This is the first part of a short series that we’re calling Thoughtwrestling Moves. We’re going to describe a series of tools that you can use to help wrestle your thoughts to the ground, solve problems, and bring your great ideas to life.
This is an introduction to each of these tools. There are hundreds if not thousands of blog posts, articles, or other publications which describe these topics in much more detail. We plan to do deeper dives into these tools on Thoughtwrestling in future articles but for now we’re just going to help you get acquainted with them.
Today’s article is about brainstorming.
What is brainstorming?
Most of us have heard the word brainstorming before and some of us have been in brainstorming sessions before. Brainstorming is a process to generate the best possible ideas in a given situation. When we imagine brainstorming, some of us imagine wild, freewheeling meetings where people line the walls with paper and fill them with ideas. Teams of frantic ad execs crowd into boardrooms and fire off ideas with the speed and intensity of machine gun fire until the perfect idea emerges.
Some brainstorming sessions do work this way. It’s important to remember that they don’t all have to work this way. Moreover, anyone, not just marketing people, can get value from participating in a brainstorming session.
How do you brainstorm?
Brainstorming is a simple process but it’s not always easy. You decide upon a topic for the brainstorming session, generate lots of ideas and then you pick the best ones to work on.
Brainstorming is typically done in groups (although creativity and innovation expert Gregg Fraley has written an excellent article explaining how you can brainstorm by yourself). A group has a problem to solve, a question to answer, or a goal that they need to achieve so they come together to collectively find the best ideas.
Brainstorming is one of the situations in life where quantity may be better than quality. Quantity can lead to the best quality because the best ideas often don’t emerge until we pass the point where we’ve generated all of the easy, top of mind solutions.
When and why do brainstorming sessions achieve the best results?
The best results don’t just happen when people spout off at random. Processes, rules, and attitude are key requirements for running brainstorming sessions. There are many ways to conduct successful brainstorming sessions.
At the same time, brainstorming sessions can easily fail. There are at least four key problems which can limit the success of a brainstorming session:
- Failing to set rules and follow them.
- Letting people sabotage or manipulate the session agenda for their own selfish ends instead of sticking with the group goal.
- Failing to push beyond the easy to the third third (as described by Tim Hurson in his book Think Better).
- Failing to classify the ideas generated through brainstorming to find the best ones and to set the stage for action plans to implement the best ideas (Paul Williams has written an excellent article describing how to take your brainstorming sessions from good to wicked good).
If you can avoid these four problems then your session stands a much better chance of being successful.
EDIT: for an even more comprehensive list of why brainstorming sessions don’t always work, 23 Reasons Why Nothing Happens After a Brainstorming Session is a valuable resource.
Over to you: have you been in brainstorming sessions before? Have they been effective? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks!
Image by juhansonin
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