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Planning A Brainstorm From A to Z – Part 1

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Perfect brainstorms don’t just happen. If you’re looking for creativity and innovation, you need to have a plan. You need to orchestrate your brainstorm session to make sure you meet the goal you’re trying to achieve. From selecting the right techniques for brainstorming to outlining a strategic plan, a perfect brainstorm takes a a lot of planning and preparation. To encourage creativity and innovation, we’ve put together a simple checklist that will help you plan and execute a brainstorming session.
Atmosphere – Where are you going to hold your brainstorm? A good environment can help encourage creative problem solving and a bad environment can undermine even the best techniques for brainstorming. Keep the temperature comfortable and the lighting adequate for whatever you have planned.

Beverages – Brainstorm participants will often arrive at a brainstorm with their beverage of choice. However, a good host will always have refills readily available. At a minimum, you should at least offer water, but the ideal brainstorm session would also have coffee and soda available. A word of caution, energy drinks and other highly-caffeinated drinks can negatively effect creative problem solving.

Comfy Chairs – Rigid, uncomfortable chairs make you feel like you’re sitting outside the principal’s office or in church. To spur creativity and innovation, comfortable chairs are a must. They don’t need to be loungers, just something people will relax in. Some techniques for brainstorming call for people to move around, so chairs with wheels are an obvious plus.

Dedication – You’re probably very important, and there’s a possibility that the entire office will shut down if you’re gone for a couple of hours. But creativity and innovation can’t happen when you’re focusing on something else, so put your phone away. A good brainstorm facilitator will plan adequate breaks to allow you to check in to the office. If you haven’t had a break in a while, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for one.

Ego – There’s no room in a brainstorm for an ego. Creative problem solving requires teamwork, and teamwork requires the entire group to feel empowered and engaged. If a participant can’t check their ego at the door, the group won’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas and the opportunity for creativity and innovation will be lost.

Facilitation – A facilitator isn’t a leader. Don’t dominate the group and steer the discussion. Your job is to let the creativity and innovation flow organically. As a facilitator, your job is to make the creative problem solving process occur smoothly and allow the participants to guide the discussion.

Ground Rules – Any group activity needs a few rules. A brainstorming session is no different. As a facilitator it is your job to review the ground rules with your group before the brainstorm starts and to enforce those rules throughout. For a complete set of ground rules, read The Brainstorm Bill of Rights for a good starting point.

Hierarchy – Everyone in a brainstorm is capable of creativity and innovation, so everyone in a creative problem solving session should be equal. Reinforce this fact by avoiding hierarchy at all costs. That means round seating areas with no “head of the table.” Another thing you could do is organize small break-out sessions that cut across traditional office boundaries to establish teams.

Interactivity – Don’t just let participants sit there, get them engaged. Many techniques for brainstorming require participants to move around the room and gather together in smaller groups. By shifting people around and encouraging them to interact with the group, you encourage quiet or shy members of the
group to engage in the creative problem solving process.

Jailbreak – Stop staring at the same four walls. If your office isn’t inspirational, go off-site. A new environment might spur creativity and innovation by providing new stimuli. It also helps participants mentally distance themselves from ordinary perceptions and pre-defined ways of thinking. If you host an off-site brainstorm session be sure to plan accordingly. Bring the necessary materials and select a technique for brainstorming that is conducive to your environment.

Kickstart – There are times when a brainstorm session will lose focus or momentum. As a facilitator it is your responsibility to determine if the group is capable of recovery. If not, provide a little kickstart to get the group going on the right track again.

Leadership – As a facilitator, your job is to act as a guide to help the group find creative common ground. You are not hear to lead. You are hear to help them accomplish their goals. So stand back and let the group lead itself. But don’t be afraid to speak up if the group wanders off-track.

Manpower – More brains equals more ideas. Don’t let one person try to do all the heavy lifting, and whatever you do, don’t staff your group with nothing but “creative people.” Bring in a range of experiences and philosophies. The broader the expertise, the bigger the ideas.


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