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You know how the old saying goes — two heads are better than one.
Well, if you have a business problem to solve, a new product to launch, or an ad campaign to conceive, you may want to pull together two or more heads and hold a brainstorming session.
According to Merriam–Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, "brainstorming is a group problem–solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group."
You've probably held impromptu brainstorming sessions, but to realize the full benefits of brainstorming, you may want to host official meetings and adhere to the following rules.
Set aside a specific time for the session. Try to keep the meeting shorter than 45 minutes. If you hold longer gatherings, bring in lunch, snacks, and beverages to keep energy levels high.
Sometimes a fresh outlook comes from someone who isn't considered an expert or close to the problem.
The room you choose should have enough space for the group to move around as needed. Cramming the team into a small conference room may stifle creativity. If possible, hold the session off–site where people can concentrate on generating ideas, not on what's waiting for them back at their desks. At the very least, convene the meeting away from noise and interruptions.
Invite staff and colleagues with varied backgrounds and expertise. "Sometimes a fresh outlook comes from someone who isn't considered an expert or close to the problem. However, be careful about mixing management levels. Often in the presence of a senior–level manager, people either will be reluctant to participate or will completely overdo it," according to the article Brainstorming Techniques that Work published by EffectiveMeetings.com.
Decide how you want to run the session, share this information with the group, and gain accord before starting. Some suggestions include:
Before the session, come up with one sentence that clearly defines the topic the group will brainstorm. Share this information with the group before the meeting so they can come prepared (maybe have an idea or two ready to jumpstart the process). Also, post the focal sentence during the session.
Appoint one person to write down all of the ideas. Using a markerboard (also known as a whiteboard) is a great way to allow everyone to see and build upon the ideas generated.
You may want to appoint an objective facilitator to lead the session. According to Jeffrey Govendo of the Innovative Edge consulting firm, a facilitator can help prevent the disregard of ideas. "When people discount each other's ideas, potentially breakthrough ideas are lost. A skilled facilitator keeps the process moving without premature judgments." You can select a staff member who is skilled at managing group dynamics or hire an independent facilitator from an outside firm.
Once you've finished brainstorming, assign the next steps to group members so you don't lose the ideas and momentum generated during the session. Don't forget to send around meeting notes that list everyone's ideas.