Ideas are what make a business. Every successful business and entrepreneurship journey starts with an idea. However, it can be challenging to find great ideas. Sometimes, you may have an idea but don’t know how to proceed. This is where brainstorming comes into play.
What is Brainstorming?
Alex F. Osborn first introduced the word in 1953 in his book Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Thinking. Brainstorming is a powerful tool used in the workplace when working on a project.
It’s a method to generate creative ideas. It usually happens in a group environment where people share ideas to resolve problems. However, a single person can use brainstorming to find business ideas, come up with plans and get started on a project.
Importance of Brainstorming in a Business
Entrepreneurs and business people use brainstorming for many reasons. Here are some of its benefits:
Helps gather opinions quickly: in a session, many people are involved. It becomes easy to find many ideas and suggestions in a short period. Whereas, if you were to ask each person individually, it would take longer.
Encourages creativity and innovation: brainstorming is a judgment-free space where people share their ideas. It allows them to think freely. They get inspired and contributes solution to the problems. In the discussion, the most original ideas are born.
Strengthening teamwork: brainstorming is usually a group activity. It involves people from different levels or departments in the company. It brings people together. They connect by working toward a common goal at the given moment.
Encourages critical thinking: to find a solution to a problem, you have to assess it, analyse it and understand it. The team examines each suggestion and picks it apart until they find the perfect solution.
Encourages diverse perspectives: in a company, people are from different backgrounds and life experiences. Those differences can be beneficial when working on a challenging project. People assess the problem through different lenses and make suggestions from different angles.
Brainstorming is only beneficial when done right. If you want to reap the benefits, follow these steps:
- Create the environment: it is more than essential to have the right environment. You want the participants to be as comfortable as possible. Avoid stressing factors. Choose the best place and time for your team. Some people like open spaces, while others prefer enclosed spaces. Avoid any distractions. It’s best to keep the team under ten people. Build your team with people from different backgrounds, levels and departments. Have adequate material to work. Appoint a team leader to moderate the session.
- State the problem: when you gather the team, tell them the goal of the meeting. State what the problem is and what solution you want to find.
- Kick-up the process: you can choose to start by phrasing the problem as a question. For example: “how can we sell so-and-so by this time?” Know beforehand which brainstorming methods you’re going to use. Depending on the complexity of the problem, it may require multiple methods. Encourage the team to think about the issue for a moment.
- Share ideas: have the team share their suggestions. How you do so may depend on which method you use. Discuss the ideas generated, but focus on one at a time.
- Select ideas: after discussing the given suggestions, select what fits best. Sort similar or related ideas; they can generate a new, general one. Group ideas into buckets or themes. Have the team vote on the ideas—select two to three best solutions.
- Make an action plan: after deciding on the best solutions, plan how to realise them.
There are multiple brainstorming methods. They all stimulate the brain to generate ideas. Use the ones you think will suit your team and bring the desired results. Here are five of the most common and effective methods:
In brainwriting, each individual writes down their thoughts without communicating with others. That way, they are not influenced by others and are less prone to dismiss their ideas during the exchange.
After starting the session and stating the problem, allow a few minutes for each person to write one to three suggestions. Then, have them pass their writing material to their neighbour. They now will add new thoughts to the first ones.
You can have this process go for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the complexity of the problem.
Mind mapping is a visual method. It’s a diagram to link different ideas to a general topic. In brainstorming, mind-mapping helps you categorise and connect the ideas without prioritising yet.
Let’s say your team is working on a marketing strategy; here’s how you can use mind-mapping. Start by putting the main topic at the centre of the working material. As the team makes suggestions, add them to the main topic. As you are going, connect similar or related ideas. The mind-map can contain ideas for promotion, pricing, distribution, administration and so on. You can choose to have the categories beforehand or develop them as people share.
Most brainstorming methods focus on finding answers to a problem. However, star bursting focuses on questioning. It uses the WH-questions type: who, what, when, where, why and how.
Like mind-mapping, you have the main topic in the centre of the working material. Then everyone asks questions related to it. Each question can generate a new one. Produce as many questions as possible at a given time. Then, answer those questions and discuss the answers to find the perfect solution.
