Eight Tips for Successful Brainstorming : Using Brainstorming to Uncover Innovative Business Solutions
Brainstorming is a technique for solving a specific problem through a group effort by gathering ideas contributed by the group. People often think that brainstorming is a spontaneous, free flow process where all ideas about everything are dumped on sticky notes.
Brainstorming does not work for everyone or every problem.
It works very well when you want find “out of the box” innovative solutions by using the collective imagination of the right group of people. The technique also works well when business wants to grow their capability and look at growth from a new perspective.
Where did brainstorming originate?
Alex Faickney Osborn made the term brainstorming popular in his 1953 book called Applied Imagination. It worked on the principal of a group of people (between 3 and 12) working together by gathering ideas in a group effort.
The idea is that by combining the right people in the right creative environment, facilitated in a focused manner, one will be able to come up with innovative ideas.
The intent of brainstorming is to uncover opportunities where 1+1 does in fact add up to at least 3.
What is brainstorming used for?
It can be used in a variety of circumstances in business, such as brainstorming:
- ideas to make money;
- how to create successful ideas;
- solutions to problems at work/business;
- questions to ask;
- how to make money;
- what business to start;
- to identify risks;
- generating business ideas;
- find innovation; and/or
- to solve problems.
Eight Tips to Ensure Success
Below are our eight tips for successful brainstorming to assist your business to uncover innovative business solutions.
1) Understanding your problem
One of the main reasons why brainstorming fails, is because it becomes a sea of sticky notes and war stories but no one really understands what the real problem is.
In terms of scoping the purpose of your session, it helps to clearly define the purpose, objective, the expected outcome and the steps after.
2) Plan beyond your session
Brainstorming without the intent to further investigate and refine opportunities identified, serves little purpose.
The intent needs to be to find solutions and opportunities that can be further refined and potentially implemented as a solution. The outcomes from the brainstorm exercise must be linked to a specific outcome or objective in your business plan.
3) Individual thinking and preparation
Whether you will require pre-thinking and preparation depend on the scope of your brainstorming. From my personal experience, it is good if the participants can start to think through what they may want to bring to the session.
4) Limit the use of technical jargon
Even when people think they speak the same language – they don’t.
To ensure a level playing field for all participants, it is best to limit all technical jargon.
Technical experts can explain technical jargon to the rest of the participants in simple terms. As if to a 7 year old. To explain anything technical to a 7 year old can be challenging, but can be done. (Refer to our post on procurement explained to a 7 year old.)
At a brainstorming session, no-one is allowed to hide behind technical jargon.
5) Allow time to play and be creative
In order to tap into the imaginative power of the participants, it is a great idea to have some fun as part of the process. It helps to take the participants from the everyday operations and to become more creative.
Make use of playtime, get people to work together in groups. take people back to a time where there better judgement was not that well developed. Playtime makes people bond, it gets people to break down barriers and start working together as a powerful group.
Think of activities such as using Lego to build and tell a story, solving puzzles together.
6) Imagine an ideal world
Determine what your “ideal world” looks like if there were no constraints – dream beyond what you think you know is possible. But break your ideal world back into an outcome and focus the imagination.
Work out what it would look like when 1+1=3.
7) Everybody has a role to play
Every one has a role to play.
No-one is more important than anyone else.
Every one has a voice and a vote.
The real power in brainstorming lies in the ability to get people to look at the same problem from all different angles. Therefore the range of people involved in the session has to include a wide variety of expertise and experience.
8) Independent facilitator
As a facilitator myself, I know how much a facilitator can make or break any session. The role of the facilitator is to facilitate in such a way that it makes people think twice and look at a problem in a different light. A facilitator must be able to ask difficult questions. A facilitator must also make sure that everyone in the group play their role and that no-one hides in a corner or takes over a brainstorming session. An independent facilitator ensures that your brainstorming session deliver results.
A Panacea or not?
Brainstorming does not work for every problem. It is not some sort of magic pill that will take away all difficulties.
However, it has a role to play in uncovering business solutions. For example:
I use it as part of facilitating risk workshops when we are working through the context of the workshop and the identification of key risks. It is a part of the risk assessment/management process.
Brainstorming works well in the concept/idea phase of projects. The concept phase of a project explores potential opportunities that could be further refined in the subsequent definition phase.
It furthermore works well when the traditional way of solving problems or finding innovation and/or improvements render no success.
The key to brainstorming is to have a well structured, facilitated session with a diverse group of people that delivers a better outcome together than when they work in isolation.
When this happens, the collaborative brainstorming will uncover innovative business solutions.
Please contact us today if you are interested in learning more about brainstorming and how to make it work in your business.
We thank you for taking the time to read our eight tips for successful brainstorming.
Principal Procurement Advisor
Post reviewed and refreshed in April 2017.
Celia Jordaan has 21 years international and corporate experience and worked in the areas of procurement, tenders, supply chain, contract management, law and risk. Celia works with procurement leaders, procurement teams and business to develop and implement strategies to boost business performance, make tendering easy and improve bottom line performance.