I love a good brainstorming session. But a handful of years ago I learned I’d been doing it all wrong. My approach had been to get a small group together, preferably with a big white board, and then take turns shouting out as many ideas as we could think of. After writing down lots of “blue sky” ideas, our reservoir of ideas would dry up. Then we’d pat ourselves on the back and capture all the ideas we generated.
What I know now is that we stopped at exactly the wrong time. That first round of brainstorming produces the weakest ideas. While fun, very few of the ideas in this stage are different than what you could have gotten by simply asking each person to email in their best ideas.
But if we press on we have the chance to generate truly creative, potentially breakthrough ideas. Only after collecting all the surface ideas can we see deeper into the pool of creativity. Tweet This
Here’s what it looks like practically when I lead brainstorming these days. First, we unload as many ideas as we can—just like before. It’s still fun. On average, this phase takes 45 min. (The more people you involve, the longer this phase takes.) Then, we use some brainstorming exercises to push us to combine some of the surface ideas or push an idea even further or reverse an idea. On average this phase takes 45 more minutes.[You can google search to find examples of these exercises. Or feel free to email me and I can send you some of my favorites.]
This does take more time and more discipline. But all the best ideas are beneath the surface. As fun as the first phase is, the second phase is at least twice as satisfying to me. You can do this improve your work (crafting 2016 project plans) or even with your kids (making a science fair project).
Next time you need a good idea, don’t quit right on the edge of creativity. Your best idea yet could be just a little further out, if you’ll only reach for it.