Little Known Steps to Planning the Perfect Brainstorm
“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.“ – Victor Hugo
Unfortunately, most people have never experienced a genuinely successful brainstorm. The vast majority range from disappointing to disastrous. So when it comes to planning a brainstorm, you may not even know what to plan for.
If you want to create a much more efficient, productive and enjoyable brainstorming experience for yourself and your team, it is essential that you thoroughly pre-plan your sessions. This first step in our SmartStorming process is one that is almost never taken, and one of the most critical. In fact, taking this one step alone can have a dramatic impact on the success of your ideation sessions.
Experience design is a discipline in which processes or environments—experiences— are carefully crafted to meet the needs, desires, skills and expectations of the participants. Consider, for example, a roller coaster. The designer considers each moment of the experience, from the time the rider is strapped into the seat, through the first rise, the first big drop, every twist, turn and barrel roll, until the car rolls to a stop and the journey is over.
A group brainstorm session is much the same. As a successful leader, you must plan exactly where you want to take your participants, what their overall experience will be, how to keep your group on track and how it will all end up. Think of yourself as an experience designer, leave as little as possible to chance, and your sessions will consistently deliver the results you are looking for.
There are three key advantages in pre-planning your brainstorm sessions:
- Pre-planning helps make your session flow more easily and productively from beginning to end. As the facilitator, you enter the room with a greater sense of confidence because you have comprehensively mapped out the precise journey of imagination your group is about to embark upon. You have clearly pre-determined the goals and objectives, invited the best team (knowledge and experience) to help you achieve your goals, you have pre-selected the best idea-generation tools and techniques for the challenge, and possess the right criteria necessary for efficiently evaluating and selecting ideas. When you pre-plan your sessions, you minimize the Machiavellian forces of chaos and entropy that can quickly undermine loosely structured traditional brainstorms.
- Pre-planning dramatically increases your group’s creative yield of new ideas.There are numerous, proven group idea-generation tools and techniques that inspire fresh thinking and new ways to approach problem solving. These tools and techniques can be used individually, or combined in different combinations to eradicate limiting assumptions, explore multiple viewpoints and stimulate powerful free-association – what we call “popcorning” of ideas. Pre-planning provides you the valuable opportunity to orchestrate the best tools and techniques to ignite your group’s imagination and achieve your goal. It can dramatically increase your group’s creative yield, often by as much as 40-60%.
- Pre-planning frees you up to lead more effectively. Once you have laid out your session plan, you will have a clear, concise overview of how your brainstorm will flow from beginning to end. This blueprint takes all the guesswork out of how to structure your session, or what to do, or when to do it. It’s all there… simply organized and in sequence. So as the group leader, you can focus on the matter at hand—generating ideas.
The 7 Pre-Planning Steps
Our SmartStorming Pre-Session Planner makes pre-planning easy. It walks the leader through the seven easy-to-follow steps necessary to structure great sessions, time after time. The steps are simple and logical. They are designed to stimulate your best thinking and get you highly organized, regardless of how challenged you may be in the organizational department.
Pre-planning requires an investment of just a few minutes of quality time, but guarantees your SmartStorm session will flow more efficiently, more enjoyably, and produce far superior results than traditional brainstorming efforts.
Here is a brief overview of each step we take in the SmartStorming Pre-Session Planner. You’ll soon see why this simple step will change forever the way you approach group ideation meetings.
Step 1: Clarify the Challenge, Goals and Objectives
It’s very difficult to get where you want to go if you don’t know where you’re going. That’s why goals and objectives are so vitally important. Clarifying your specific challenge, goals and objectives focuses the group’s attention and sets a high creative bar.
Step 2: Choose Participants
You can dramatically increase the quantity and quality of the ideas your group produces by thoughtfully selecting your participants. Choosing individuals with the most appropriate backgrounds, skills, knowledge, and experience for the challenge, instead of simply inviting the “usual suspects,” is a critically important step in group ideation success.
Step 3: Provide Background Information
In a typical, poorly-planned brainstorm session, participants enter the room with only a vague notion of the task at hand. They may know the general subject, but typically don’t understand the specifics of the challenge. Getting them “up to speed” can often take 20% or more of your allotted time. Provide your group with all the information they need to succeed—before the session takes place.
Step 4: Choose Your Icebreaker
When participants enter the room, chances are they are coming in with scattered attention, preoccupied with other outside concerns. The first job of a good facilitator is to help focus the group on the challenge ahead, free up their attention from distractions, breakdown interpersonal barriers and galvanize them as a collaborative team aligned toward a common goal. The fastest way to accomplish this is through brief, playful icebreaker activities.
Step 5: Select Ideation Techniques
While every part of a SmartStorming session is important, arguably the most important is the time allotted for actual idea generation. Simply “throwing ideas against the wall” is hardly the most effective way to help groups generate abundant, innovative concepts. There are dozens of techniques for enhancing the flow of original thoughts, helping teams expand and enhance the ideas of others and create totally new directions by combining or exploring various aspects of ideas. Decide ahead of time which tools and techniques will be most appropriate for your challenge and your group, in order to ensure outstanding results.
Step 6: Establish Selection Criteria
A productive SmartStorming session can produce literally hundreds of new ideas. Some are great. Some have potential. Some are…well, you know. How you organize, evaluate, and select the best ideas can become a daunting challenge, particularly in the heat of the moment, and if you haven’t considered your process ahead of time. Your selection criteria should be built directly from your challenge, goals and objectives, established in Step One. By pre-determining the specific yardstick you will use to measure the effectiveness of potential ideas, you will have a clear, unambiguous process in place, ready to implement.
Step 7: Plan Next Steps and Follow-Through
Most people believe a brainstorming session ends when the ideas have been selected. In fact, the end of the idea selection process actually launches an entirely new process—follow-through. Once again, most people never even consider this to be part of an effective ideation session. But breakthrough ideas are useless unless they are transformed from ethereal concepts into tangible realities. To bring new ideas to life, next steps and timetables need to be determined, responsibilities assigned, milestones established and progress meetings scheduled.
That’s it. Once you have completed your pre-session planning, you are all set! You will feel organized, buttoned-down and more confident in your abilities to lead a great session. Your group will appreciate the difference the new structure and techniques will make in liberating their creativity to more effortlessly achieve success.
Click here to download a free copy of our SmartStorming Pre-session Planner – and start pre-planning perfect brainstorms today!