How to lead a brainstorming session

One of the biggest misconceptions about creativity is that it can’t be constrained – that creativity must go wherever it wants.

That sounds good, but it’s not necessarily true, especially when your goal is to produce something of practical value. If you are launching a new product or solution – with corresponding microsite, brochures, presentations, emails, etc. – remember that structure can actually help ideas flourish.

If you’re a project manager running a brainstorming session, here are a few ways to make the best ideas see the light of day.

1. Split up time

Try not to schedule gruelling, three-hour meetings with a “no one’s leaving until we hash this out” mentality. People will run out of steam and your team’s ideas may stray too far, or just stop.

Try scheduling three shorter meetings instead. Thirty minutes, if run well, is a good length.

  1. Your first meeting can act as a brief introduction that closes with some high-level idea generation. The outcome should be a few strong options for the team to reflect on after the meeting ends.
  2. In the second 30-minute meeting, the team can generate more ideas based on the strongest options from the first meeting.
  3. In the third meeting, the team can refine, and then choose, the best ideas to keep.

2. Help people generate great ideas

It’s easy to tell when you’ve run a great brainstorming session. If the table is messy, if people are exhilarated and if the walls are filled with ideas, you’ve done your job well. Here are a few things you can do to help make this happen:

  • Inspire people to say their wildest ideas, especially during the earlier sessions. These ideas can serve as fuel for later sessions.
  • Don’t judge anything that is said. People need to feel safe to speak up without being judged. If someone is too negative or judgmental, ask them to keep their comments positive and maybe think twice about inviting them to your next brainstorm session.
  • Record everything and keep all the ideas from your brainstorming sessions. Bring sketch pads and sticky notes, and get ready to write. To keep things moving fast, forget about spelling and neatness.

If the table is messy, if people are exhilarated and if the walls are filled with ideas, you have done your job well.

3. Invite people from outside the creative team

If you’re looking for a truly big idea, invite people from different teams and departments. Think about bringing in someone from production, sales, research or IT. Outsiders bring fresh perspectives, so they may provide that “something different” you’re looking for.

Contact us at 416.925.1700, 1.844.243.1830 or for more brainstorming and idea-generating tips.