12 Tips for Better Brainstorming in 2012

2012 will almost certainly be “The Year of Ideas.”

With a major national election on the horizon, cataclysmic changes in business, finance, society, culture—in both the online and offline arenas, big ideas will be in great demand.

The truth is, we live in a world of continuous change, where the “status quo” is, in fact, a state of flux. Organizations and individuals must continuously reinvent themselves in order to remain relevant.

Even your Facebook page format changes on a regular basis!

If you and your team are going to be masterful innovators, you are going to have to make use of the most widely practiced technique for idea generation—group brainstorming. The problem is, the vast majority of brainstorms are random, haphazard, poorly planned and ineffectively facilitated. And the results are usually just as disappointing.

12 Tips for Better Brainstorming in 2012Here are a dozen simple tips to help you squeeze maximum effectiveness from every brainstorm session—and experience the kinds of results that will keep you and your group at the top of your game.

  1. Plan Ahead – Take some time to plan your brainstorms before you walk into the room. Nothing can have a greater impact on brainstorm success than simply considering what will actually happen during the session. How will you set up your challenge? What types of techniques will you use to engage your participants and keep energy high? How will you manage any potential conflicts? By planning ahead, you free yourself to be a masterful leader during the session… rather than the person at the head of the table frantically trying to make things work.
  2. Invite Diversity – Tired of hearing the same old ideas? Then stop inviting the same old group to your brainstorms! Invite a stranger, or two. Seek out new and different participants who can bring a different, often surprising perspective to your challenge. And don’t worry if they aren’t experts in your topic. You have plenty of those already. Welcome the unexpected… and see how the quality and freshness of your ideas skyrockets!
  3. Change the Scenery – Just as diversity in participants can stimulate new thinking, so can meeting in different locations. The same, familiar conference room or office can, over time, become mind-numbing. Move your team into a new space in 2012. How about outdoors? In a museum? At the mall? Use your imagination… and your team will find it easier to use theirs!
  4. Go Crazy! – “Playing it safe” is no longer safe. In pretty much every industry and organizational environment, people today are looking for things that are new, unexpected, different and even shocking. Inspire your team to go for more wild and edgy ideas in 2012. Encourage them to think outside their comfort zone. The results will be exhilarating.
  5. Become a Two (or More) Trick Pony – How many idea generation techniques do you know and use? If you answered, “None,” then you are just like the vast majority of brainstorm facilitators. Make a point of familiarizing yourself with at least two new ideation techniques in 2012. Don’t know where to find them? Just type “brainstorming techniques” into your favorite search engine and see what pops up. There are dozens, if not hundreds of proven techniques for stimulating the mind to think in new and different ways. Try some! They work!
  6. Get More Stimulation – Creative idea generation is an associative process. In other words, it happens when we make new connections to existing information and experiences. The more information and experiences we have to work with, the more (and more exciting) connections we can make! Make it a regular practice to seek out new sources of inspiration (stimuli) to stock your team’s creative pond. Provocative imagery, art, music, advertising – anything that interests or excites you. Encourage the team to do the same and share. The quality and quantity of your new ideas will improve dramatically.
  7. Channel Your Inner Steve Jobs – What made Apple’s late founder and creative catalyst such a powerful visionary was his unwavering commitment to innovation. You can do the same. Simply decide that you will never accept “good enough.” Practice thinking forward rather than thinking practical (safe). Strive for solutions that are not only viable, but that set you and your team apart from the herd. In short, unleash your inner creative genius!
  8. Question Everything - We all tend to think of ourselves as “know-it-alls,” and walk around every day with firm beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong, or what is and is not possible. But true innovators continually question their own pre-conceived beliefs, and those of others. This is the basis of the most creative question you can ask: “What if?” This year try questioning more of your assumptions before generating ideas. What do you know to be true about the challenge? In what circumstances might it not be true? And if it’s not absolutely true, what are the possibilities? You just might be surprised at how much you didn’t really know all along!
  9. Trust Yourself More – After you’ve challenged all those pre-existing beliefs, trust your intuition. Make a commitment to yourself and your team to stop self-editing. If you think it, say it. Then see where it goes. Sometimes the craziest and most embarrassing thought leads to a game changing idea. So give yourself permission to think the unthinkable and say the unspeakable.
  10. Cover All the Angles – The world’s greatest thinkers are those who can attack a challenge from many different angles. This is yet another example of “What if?” Develop the habit of intentionally exploring different viewpoints or perspectives. How would our customer approach this problem? How would our competition? How would Einstein? How would someone from another planet? How can we do this simply? How can we do it inexpensively? How would we do it if we had all the money in the world? You will be amazed at how different a challenge looks and feels when you look at it from a different vantage point.
  11. Kick Out the Boss! – You read right. With all due respect for the bosses out there, no one can kill a brainstorm faster or more effectively than you. It’s not necessarily your fault (although it may be!) But some people just aren’t comfortable expressing wild ideas in front of authority figures—especially those who sign the check. So figure out a way to minimize the boss’s intimidating impact on the group. If they insist on participating, respectfully ask them to join the session later, after the team has generated a first round of ideas. Or better yet, suggest that ideas be shared with them after the session. They can always have veto power. But it does no one any good if potentially great ideas are never shared in the first place.
  12. Choose Wisely – Generating ideas is one thing. Selecting them is another altogether. Develop a sound, objective process for evaluating and choosing your best ideas. What criteria will define a winning solution? Where can you combine or eliminate ideas that are similar in their approach. Remember, a great brainstorm can generate a lot of ideas. Be prepared to manage the selection process as effectively as you do the idea generation phase.

Successful brainstorms do not happen by chance. They are planned and executed by individuals who put in the time and effort to ensure things run smoothly. Make a resolution to be a masterful brainstormer in 2012.

It just might be your most innovative year ever!