Group Think

Whether you and your meeting team need some new ideas or your attendees need to innovate, brainstorming is a potent technique for tapping the wisdom of a group. Ideas build on one another toward creative solutions in ways that normal conversations rarely achieve. While brainstorming isn't complicated, there are best practices to keep the ideas flowing.

In-Person, or Not

Ideally, hold your brainstorming session in a distraction-free (leave the BlackBerry behind), informal environment, but it can work on the phone or online. A broad range of online idea generating applications — such as GroupSystems, Imaginatik, and IntelliMeet to name a few — can facilitate the brainstorming process.

Varied Thinking

Invite a range of participants. Brainstorming works best with a varied group. If you can enlist participants from departments across the organization, you might find that outsiders bring fresh perspectives.

What Are We Thinking About?

Communicate your goal, and be specific. If you want to brainstorm ways to make your conference more attractive to a younger audience, don't let the group spin its wheels over a more general topic such as “ideas to improve the conference.”

Quantity Over Quality

The brainstorming process looks like this: Participants offer ideas in a free-flowing manner without commentary on the quality of the thoughts. Someone is appointed to write down all the ideas. Wacky and wild ideas are encouraged. Determine a goal in terms of the number of ideas you want to come up with and the amount of time you have for the session. Generating 100 ideas in 20 minutes is not uncommon. To get things started, you might go around the room and ask everyone for an idea.

No Wrong Answers

In brainstorming, all ideas are valid, and no one should make judgments while ideas are being generated. Comments such as “We've tried that one before” or “The CEO wouldn't like it” have a subtle way of shutting participants down. While encouragement is fine, too much praise for an idea can also be a negative. When participants think the solution has been found, they often stop trying.

The Evaluation Stage

Once all the ideas are on the table, participants — or a core group — can use the process of elimination to get down to the best, most workable ideas. If the whole group isn't involved in reviewing the ideas, make sure that everyone gets feedback about what came out of the process and thank them for participating.

BRAINSTORMING (noun) 1. a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas.

Sources: 3M Meeting Network, www.3m.com/meetingnetwork; HCi Professional Services, www.hci.com.au; JPB Creative Co., www.jpb.com; Merriam-Webster Online, www.m-w.online

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