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How To Lead Successful Brainstorming Sessions

A brainstorming session is a tool that needs collaboration and guidance to be used to the fullest. It's the most used technique for thinking outside the box. But knowing how to use the right brainstorming flavor will either close shut the box or make it fly sky high. Now that you know what sugar, spice, and everything nice of creating a successful brainstorming session is, it's time to figure out which kind of flavor you want to use.
Daniel Zacharias

Jake Sopiars

November 4, 2022
brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming — a solution-generating method without which many things we enjoy couldn’t come to life. The technique is so effective that most companies have been using it for years with incredible success. That’s precisely why you should try it! It’s a tried-and-true method to devise your next big thing. But how do you create successful brainstorming sessions that’ll launch your new software, product, or unicorn startup to new heights?

If you swing at it and spur out some random ideas and perspectives, chances are you’ll FAIL! Big time! 

Here’s why: To create a successful brainstorming session, you first need to know what type of brainstorming you want to have, what the rules are, and who’s the course keeper or the guardian. Many project managers call a meeting and request their subordinates to spill out ideas while being constrained. Half of the meeting goes by, and the session is dead, like a cat out of all its lives. In the end, everyone is silent and drained. 

Knowing the secrets I’ll uncover, will ensure that you and your team never experience this scenario.

Are you ready to find out what these secrets are? 

Secret tips that’ll make or break your brainstorming session

“He who fails to plan is planning to fail!” 

You should print out that quote and glue it onto your wall as a reminder, before you organize a brainstorming session. Without thorough planning, it all falls apart. And planning a successful brainstorming session from scratch isn’t an easy process. 

Here are the tips that’ll make you become a superstar at it:

  1. What’s your session going to cover? Is it developing a new product, modifying a software feature, improving your service to the customers, or something else? If you can define the goal as much as possible, you can firmly keep your eyes on the prize.
  1. Who’s on your superstar team? Choosing the right people matters, but hearing an outsider’s perspective definitely won’t hurt.
  1. Don’t disturb someone’s work only to drag them into a brainstorming session. Don’t be “that” type of team leader or project manager. Prepare them for the session at least a week prior by sending an official invite and agenda.
  1. Choose what kind of brainstorming session you want to do. There are different flavors, each yielding different numbers, and quality of ideas. Picking a brainstorming flavor that doesn’t quite fit your team will feel odd. It would be like a chicken wearing leggings. Always align the flavor with your team. 
  1. Space, space, space. A comfy, chill environment without any constraints or fear of talking is a breeding ground for brainstorming. Be creative and forget about dull office spaces, but don’t go too loose and have a session in an amusement park. Choose some place where everyone feels low-key, and the small talk will come as second nature.
  1. Every brainstorming session needs a guardian. Even a party train needs a professional driver to avoid getting derailed. Cut anything that’s outside the scope politely, but ruthlessly. You don’t want your team to spill out ideas for the new Pringles flavor instead of a software feature.
  1. Write everything until the ink in your ball pen dries out or until your keyboard gets hot from all the typing. A floating idea becomes a lost idea in a matter of seconds. 
  1. Don’t rush things. Brainstorming is a marathon, not a sprint. Ideas flow easily when you have time at your disposal. 
  1. After everyone is satisfied with their work, end it by praising your team. Making your team feel respected for their efforts and acknowledging their work goes a long way and strengthens the bond.

Brainstorming sessions – types you don’t know about

Pulled from Wikipedia: A brainstorming session is a tool that needs collaboration and guidance to be used to the fullest. It’s the most used technique for thinking outside the box. But knowing how to use the right brainstorming flavor will either close shut the box or make it fly sky high.

Now that you know what sugar, spice, and everything nice of creating a successful brainstorming session is, it’s time to figure out which kind of flavor you want to use. 

There are different kinds, each of which has pros and cons. They are:

  • Brainwriting  
  • Reverse brainstorming 
  • Round-robin brainstorming
  • Role-storming
  • Rapid ideation
  • Starbursting
  • S.C.A.M.P.E.R

Brainwriting

Brainwriting is about sending the topic beforehand to invited members. With extra time, writing down their idea on a piece of paper turns into an excellent starting boost for your brainstorming session. Also, called the 6-3-5 method, it allows for a more personal and original idea generation. 

It starts with six people writing down three ideas and passing the paper to the next team member, five times around. 

Take brainwriting so lightly, though. 108 ideas generated by this method is a serious amount that needs to be filtered out, and that’s quite a lot of work and responsibility for a session organizer. 

Reverse brainstorming sessions

Creating problems instead of solutions is what reverse brainstorming is all about. 

