7 rules for mind-blowing brainstorming

Work Wisdom

7 rules for mind-blowing brainstorming

Coming up with new ideas is fun. Coming up with new ideas with co-workers is, eh, hit or miss.

There are plenty of ways teams can derail the creative process. A previous story on shares a few examples.

But how can you positively come up with creative ideas? How should you brainstorm?

Famed design consultancy IDEO has helped hundreds of clients — from international nonprofits and governments to Fortune 100s and venture capital-backed startups — discover the next big thing. They’re brainstorming experts.

To guide their process, they came up with the 7 rules of brainstorming that foster a productive environment for ideation:

1. Defer judgment. Criticism of ideas, even in their seed form, lets the air out of the creative process. Have you felt the chilling effect of someone shooting down your thoughts in a brainstorm? It can be disconcerting, and it can stifle creative output for the rest of the session. A psychologically safe space to dream and discover is fertile ground for daring creativity.

2. Encourage wild ideas. There are no bad ideas in a brainstorm, right? IDEO would most likely agree. The consultancy spurs wild ideas to stretch the bounds of thinking. Crazy, out-there thoughts are the foundation for breakthrough innovation.

3. Build on the ideas of others. Even if one particular idea doesn’t have “legs,” there might be a kernel of something better to come. Leapfrog from idea to idea —remember the first rule to defer judgment — and you’ll be amazed at what you can build from a just-OK idea.

4. Stay focused on the topic. By its nature, brainstorming encourages out-of-the box thinking. Ideas can go far afield and be unrelated to the task at hand if you’re not careful. Keep your end goal in mind. And for group work, consider asking someone to keep people on track.

5. One conversation at a time. Brainstorms work best when everyone contributes. However, the loudest voices can often muffle the quieter ones, so keep side talking to a minimum. Introverts (many creative types fall in this bucket) have a rich inner world of thoughts — fostering an orderly environment can give them a greater opportunity to share.

6. Be visual. You use different parts of your brain when you draw and sketch. Instead of just writing the idea down, jot out a diagram or a sketch. Visual ideation will challenge the more logically inclined to think differently. And different thinking facilitates unique, worthwhile ideas.

7. Go for quantity. Scientist and author Linus Pauling once said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” Pitching a multitude of ideas increases the odds that a few are worthwhile to pursue after. Following rule number two makes this rule possible.

Now, you’re ready to begin fruitful brainstorming sessions with your team. But remember: Productive creativity takes repetition. As Tim Brown said in his book, Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, “Brainstorming, ironically, is a structured way of breaking out of structure. It takes practice.”

Follow these rules and practice often. Soon, you’ll be amazed by the level of ideas that come from your team’s creative sessions.