggestions to the rest of the group.
10. Opposites Game
Looking for brainstorming activities to get everyone’s creative juices flowing? Make a list of common words such as good, forward, bright, and cold, then get the team to come up with one opposite of that word. Continue with each word until you have a list of ten opposites for each or until your team can’t think of anymore. This is a great way to warm up your teammate’s minds and prepare them for deeper thinking.
As the brainstorming version of roleplaying, put together some scenarios for your team to act out with each other that have presented problems in the past. Have them think on their feet in the moment to find a solution to the situation. Once the roleplay is complete, have the rest of the group offer constructive feedback or suggestions on how the process can be improved.
Have the conversation leader briefly discuss the idea behind the meeting and then ask the team to write down as many brainstorming ideas as they can in a set amount of time between 5-10 minutes. Open the discussion for individuals to share what they were able to come up with in this short period of time.
13. Long-term Brainwriting
Similar to the standard brainwriting, but instead post a large paper somewhere in the office with the topic written at the top. Invite people to write their ideas or suggestions on the page over the course of a week, then have a meeting to review the ideas which have been shared.
14. Perspective Storming
Also known as figure storming, this fun activity gets your team to look at the situation from the perspective of famous celebrities or historical figures. Take a few minutes of suggestions from your team to make a list of famous people like Abraham Lincoln, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce, and more. Once you have a good number of names, discuss how each of those people might work out the situation.
15. Flow Chart
Along the same lines as a mind map, flow charts offer a different style that focuses more on a process than simply related ideas. Online tools like Lucid Chart make it much easier to organize these thoughts and save them for later discussions.
16. Competition Brainstorming
Who doesn’t like a friendly competition around the office every now and then? Split the team up into two or three groups and have them race to see who can come up with the longest list of unique ideas in a certain amount of time. Offer a small prize to the winning team and then review the lists together to find common thoughts.
17. Draw Ideas as Pictures
Unless you work for a creative design company, there aren’t many opportunities to share artistic talents in the corporate world. Have each member of your team take a few minutes to draw their ideas about a topic instead of writing them down. Ask each person to hold up their piece of art and share their idea. This can be a fun, entertaining, and creative way to share ideas and get a good laugh out of the team.
Would you ever think the answer to your question good be determined by asking a different question? This type of brainstorming session is designed to ask questions that will lead to the solution for the problem or issue you’re trying to solve. Focus on creating questions that are centered around the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
19. Forced Limitations
While team members are often pushed to think outside the box, it can be just as effective to set one or two rules, guidelines, or limitations on their brainstorming session. Set one or two restrictions for them to plan around such as a specific budget amount or a narrow timeframe to provide a sense of urgency on how to get it done in time.
20. Get an Outside Opinion
Especially when teams have worked together for longer periods of time, it’s easy for conversations to grow stale and stagnant. Invite people from other departments to your brainstorming activities on occasion to ask if they have any ideas or suggestions on the topic your team is actively working on.
21. Stepladder Technique
This process begins with two members of the team speaking about the topic alone for a few minutes. At this time, another teammate joins in the conversation and shares their thoughts prior to hearing what the other two have discussed. Another team member joins the discussion until everyone has come into the room and all the ideas have been shared.
22. Six Thinking Hats
This concept was created by a psychologist named Edward de Bono and approached brainstorming from six unique points of view or thinking modes. Once a problem has been presented have your team look at it while wearing one of these “hats” at a time to determine the best way to solve it.
- Blue: Big picture thinking as a manager or business owner would
- White: Factual and informational thinking
- Red: Emotional, feelings, and intuition thinking
- Black: Logical and practical thinking
- Yellow: Bright side thinking (Find the benefits or positives)
- Green: Creative thinking (break the norm)
Taking a moment to meditate is a great way to calm your mind, relax, and even help you stop forgetting things. Have the team participate in a meditation exercise for five minutes before the brainstorming session begins to prepare them for a detailed conversation about how to reach a solution.
24. Use Some Music
Whether you’re having the team write down their thoughts or working together in groups, try playing some soft music in the background to maintain a calm atmosphere. To avoid distractions, listen to quiet, fixed tempo songs that are only instrumental.
25. Run-on Story
In elementary school, you may have played a game where the teacher wrote a single line of a story and then asked students one by one to share what they thought the next sentence should be. This can be used both as a warmup activity or a way to play out a scenario that relates to the topic your group is brainstorming.
26. Determine the Cause
This may seem obvious, but all too often teams try to find resolutions to problems before they even understand what is causing it. Prior to your meeting, have the team contribute to a group list of things that cause the problem(s) before deciding how to fix them.
27. Power of Synonyms
A truly unique brainstorming tactic is to review synonyms that are related to the issue at hand. These similar words can spark ideas that may highlight other factors the team hasn’t even considered yet. While there are some basic synonym tools online, few of them compare to the incredible lists you’ll find on Power Thesaurus.
Most of your team has probably heard of the classic television game show called “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” This is a fun office game to play prior to any meeting but can get people energized and prepared to talk about their ideas for the upcoming conversation.
29. Change of Scenery
Does your team often meet in the same conference room or office space? Try mixing it up a bit by going outside, to another part of the building, or have the brainstorming session at a restaurant during a team lunch.
Though the brainstorming process has to take place before a vote, this is a great way to narrow down the best solution. Once a long list of possibilities has been shared, give each member of the team five sticky dots or small post-it notes and have them place their votes next to the idea(s) they like the best. They can use all five on one or split them up evenly with other solutions they prefer.
Logan Derrick is a full-time business writer and content marketing strategist. For years, he has worked closely with several project management professionals, learning from them and increasing his own knowledge of the industry. Having held multiple management positions in fields ranging from customer service to marketing, Logan has found a passion for helping others learn about project management, marketing, and the powerful tools available to professionals today.