Brainstorming is about providing structure to nebulous thoughts. Through group contribution and discussion, employees of a small business can create a meaty strategy for business growth from the simplest of ideas.
Where do you begin?
Which brainstorming techniques work best will depend on the members of your team. Where does your team feel most comfortable—a meeting room, outdoors, the neighborhood coffee shop?
Maybe humor breaks the ice. If so, begin the session with your most off-the-wall, fun ideas. Does the boss intimidate your team? In that case, he can organize a brainstorming meeting, but he should leave the room once the session starts.
How do you keep it going?
Although brainstorming tends to be a group process, its effectiveness depends greatly on a good facilitator.
The leader of a brainstorming session should arrive prepared with a set of guidelines, a specific topic area for discussion, and a time frame.
First, the facilitator should clearly outline rules for contributing to the brainstorming session.
Second, the discussion should remain on the topic at hand. A strong facilitator can steer a conversation toward pertinent ideas and away from irrelevant ones.
Third, the time frame should be adhered to. If meetings usually last one hour, take 45 minutes for brainstorming then use the final 15 minutes to wrap up the conversation with a summary.
Is group brainstorming the best way to innovate?
It has been shown that brainstorming as a technique for developing new ideas is not suited for everyone or every business. A 2006 study by Aaron Bolin and George Neuman, published in the Journal of Business and Psychology,2 found that some people are predisposed to view group processes negatively.
So, if you run a software startup and you employ a lot of introverted computer technicians, it’s possible that the best ideas might not emerge from group collaboration.
Instead, try incentive-based innovation. Each month, circulate the details of an administrative or technical problem your business is facing. Ask your employees to email you ideas to solve the problem. This way, your employees can brainstorm ideas and resolutions for boosting company growth in the comfort of their own offices or homes. Then, reward the best idea with an extra day off or bonus, for example, to encourage participation.
Finally, consider this advice from the late Stanford University professor Bill Lazier:
“Don’t try to come up with the proper answers; target coming up with good questions.”3
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