Here’s how it works: Spotting problems is embedded in humanity. Reverse brainstorming simply takes advantage of that and kicks your problem-detecting brain into sixth gear. Once you’ve come up with dozens of ways your project could fail, it’s time to switch to finding solutions to all those problems.

But be careful when doing reverse brainstorming as it puts your team through a ringer, especially if they are novice brainstormers.

Round-robin brainstorming sessions

Round-robin brainstorming has one goal in mind and each of its sessions ends up having it: An assertive member has to hijack the sail and lead the idea creation from their perspective. It’s a shortcoming every session falls to. 

To cancel out the influence of others on the leader, round-robin forbids open discussion. Instead, it uses the pieces of the 6-3-5 method without the constraint of the number of people and times. Every idea is written down in silence and passed down the road as an inspiration for the new one. 

With round-robin brainstorming, you’re leveling the plane and bringing equality to idea creation.

Role-storming 

Role-storming was invented back in the late 80s by the business legend Rick Griggs, with a simple premise – act like you’re another person. 

Sounds like a cakewalk, right? 

Here’s where the magic lies: By pretending you’re Mike from the project management or Sherill, the CEO, you’re stepping into their shoes and coming up with a whole new spectrum of ideas from a perspective different from yours. 

But does role-storming really work? Is it that effective when it comes to new ideas? 

YES! 

The thing is, you don’t have to act like someone from the company. You can be whoever you want to be: a villain, a famous superhero, a historical figure, or a president. There are only three rules to acting in role-storming:

  • Always describe your character, who they are, their pros and cons, qualities, etc.
  • Always start with “I” when spilling out ideas. That’ll make you go further into the role.
  • Forget about the current circumstances. Role-storming goes beyond the tight budget, low human resources, and other constraints.

Rapid ideation 

Using rapid ideation is like playing whack-a-mole with ideas. You have a set timeframe, for example, 15 mins, and you need to come up with as many ideas as possible. 

The trick with rapid ideation is to create a sense of urgency. Without it, your team won’t feel like having a gentling gun with infinite ammo of ideas. And don’t forget to bring a lot of paper or sticky notes as all those ideas need to be written somewhere.

By using urgency, you’re putting a stop to one of the most significant shortcomings of brainstorming — talking yourself out of an idea. With time running out, you’re forced to write it down no matter how ridiculous it would be.

Starbursting 

Starbursting is like pulling out the reverse card. Instead of providing ideas and answers, here you’re dealing with questions. 

Here’s how it works: Starbursting is one of those brainstorming methods that dig deep, all the way to the center of an idea. It’s best used when you’re building new software or coming up with a service and must filter out the target audience, cost, and marketing. Starbursting is systematic, flowing in one way, like a waterfall, and enormously comprehensive. 

To fully use the power of starbursting, start your brainstorming session with these questions, one after another:

  1. Who?
  2. What?
  3. Why?
  4. How?
  5. Where?
  6. When?

But don’t try to answer them right away. Leave that for the last step. Otherwise, you’ll kill your session! Instead, come up with as many questions as possible for each point. After you’ve gathered dozens of questions with your team, go into a laser-detailed answering spree.

S.C.A.M.P.E.R.

The S.C.A.M.P.E.R. brainstorming technique combined with brainwriting is how powerful ideas are born. This brainstorming flavor is best used when you already have a product or a service that needs improvement or reaching a new level. If you’re stuck with brainwriting, using S.C.A.M.P.E.R. will push those ideas to another level and create a whole new cluster of resourcefulness. 

As you may have noticed, S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is an acronym that stands for the following:

S – What can we substitute? Which part can be used instead of another?

C – What would happen if we combined some different parts of other ideas?

A – What ideas could we adapt? How can we adapt to a new market trend with this idea?

M – What if we modify a set of ideas to serve a specific target group? What would happen then?

P – Could we use certain product features and put them to another use?

E – What elements do we need to eliminate and go faster with the product launch? 

R – What happens if B fits into A and not the other way around? How will the reverse card play out?

Doing successful brainstorming sessions – skill unlocked!

Planning, inviting the right team, choosing the brainstorming flavor, and preventing the session from going off-topic are the cornerstones of a successful session. But what sets an indestructible foundation for it is the praise of your team’s efforts and ideas. 

Choosing the right brainstorming flavor makes or breaks the session. That’s the big secret to successfully bringing out new ideas with your team. Don’t go with a type of flavor that sounds catchy, or that you can brag about it on LinkedIn. Instead, choose the flavor according to your team’s quality and experience in brainstorming, and you’ll see how quickly those ideas start to pop up.

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