“Oh! That’s how to brainstorm a list!” exclaimed a manager at a recent meeting I was facilitating. “All the other meetings I’ve been in, we ‘brainstorm,’ and wander all over the place and never seem to land the plane!”
There’s a reason why brainstorming has gotten such a bad reputation – and it all boils down to the fact that most people don’t know how to brainstorm effectively.
How to Brainstorm a List Effectively
Developed in the late 1930s by Alex F. Osborn to stimulate his advertising executives’ creativity, brainstorming has a few ground rules that need to be stated up front:
- All ideas are valid
- To pass is okay; we’ll continue until all pass;
- The recorder will quickly capture ideas on an easel chart/projection so all can see
- Adding other ideas or “hitchhiking” is encouraged
- No praise, no comments, no criticism
That last ground rule is extremely important as you lose steam and creativity stalls when people evaluate the ideas. Let it roll until all ideas are exhausted (and even then, you may just want to take a break to harness the power of the third-third). It is only AFTER you have finished brainstorming that you start to evaluate the ideas!
There are three different methods typically used to brainstorm a list in both the in-person and virtual worlds:
- Freewheel. Anyone on the team can call out an idea, with one person capturing the ideas on an easel chart, projecting onto a screen, or sharing your screen/whiteboard.
- Round-Robin. The team leader goes around the table/room for each person to either contribute a new idea, add to, or “hitchhike” on a previous idea. Each person has the option to pass.
- Slip. Each member writes down each of his or her ideas on a separate slip of paper, stickie notes, index cards, chatbox, or a crowdsourcing platform.
- The ideas are then collected and organized.
If you are in the mood to experiment, you can use some idea starters to kick start the creativity!
The final step to brainstorming a list is to clarify and combine similar ideas. Go through the list and ensure everyone on the team understands each item. Eliminate duplicates and combine ideas that are very similar. If there is disagreement on the team, keep the ideas separate.
It is then, and only then, you move into sorting and evaluating those ideas!