18 Steps to Better Brainstorming

It's time to get creative. The team is ready to roll. Foster the right environment with these 18 guidelines.

There is a reason some organizations are more creative than others—it’s because they are intentionalin creating the right environment for creativity to flourish. That’s what we strive for here at Catalyst—it’s part of our DNA. And a big part of our creative process is our scheduled brainstorming meetings. In order to create the right kind of environment, we’ve established a code of behavior for those meetings. Try these 18 guidelines at your next creative summit.

1. Set the expectations for the meeting up front. Creative environments and moments must be given clear “river banks” to flow in.

2. All ideas are welcome and needed. There is no bad answer.

3. Give average ideas a chance. Many times great ideas are the average ideas that were built on and built on and built on.

4. Debbie Downer and Mr. No aren’t invited. In a brainstorming meeting, the answer is always “yes, and,” never “no, but.”

5. No one person can dominate the conversation or the meeting. Respect everyone’s participation and thoughts. A skilled facilitator is a must.

6. Allow for movement—standing up, walking, sitting down, whatever works for people—especially those with shorter attention spans.

7. Provide creative “extras,” such as toys, sports items, visual effects and other “enhancers.”

8. Take breaks—mental breaks every 30-40 minutes, physical breaks every 90 minutes—at least.

9. Take detailed notes. To capture everything that is said and created, you have to have a dedicated note taker. Everyone thinks they can remember the best ideas, but within a couple of hours you’ll have forgotten. Comprehensive note-taking is crucial when it comes time to recall ideas and put them into action.

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10. Allow for rabbit trails, but have a facilitator who keeps things moving.

11. Keep the fun factor high. If the fun meter drops below 50 percent, stop and do something to lighten the mood.

12. Unless they can think outside the box, keep the bean counters out. You’re brainstorming; it’s not the time for operational details or probing cost considerations.

13. Think big and dream as if there are no limitations whatsoever. Try to develop ideas outside the norm and outside your industry or niche.

14. Make sure you do your homework ahead of time. Research ideas. Get on YouTube for a couple of hours to see what others are doing. Find ideas and insights that will fuel conversations and idea development.

15. Set the right tone with appropriate music, energetic lighting, lots of snacks and plenty of caffeine. A high-energy environment makes being creative way easier.

16. Invite friends from outside your team. Most creative people love being invited to creative meetings with other teams, because they know it will be invigorating and fun.

17. If possible, make sure your facilitator is not a participant. It keeps them neutral and away from favoring certain ideas and thus influencing the nature of what ideas seem to be the most popular.

18. The meeting is only the beginning. The best ideas are typically decided on and more fully formed beyond the brainstorming. So after the meeting, take the next step. As you act on the best ideas, your team will view their brainstorm as the catalyst for ongoing conversation and creative implementation. The next meeting will likely be even more creative.

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