Figure storming helps people get out of their heads when they might have a thought block. With this method, the team members think of how a well-known figure would go about this issue. It could be a boss, someone important in the field, or even a competitor.
For instance, you can ask: how would so-and-so do this? How about this other so and do? When you put yourself in someone’s shoes, you get a different perspective on doing things. This method allows the team to share the wildest ideas they wouldn’t otherwise.
Brain netting is for when members are not in the same physical place, with remote working, for example. With this method, you create a central location file, for example on Google Docs, where the team can put their suggestions.
Set a time limit, so people can work efficiently. After collecting the ideas, plan a meeting to discuss them and choose the ones you’re moving forward with.
A brainstorming session needs material to collect, arrange and select the ideas. Here are some online tools you can use:
- MindMeister: create and share your mindmaps. You can invite others by mail to collaborate on the map.
- Mindly: colourfully organise your ideas. You can colour code and create visual clipboards.
- Realtime Board: an online whiteboard. Use it as a physical whiteboard: draw, add images, add post-it notes, and so on.
- XMind: supports mind maps, diagrams, charts, etc. You can use it for effective presentation.
- Miro: enables different teams to work together. You can organise meetings and workshops.
- Mural: create simple and comprehensive diagrams, share ideas, and organise them in different formats.
- Draw.io: create diagrams and charts. You can save your items in the cloud, on a server or on network storage.
- Sketch.io: a virtual sketchpad. Create, draw, and edit your designs.
- Notion: a project management tool. Use it to organise deadlines, objectives and assignments.
- Mem.ai: a note-taking application. Capture, connect and share information.
Brainstorming is not only for a group situation. You can make use of it by yourself, and you probably had. You brainstorm when planning an event, a holiday or when you want to find business ideas.
Individual brainstorming allows your mind to be free to produce without fear of judgement. Many people often refrain from participating in group brainstorming because they fear criticising. Nonetheless, they can generate innovative ideas when they are on their own.
When you are by yourself, you allow your brain to expand. You are more creative. You get to know how much you understand a situation and how many solution ideas you can find.
When to Use Brainstorming
You can make use of individual brainstorming in those cases
- When you need to solve a simple issue
- If you don’t have a team with you
- When you need to come up with a solution fast
- When you are working on a creative project
- Before a group session
How to Have a Good Brainstorming Session
Some techniques will help with your brainstorming session. Naturally, you can use the group brainstorming methods and adjust them for yourself. Nonetheless, here are some other techniques:
Change of environment: getting out of a place can trigger your brain to think better. Go to a distraction-free area. If you can’t move at the moment, switch your position. For example, if you usually sit facing the door in your office, turn and face the wall.
Do an activity: you may experience a brain block occasionally. Do something unrelated to the problem you’re working on. For example, clean your desk, talk to someone, and reorganise your office. It gives your brain a break and refreshes for when you return to the problem.
Think about a different subject: switching to an unrelated topic can stimulate your creativity. You may find connections between them. Let your mind roam to something different and take notes of what comes to you.
Walk: taking a walk is always helpful. It gives you a boost of energy and thus allows your thoughts to flow freely. Always have something with you to record ideas you get on your walk.
Free write: when you want to find a solution to a problem, note it down. Don’t think about sense or organisation yet. Simply write down whatever comes to your mind. Focus on collecting your thoughts, and worry about organisation and analysis later.
Get inspired: it can be beneficial to look at other sources. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. A quick Google search can trigger your creativity. Find inspiration in your surrounding, on the internet, ask your peers and go from there.
Tips for Effective Brainstorming
Brainstorming is still one of the most common tools to find ideas and solutions to problems. Here are some things to keep in mind for a successful brainstorming session, whether in a group or alone:
- Allow time for preparation
- Have a clear goal of what you want
- Accept every idea
- Don’t criticise others nor yourself
- Remember, the quantity of ideas is more important than the quality
- Build on previous statements
- Set a fixed amount of time for each step
- Follow up
With the use of brainstorming, you will no longer be stuck on a problem for days. You will increase your productivity and will be more efficient in your work, especially if you combine a good brainstorming session with proper time management tools. So, make it a habit to brainstorm with your team when working on a project and unlock innovative ideas.