How to Brainstorm

Create a flood of ideas with the dos and don’ts of effective brainstorming.

Lisa B. Marshall,

Do your brainstorming sessions create a drizzle or a flood of ideas? In today's episode I’ll cover quick and dirty tips to effectively brainstorm solutions.

How to Effectively Brainstorm Solutions

Hi Lisa, This is Anand Lakshmanan from Dallas, Texas, I was wondering if you would make an episode on the dos and don'ts for effectively brainstorming solutions?

Anand, thanks for your question. Turns out there’s a significant amount of research on brainstorming, but most of it relies on “virgin” brainstormers--usually college students who are asked to solve simple problems, like come up with creative uses for a red brick. I’ve found the dynamics of brainstorming in a professional environment can be quite different; mostly because the problems (and solutions) are often complex and critical to the success of the participants. So instead, I am going draw from my hands-on experience to answer your question.

In a way, I was spoiled because my first exposure to intensive team problem solving was at General Electric. I was part of the very first team that participated in GE’s now famous (and some even say legendary) “Work-Out” program. “Work-Out” is  GE’s highly successful technique for solving organizational problems very quickly. The first part of the GE process includes brainstorming techniques. But the overall process also includes solution presentations, decisions, and rapid implementation. Over the years, I’ve been a participant, a leader, and an observer of many so called “brainstorming sessions” that were --let’s just say--not as effective.

So here are some quick and dirty tips that are important for effectively brainstorming.

Homework Is Important

Before the session you’ll need to think carefully about the problem. Be sure what you are tackling is really the problem and not just a symptom. Also think about the word choice. You might consider adjusting the scope or choosing different verbs. For example, "How can we involve customers in our upcoming conference," might become, "How can we actively engage customers in our programs?"

Perhaps the most important part of homework is to ask participants to prepare. They need to understand the problem and brainstorming process ahead of time. Before the meeting, send out homework that describes the process and encourages participants to start researching the problem, and also to come to the meeting with a list of ideas. I’ve noticed that some people are great at coming up with ideas on the fly whereas others (like myself) need more time to marinate.


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