Brainstorming for your business is a valuable exercise whenever you need innovative ideas or solutions. For everything from coming up with new product ideas to finding ways to save money, it can help.
To be effective, brainstorming needs to be structured. If it’s too much of a “free-for-all”, focus is lost and you may waste time debating unrelated issues. Good ideas could also be overlooked.
A well-planned brainstorming session (online or in person) should yield practical, actionable results.
This article at a glance:
- what is brainstorming?
- why brainstorming is useful for businesses
- ways to get the best results
- creative brainstorming techniques
What is brainstorming?
Brainstorming is a method of generating solutions by having a group or team of people contribute ideas.
Brainstorming pools participants’ different ways of thinking to come up with ideas and solutions that the individual members would probably not arrive at by themselves.
Why is brainstorming useful for businesses?
One of the biggest reasons that businesses fail to improve or grow? People simply never find the time to address challenges in a focused, dedicated way.
Instead, all the time goes to handling routine operations and problems.
Brainstorming is useful because it involves focusing intensely on a specific issue.
In a team setting, it lets you get different perspectives and approach challenges from multiple angles.
It also encourages “out the box” thinking. Spontaneous sharing of ideas inspires new and more refined ideas. This can lead to better creative solutions.
How to get the best results from brainstorming
Despite what many might think, brainstorming isn’t just throwing ideas around and hoping one will stick.
Brainstorming sessions need a clear goal and a methodical approach for the best outcomes. Without a strategy to focus on, brainstorming sessions risk wasting time.
Ask yourself these questions when preparing for a brainstorming session:
- What is your primary goal?
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- What outcome are you looking for?
- Who is participating and what skills or knowledge do they bring?
- How long will the session be?
- Where will the session be held?
- What tools do you want to use?
- What brainstorming technique do you want to use?
Creative brainstorming techniques
These tried and tested approaches to brainstorming are designed to get the best results through structured techniques that still encourages creative and lateral thinking.
Be prepared to use more than one if you are unfamiliar with them going into your brainstorming session. How well the techniques work often depends on the group you’re working with.
Remember, these techniques work for in-person and online brainstorming sessions so you can utilise them for remote teams as well.
1 | SWOT analysis
SWOT analysis is well-known and well used for good reason. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Strengths and weaknesses are internal while threats and opportunities are external.
Identifying these factors as they relate to a problem or issue allows you to establish a basic but clear picture of the influences you can control and those you can’t.
2 | 5 Whys
The 5 Whys is exactly what it sounds like. Ask the question “why?” five times to get to the root of a problem.
This sounds simple but can be surprisingly effective.
Start with a clear problem statement. Then drill down to uncover the root cause. This might take more or fewer than five questions. Ensure that each answer is supported by fact.
Here’s a simple example.
Problem statement: Customers are rejecting products because they don’t meet their specifications.
Questions (with each new question based on answers to the preceding one):
- Why are customers receiving products that don’t meet their specifications?
- Why did the development team use specs different to those agreed by sales?
- Why was there miscommunication of the specs between sales and development?
- Why were the specs communicated only via the phone?
In this example, just four questions could point to a clear, necessary process improvement.
3 | Round robin
Round robin brainstorming is an approach that works well with teams.
It’s especially useful for drawing ideas from members who otherwise tend to keep quiet but likely have useful insights. (It’s not uncommon for one or two extroverted individuals to dominate most meetings).
Ask each member of the team to contribute one idea. If someone’s idea was already taken by someone else, they are given time to come up with another.
Second ideas, elaborations or criticisms have to wait until everyone has contributed one unique idea.
4 | Brainwriting
This technique gives all the participants a few minutes to write down three ideas related to the goal of the session.
Everyone then passes their ideas to the person to their left who can build on those ideas.
This is repeated until everyone’s ideas have gone all the way around the table. This is a great non-verbal technique that includes everyone.
5 | Starbursting
Starbursting starts with drawing a six-pointed star with the main objective or issue of discussion at the centre. Each point of the star represents a question – how, who, what, where, when and why.
By answering these questions, an organic flow of ideas is encouraged. Starbursting work particularly well for designing or launching new products.
6 | Mind mapping
Mind mapping is a visual brainstorming technique that uses a strong initial idea as a starting point to trigger other ideas or to build on the initial idea.
This is visualised as bubbles connected to each other with the key idea at the centre.
If a completely fresh and unconnected idea is introduced, it should have its own mind map.
7 | Rapid ideation
Rapid ideation uses time pressure to get team members to think of as many ideas as they can in a set amount of time.
This technique forces lateral thinking even if not all of the ideas are useable. Sometimes even outlandish ideas can trigger other more practical solutions.
Critique, input and discussion happens only once the allotted time for rapid ideation has lapsed.
8 | Stepladder technique
With the stepladder technique, everyone leaves the room except for two people.
They brainstorm ideas together and then one of the others returns and adds their ideas and discusses the ones already introduced.
Then one by one, all the team members return and repeat the process. The members still outside the room can either brainstorm together or individually before returning.
Fostering creativity at The Workspace
At The Workspace, we offer affordable, fully serviced offices and coworking, with on-site access to everything needed to run a business – from fibre internet and printing services to secure parking.
Brainstorming for your business is easy in our meeting rooms and boardrooms. Small teams can also make use of the comfortable, informal spaces – from lounges to outdoor relaxation zones – included at our branches.