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September 16, 2019 (Updated March 7th, 2023)

Smart ways to brainstorm better

by Louise Cunnah posted in Lifestyle.

Ayoa | Smart ways to brainstorm better
Brainstorming is something we’re all familiar with, but chances are, you’re not doing it enough. Or if you are, then you’re probably not doing it in the most effective way. With an ever-growing to-do list, it can be hard to step away from your desk and do some distraction-free creative thinking. However, brainstorming is an invaluable technique and one that managers should be advocating for every person in their team to use.

Invented by Alex Osbourn in the 1950s, brainstorming was designed to be a way for groups of people to develop their creative ideas and find solutions to problems. Since then, it has become an integral part of work culture due to the great benefits brainstorming can bring to all kinds of businesses, from the most formal to the more fun-spirited.

It encourages you to collaborate with others, think critically and freely without judgement, and make a note of each and every idea. The reasoning behind brainstorming is that even if an idea isn’t the right one, it could lead you to have that ‘eureka!’ moment.

Although it’s a creative process, there are right and wrong ways to do brainstorming. To get the most out of your creative thinking time, you need to be smart by utilising different techniques and tools…

Go it alone (at first)

Two heads might be better than one, but in the case of brainstorming, it can be useful for your team to have solo creative thinking sessions before doing so as a group. Brainstorming might be a collaborative process, but research from Diehl and Stroebe in 1987 found that when given a time limit, individuals generated more ideas than groups. On average, individuals also generated more high-quality ideas.

There are a number of simple reasons why this was thought to be the case. Firstly, some people may be embarrassed to share their ideas in front of a large group, no matter how great they actually are. Secondly, with a number of people speaking at the same time, others may not be able to find a good time to inject their thoughts into the conversation.

This doesn’t mean you should ditch the group brainstorming sessions – quite the opposite. When arranging the next one, give everyone in your team a brief and ask them to go off for their own solo brainstorming sessions. Then set a time for them to meet as a group and share their ideas. This allows people to generate their own creative thoughts without feeling swayed by other team members. People can then use others’ ideas as a starting off point, which could lead to someone else finding the perfect solution.

Think quantity, not quality

This might sound strange, but hear us out. The more ideas you have, the more likely you are to land on a high-quality gem of inspiration. There is no such thing as a bad idea, and even if you don’t use everything you come up with for this particular project, it may come in handy for a future one. So, set your team a target of ideas they should contribute in a brainstorming session, such as 10 per person; if you have 5 people in a meeting, this will give you 50 ideas to consider, one which is likely to be a quality starting point.

Putting a time limit on creative thinking can also help your team generate more ideas. According to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” which, in simpler terms, means that if you have more time to do a task, you’ll spend more time completing it – even if you don’t need to. If you have only 15 minutes to think of 5 ways to market a product, you will be more focused in your thinking during this time.

Use the right tools

When it comes to brainstorming, tools can mean anything from the location of your session to the things you use to record your thoughts. Think about when you have your best ideas; it’s often when your mind wanders as you’re sitting on the train home from work, or when you’re relaxing in the bath. With this in mind, hold creative thinking sessions in more laid-back environments such as coffee shops or your work’s breakout area, and provide props such as food and drinks to relax your team members and inspire them to think creatively.

No matter where you’re doing your brainstorming, or whether you’re alone or in a team, it’s vital that you keep track of your ideas. Adding them directly into a Mind Map as they are discussed during the session is a great way to easily organize and understand your ideas – and ensures no suggestion gets lost or forgotten. Using Mind Mapping software to do this will allow for seamless collaboration as you can invite other members of your team to view your Mind Map and add their own suggestions!

Team of people brainstorming in meeting

Try alternative techniques

Approaching a problem in a different way can be just the ticket when it comes to actually solving it. Though many of us will approach brainstorming by thinking about the problem at hand, there are other effective techniques you can try. One such example is Reverse Brainstorming, which requires you to turn the problem on its head. Instead of brainstorming how it can be solved, think about how it could be caused in the first place, then use this to generate solutions that can be applied to your original problem.

Another technique you can try is Round-Robin brainstorming. Give every member of your team a card to write an idea down on, and give them a subject or a specific problem to solve. Once they have done this, they should pass their card to the person sitting next to them, and every person that receives a card should use their neighbour’s existing idea to think of a fresh one to add to it. Keep doing this until you have plenty to take away with you.

Take a breather!

Finally, know the importance of taking a break – or as it’s also known, having an ‘incubation’ period. Stepping away from a task and doing something else doesn’t mean you stop thinking about the problem you’re trying to solve – instead, it can help you to unconsciously develop the ideas you came up with during a brainstorming session so you can generate different (and better) concepts.

How was this discovered? A 2009 study by researchers at the University of Sydney gave three groups the same amount of time to think of as many uses for paper as possible. They found that the group that was given a break from the task to complete an unrelated exercise generated the most ideas, followed by the group that took a break to complete another creative thinking task. The group that didn’t have incubation time generated the least ideas.

Elevate your brainstorming by making it digital. With its visual interface, Ayoa inspires you to generate your best ideas, which you can use to create stimulating Mind Maps or store in an idea bank for later – and if you’re stuck for ideas, you can encourage collaboration by sharing these with your team. Ready to get creative? Discover more about Ayoa or sign up for free.

Louise Cunnah

Louise Cunnah has always had a passion for the written word, leading to her studying English, Media and Journalism at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Since graduating in 2014, she has held a number of different roles in marketing, both agency-side and in-house for brands like Ayoa. She loves taking on a challenge and has written content on a diverse range of subjects over the years, including horticulture, business management, telecommunications, health and safety, productivity, neurodiversity, and personal finance (to name but a few!).

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