Top 5 Brainstorming Techniques

In nearly every business setting, brainstorming techniques play a critical role in the creativity of the organization as a whole. Whether it is formalized as a process or just occurs naturally in meetings, brainstorming sessions often lead to some of the best ideas that a company will ever produce. If you feel like your organization is ‘stuck in the mud’ at the moment and you need to get things moving once again, a brainstorming meeting with some of the top minds in the company may be just what you need.

Of course, not all brainstorming sessions are created equal. There are a variety of ways to go about the process of brainstorming new ideas, and the right one for your need will depend on what you are trying to accomplish. Only when you apply the right technique in the right situation, and with the right people, will you get the results you desire.

With that in mind, we have assembled five of the best brainstorming techniques here in this article. By the time you have read through this content, you should have a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each brainstorming technique, and you will probably be able to make an easy decision as to which one is right for your organization. Or, better yet, you may identify two or more than you can use from time to time, depending on the situation at hand.

To get started, we are going to provide a quick overview of each of the five brainstorming techniques. Once that is complete, we will provide some advice on how to pick the right one for your business.

Brainstorming

Our first stop on the list is simple brainstorming – this is probably what you think of when you hear the word ‘brainstorming’ mentioned at work. You aren’t going to give any specific form to this type of brainstorming, which keeps it more legitimate in the minds of many. To some people, brainstorming is supposed to be natural and ‘wild’, and placing constraints on it is only going to limit what can be created. If you decide to have a traditional brainstorming session, you will simply open the floor and allow everyone in the meeting to toss out ideas that come to mind. When it goes right, this can be a powerful way to develop new ideas using some of the smartest people in the company.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go right. The biggest strength of a traditional brainstorming session – the creative freedom that it offers – is also the biggest drawback. Since there is no structure, a standard brainstorming session could quickly break down into a meeting that is dominated by just one or two people. Those with aggressive, outspoken personalities tend to rise to the front in this kind of session, while others fade to the background – even if they have great ideas.

It should be noted that not all brainstorming techniques need to be done in a group setting. When appropriate, you can simply have your own brainstorming session while sitting alone in your office or at your desk. In this case, standard brainstorming makes a lot of sense, because there are no meeting dynamics to be concerned with. You can just let your mind run wild, write down your best ideas, and see where the time takes you.

6-3-5 Brainwriting

As you move on, we get to the concept of 6-3-5 brainwriting. This is a method of brainstorming which introduces some additional structure to the process. If you have tried to use brainstorming in a large group but found the process to be unproductive, you may wish to consider this option for your next such meeting.

The title of the method refers to the process that it uses to arrive at new ideas. Read through the points below to understand what is meant by 6-3-5 brainwriting.

  • The ‘six’ in the title of this method refers to the number of people involved in the brainwriting process. There are going to be six people tasked with developing ideas to solve a given problem, in addition to one person who is going to serve as the moderator (for a total of seven).
  • During each round of the brainwriting session, each person involved is going to be asked to come up with three ideas. These ideas will be written down on a worksheet (more on the worksheet later). While it is common to simply write out the ideas that come to mind, some applications may call for ideas to be drawn or otherwise represented visually.
  • Five minutes are going to be allotted for each stage of this process, during which each of the six people will need to come up with three ideas. While this time limit is helpful to keep people focused and to prevent the session from taking up too much time, it can be altered to suit the needs of your organization specifically. For instance, if you are trying to solve a particularly difficult problem, it may make sense to bump up the time limit slightly.

Some simple math will reveal that you are going to need to dedicate a half hour to this process in order to complete it successfully. That allows for five minutes in each rotation, and six rotations in total. With a little time to get setup at the start, and then some time to review the results in the end, you are still looking at under an hour for what could be a powerful session of brainstorming.

This is likely to be a successful method to use when the people involved in your meeting are used to structure and order. Some types of employees are comfortable in the freeform environment of regular brainstorming, while others are not. If your group will fare better when rules are in place, 6-3-5 brainwriting is a great option.

Reverse Brainstorming

In business, you will occasionally run into problems that just seem as though they can’t be solved. You will look at the same problem for days, weeks, or even months – with no progress to speak of. This is not only frustrating, but it can be costly to the company as well. The success of your organization may very well depend on you and your team cracking this problem to get things back on track.

