5 brainstorming tips: Advice for successful brainstorming sessions

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Tip 1: Don't criticize the suggestions of others

Possibly the most important rule for brainstorming sessions is not to criticize the suggestions of others. The purpose of brainstorming is to allow new ideas to surface – many of these will likely be impractical, but occasionally you get an idea that initially doesn’t seem possible, but after someone else has brought their suggestions to it, becomes a genuine possibility.

Individuals in the group need to feel comfortable to suggest ideas without criticism. The moment ideas are criticized for not being feasible, suddenly the number of creative ideas will likely plummet. Rather than considering new approaches to solve a problem, members of the group are much more likely to be focused on avoiding saying something dumb – eliminating the possibility of many creative ideas from getting suggested. 

Tip 2: Encourage 'out of the box' thinking

In addition to not criticizing the suggestions of others, individuals should be encouraged to make creative ‘bot of the box’ suggestions, even if they don’t seem plausible on the surface. The idea of brainstorming is not to get fully-fledged ideas suggested, but rather, for members of the group to feel comfortable making suggestions that on the surface do not seem possible, but through the help of others may lead to a novel idea being developed.

Out-of-the-box thinking can help spur others to suggest possibilities that build on creative suggestions, turning something that initially seems unrealistic into a genuine possibility.

Tip 3: Bring together a group with diverse experiences

Another key component that contributes to successful brainstorming sessions is to have a group that has lots of different experiences. If everyone has exactly the same experiences, then the likelihood of creative ideas is substantially less than if everyone in the group brings their own background.

Tip 4: Think of ways to build on the suggestions of others

Members of brainstorming sessions should also be encouraged to actively build on the suggestions of others. It is not the case of who comes up with the most ideas, or whether you get your idea is chosen, but rather as a group whether you can come up with and develop possibilities. Rather than just thinking of possibilities to suggest, refinements to suggested possibilities are equally, if not more, important. 

Tip 5: Explore beyond the first few ideas that come to mind

A final component of successful brainstorming sessions is to actively look to move beyond the first few suggestions. Quite often the early suggestions will come naturally – the low-hanging fruit that everyone in the room can likely think of. Getting to creative solutions – that likely your competitors have not thought of – requires moving beyond these initial ideas. Rather than just settling for the solutions that immediately come to mind, actively continue to look for the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th solutions – the ones that don’t come so easily, and may generate truly unique possibilities.