06 Apr Brainstorming — setting limits or just letting it flow

Rules, rules, rules. It seems counterintuitive that so many rules are required to encourage a free flow of ideas. But as you’ll see from the examples below they are crucial to enable constructive brainstorming sessions. There are common themes to these rules, such as setting goals and a focus, and also methods developed by companies to suit there own unique work practices.

Better brainstorming – a framework for success. Once you have your team in the room, you need to know what tools you’ll need and where everyone will sit. You know that some individuals will shy away from participating and some will try and dominate the discussion. So it’s a good idea to start with a round table around which the participants will sit. Then, as described by The Clever PM, you can provide the supplies required for the process; a clear wall for posting sticky notes, a pad of sticky notes for each person, colored dot stickers for each person for voting, sharpies and flip-charts.

Seven secrets to good brainstorming. A great place to start looking for inspiration is at IDEO, a globally renowned product design firm whose business is to come up with innovative ideas. Their rules, as learned by Linda Tischler, are strictly enforced and include sharpening the focus on specific customer needs, allowing only one conversation at a time (and without criticisms) and agreeing on a set number of ideas to be created to force the group to think beyond the obvious, low hanging ideas.

Seven steps to better brainstorming. McKinsey believes that many brainstorming sessions are wasted by not initially defining the limits a company has to execute the resulting ideas. In a process that they call brainsteering (a verb we could probably do without), there are seven (there’s that number again) rules that will help you avoid problems such as producing groundbreaking technical solutions that your IT department wouldn’t possibly allow. They disagree that aiming for a lot of ideas will be productive and instead suggest you ask pointed questions to elicit creative responses. They also push you to limit certain questions to people who are experienced enough to answer them.

Paul McAvinchey
Paul McAvinchey

For over 15 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a 10,000+ strong worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on Slack, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to Rocketship.fm, learn at Product Lunch and get a weekly brief that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.

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