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Brainstorming Doesn't Need to Chaotic

Updated on August 17, 2010
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Everybody has a time in their lives when they need to get with others and try to come up with ideas and solutions. And each of those times invariably involves chaos and frustration. It seems that the brainstorming sessions becomes an arena for opinions and getting their own idea on top. The sad state of affairs is that the art of brainstorming is becoming less and less known.

What has happened to getting together as a team and working together to come up with ideas and plans? What happened to the process of getting to the final solution? It’s getting lost in personal agendas and lack of planning.

So how do we brainstorm? What is it that we are missing? Let us find the path to brainstorming success.

Getting Started

First – Know what your goal is. Is it to raise funds for a project? Is it to find a more efficient way to produce a widget? Is it how to go about building a house? All of these involve planning and there are many different ways to get there. You need to know what your end result should be before taking a step further.

Second – List out all possible stakeholders. There could be only a couple of other people who are a part of the process. There could be a hundred of them. List out all the people who are touched by the process and who could contribute toward the goal. Don’t call a meeting right now. You are just listing out possible stakeholders. You know your goal. Now you need to get a wide view of who it might include. This has to be done before narrowing it down to the direct ones involved.

Third – Categorize stakeholders. These three individuals might be the ones involved in getting the material. Put them all in one category. Gather all those that are hospitality. Gather those that are security. This will help narrow down those directly involved and prevent excess.

Fourth – Pick category representatives. You do not need to have all members of the security team at the meeting. Pick one person who can represent each of the categories you have created. They will be the people who will attend your brainstorming session. Too many people will create chaos and in the end nothing will get accomplished. The fewer people involved usually the better, but you don’t want too few because something could get missed. You can always add members to the brainstorming team as you go along. Easier to add than to remove.

If you can get through these first four steps, you will have completed a very vital part of brainstorming that most people overlook. Usually people call together everyone and begin talking all at once. There is no plan. There is no map. They just jump right in. Get this done and you have a much bigger chance of success.

Actual Brainstorming

The team is created. Now what?

First – Materials. Gather all materials you will need. This usually includes a dry erase board and supplies. Post it notes in various colors could come in handy. Make sure that there are pens and Sharpie markers. Color coded tabs might be useful, too. Anything to help segregate ideas and help plan your project.

Second – Meeting location. Ensure that the location is comfortable and able to handle all team members. Seats should be comfortable and the tables adequate for what is needed. Lighting is important. You don’t want your team to feel like prisoners. The project will not be successful with a sense of doom always about it.

Third – Time. How long do you want your meeting times to be? Will there be only one long meeting? If so, then make sure that drinks are available and snacks and meals if needed. Will need multiple meetings throughout the process? Make sure that the times are scheduled in advanced and all needs of members are taken care of. If you are so thirsty you will not be concentrating on the project before you.

Fourth – Positions. Who will be leading the meeting? Who is in charge? This needs to be made clear from the onset. Make sure that someone is taking minutes as they might need to be referenced at later meetings. Who orders the food? Who keeps the drinks on hand? Who handles presentations? Make sure all is planned out.

What you’ve done so far is preparing for the actual first and future meeting. Next will come the guts of the brainstorming session(s). The fun begins.

Rules – Make a list of rules that are posted and agreed on by all attendees. This should include

· No crosstalk

· Meeting will begin at set up time

· Respect each member

· No hateful talking

· No stupid ideas

These rules set the foundation for all meetings and when they are broken should be referred to. Without these set at the beginning of the meetings, chaos will usually reign and there will be very little order to the brainstorming sessions.

Off The Wall Ideas – There are no dumb ideas. Adam might make an off the wall remark that sounds ludicrous. But don’t knock it. His statement got Betty thinking, and she adds another off the wall remark. This triggers something in Carl’s head and he pulls from both their statements and makes a comment that has potential. What one person considers ridiculous might get the thinking juices flowing and you never know what brilliant idea could come out of it.

Display – Don’t keep the ideas to yourself. Display them on a projector, dry erase board, project paper. This allows all members of the team to go back and review previously stated ideas which can still spark other ideas. Nothing should be wasted during a brainstorming session.

Summarize – About this time you’ll begin to pull the ideas that have potential and place them in a separate location. Do not get rid of the original idea pool. Leave it there for reference. Begin picking through these finalists and expand on them. What can be done with them? You’ll find the ones that need to be removed and which ones need to be looked at further. The goal here is to come down to one final answer to take off with and a few runner ups as backups and/or support.

Plan – Now the planning phase begins and the brainstorming sessions begins to fade. Or does it? You will find out during a project that there is the BIG brainstorming session and then there are the smaller multiple ones that occur to fine tune the big one as it plows forward.

Afterwards – And when it is all over, it has only just begun. It is always wise to pull together the original members and go over the successes and challenges of the project. Decide what should have been done different and what could be done to improve. You always want your next year to go better than the previous one.

Brainstorming is a process and one that does not end. It just evolves into something bigger and better as long it is handled with respect and so are the members. Make brainstorming fun. Wear funny hats if it will help everyone relax and get in the mood. Play music. Take breaks and play games. Whatever is appropriate for your group should be tried. You never know where the most wonderful idea could be conceived.


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    • dusanotes profile image

      dusanotes 8 years ago from Windermere, FL

      A fine exposition. You covered all the bases. Good report. Don White

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      This is good. Sometimes I think we need a parlimentary process in order to share ideas effectively. Often meetings are a mess, take too long, use up a lot of people's time that could be used more constructively, just due to a lack of organization and too many people trying to make power plays. Often action items are assigned too randomly, and progress reports are a joke.