Skills 360 – Facilitating a Brainstorming Session 2

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today we’re going to have a look at some great tips for running an effective brainstorming session.

Have you ever conducted a brainstorming session that simply goes nowhere? A few people throw out some ideas, but most participants seem uninspired or bored? You ask questions, but people don’t answer? Well, today I want to give you some tips for kickstarting the process and getting the juices flowing.

Okay, so you need to provide some kind of spark. But just saying “Okay everyone, we need to get the ideas flowing” is not actually going to inspire anyone. You need something different. One idea is to use visual stimulation. Bring a box of random objects that you can hold up or pass around. Or show the group random images, either ones you’ve chosen that relate to the topic or on sites like Pinterest and StumbleUpon. Looking at images or objects can send our thinking in new directions and trigger creative associations.

Another way to get ideas flowing is to get the room flowing. Try telling the group that every time you say “move!” everybody needs to stand up, walk around the room, and find a new seat. This gives people a very short break and a tiny bit of physical activity, which can be reinvigorating.

Moving seats also means that people are looking at the room, the flipchart, and everyone else from a new perspective. And finally, participants may find themselves sitting beside and talking with different people, which can inspire different ways of thinking. So every time you see people lagging a bit, yell “move” and see what happens.

Now, sometimes if you want good ideas from a group, you can ask them to think of bad ideas first. Yes, I’m serious. Sometimes we don’t know what we want or need, but we can figure it out by talking about what we don’t want or need. Here’s an example: say you’re with a group brainstorming better ways for your company to attract talented workers. A few good ideas have come out, but not nearly enough, and people are scratching their heads and getting frustrated.

This might be a good time to ask for “opposite thinking.” Try putting this question to the group, “Okay everyone, let’s change tack here and think of reasons people would not want to work for a company. What are things that talented workers don’t like in a job?” Believe me, when you ask questions about bad ideas or the worst examples, a lot of people suddenly have a lot to say.

And once you’ve got those bad or opposite ideas, you can just turn them around. So if someone says, “people really don’t like a work environment that is ugly and boring,” then you can turn it around and make “inspiring and clean workplace” one of your new ideas.

Okay, we’ve gone over some ways to get a whole group thinking, but there are some people who just don’t like working in large groups. They might not speak out confidently in a brainstorming session, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas. In fact, these quiet thinkers might be hiding some of the most fantastic ideas. So how do you draw those ideas out?

Well, one way is by providing a non-verbal input option. I’m talking about good old pen and paper. Make sure everyone has something to write with and on, and tell them that they’re free to provide their ideas that way. Or you can ask everybody to do this at certain points in the brainstorming. Then you collect the papers and write up the ideas on a board or flipchart.

You may also find that a great way to draw quiet people out is to reduce the group size. Break the larger group into smaller ones and assign them a task. When people reassemble in smaller groups, you may find they talk much more naturally and easily. And those thinkers aren’t as intimidated.

You can conclude this small group work by having one person from each group report what they discussed. And every time you do this small group work, change up the groups. You’ll find that group work is like a chemistry experiment. Combine different elements, and you’ll get vastly different outcomes.

Okay, so if you want those outcomes to be useful, there are several ways to get a group going and spark good ideas. You can use visuals, move people around, and ask for bad ideas. And to draw out even more ideas and get the quiet people going, you can invite written input and break the room into smaller groups. This all goes back to the idea of fostering creativity, energy and enthusiasm. And with these elements in your brainstorming session, you should get some great results.

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.