So You Think You Can Brainstorm…

Everyone brainstorms. But people tend to forget that it’s not a check mark — something you learned in high school and now know inside out. Everyone can (and should) practice and improve brainstorming.

TL;DR: You can get better at brainstorming!

The following suggestions are inspired by my personal experiences at Craft and by Tom Kelley’s great book The Art of Innovation based on his time at IDEO.

Unload That Brain

  1. Brainstorm more often. Key is in repetition. Put it in the calendar.
  2. Warm up if necessary. This is useful if you haven’t worked together before, don’t brainstorm very often or need to tune in on being creative. Go somewhere creative, bring inspirational stuff into the office, whatever works for you.
  3. Set a predetermined length. Kelley suggests 1 hour, I myself care more for 20 minute sessions. Use a timer.
  4. Sharpen your focus. Agree on a well described topic and a goal for the session. Make it tangible, edible and open-ended.
  5. Be playful. Don’t criticise.
  6. Aim for quantity. You want a lot of ideas up in the air. This is not the time to pick and choose or develop single ideas. Aim for 100 ideas in a 1 hour session.
  7. Number each idea. Just jot it down in the corner.
  8. Get good energy. As Kelley puts it, “aim for the next power-curve”. Build upon each others’ ideas, change the wording of the focus and appropriate to get as many ideas out as possible.
  9. Use the room. Get post-its on the walls, use tape, color coding etc. Spatiality plays an important role in remembering our ideas.
  10. Get physical. Bring inspirational objects in play, have your competitors’ products around, clay, paper mache, play dough, paper, the app store, a guitar — it may sound like a teambuilding cliché but it works.
  11. Bring the energy out of the room. Usually we digitise our brainstorm and share it on Evernote and Slack so it’s always available for team members who couldn’t participate and for building upon the physical session. Usually new ideas spring to mind in the days after or before falling asleep at night.
  12. Agree on what to do with the ideas. With this many ideas you’ll often want to converge, narrow it down to the best ideas that could become fruitful. Agree beforehand that the brainstorm phase is about opening up and afterwards you get to nurture the great ideas and set things in motion.

Happy brainstorming  !