When nothing is working in terms of problem solving, you may wish to turn to reverse brainstorming. In this method, you are going to turn your problem around and look at it from a completely different perspective. The problem will not make much sense when viewed through this lens, but that may lead you to a solution that you never expected. Consider the following examples.

  • If the problem at hand is ‘what can we do to increase sales?’, you will flip that problem around and ask ‘what could we do to intentionally decrease sales?’. Obviously, you would never take action that would intentionally cost you sales, but you can benefit from looking at the problem from this reverse direction. While you are thinking about what you could do to intentionally sabotage your sales numbers, you just might stumble across actions that can be taken to have a positive effect.
  • Another potential problem that you could have is the issue of too many of your employees leaving for other jobs. If there has been a mass exodus from your organization in recent months, the question of ‘how can we keep our employees?’ is sure to be on your mind. To use reverse brainstorming, you would ask yourself what you could do to chase employees out the door. What would you do if you wanted your employees to quit? Things like lowering pay, offering less time off, micromanagement of the staff, and more are likely to come to mind.

As you can see, traditional business issues look totally different when you turn them around. Give this unique method a try when nothing else seems to be working – it just might lead you to a surprising resolution.

Round-Robin Brainstorming

If you have previously conducted a brainstorming session with a large group of employees, you know that the conversation is not usually divided equally among participants. Most likely, the speaking will be done by just a few people – usually the most self-confident and outgoing of the bunch. The shy and reserved members of your team probably won’t get a word in edgewise.

To correct this problem, consider using round-robin brainstorming during an upcoming meeting. This is a ‘silent’ meeting, in that ideas are written down rather than verbalized. You are going to give everyone in the meeting an index card, on which each person will write their first idea. Then, the cards will be passed along, and the next person can add to that initial idea on the card (or simply write down a new idea). This process continues all the way around the room, or until a predetermined time limit is up.

Now that you have taken away the requirement to speak up in the meeting, everyone should feel comfortable enough to express their opinions and ideas. And, there will be a written record of all the ideas that were developed, meaning the moderator can look back and the end and have plenty of ideas to consider.

Rolestorming

The last method on our list is Rolestorming. To take brainstorming in a new direction, it is possible to turn to the technique of Rolestorming. As you might be able to guess from the name, this is a system that is going to combine role playing and brainstorming. Basically, instead of taking part in a brainstorming session as themselves, your team members are going to ‘take on’ other personas while brainstorming. This is obviously a unique way to approach creativity, but it has some surprisingly powerful advantages.

The main plus to Rolestorming is that you might be able to get people to ‘come out of their shell’ and express their true opinions while they are acting as another individual. This may simply lighten the mood in the room overall, as it will be a fun session as well as a productive one. Of course, not everyone will feel comfortable with the acting element of this method, which may hold some people back from participating fully.

Picking the Right Method

As you can see, there are plenty of brainstorming options to pick from. If you are simply going to be trying to think of new ideas on your own, the choice is easy – just stick with standard brainstorming. The other methods are geared toward group creativity, and there is nothing wrong with a basic brainstorming session when working alone.

For groups, your decision is going to depend on two things – the personalities of the people involved, and the type of problem that you are trying to solve. Reverse brainstorming is a good idea for solving a stubborn problem, while the 6-3-5 brainwriting method is ideal when you need to generate a number of ideas in a short amount of time.

Should you happen to have a particularly outgoing and creative team, Rolestorming will probably be a popular pick. These meetings will no longer be seen as a boring obligation, since there will be some acting and performing involved. Finally, if you have a diverse group with a divergent set of personalities, round-robin brainstorming will help promote an environment where everyone’s ideas can be heard.

In the end, you know your organization best, and you should be able to determine which one – or more – of these brainstorming methods is going to serve you well. Keep them all in mind each time the need for creativity comes up, as you might find that the perfect fit for one situation does not work as well in another case. Brainstorming is all about coming up with the next big idea that is going to transform your organization. Use these methods to put your people in the right position to do just that.

Top 5 Brainstorming Techniques eBook (38 Pages)
This free eBook describes five of the most popular brainstorming techniques used in group situations to encourage creative thinking. Brainstorming has moved beyond just being used by marketing professionals and is now popular in all areas of management. Make sure that you know how and when to use each of these techniques to aid your decision-making.

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