Not just any ideas, but so-good-they'll-instantly-be-recognized-as-amazing ideas.

How to Brainstorm for Results (and get something good)

It’s time to bring in the troops for a brainstorming session. Because you need ideas. You might need ways to solve a big ugly problem or keep a small problem from growing. Or maybe you need a dose of fresh, deep thinking about long-term strategy.

Ordinary, obvious ideas won’t do. You need so-good-they’ll-instantly-be- recognized-as-amazing ideas. Ideas that not only amaze your CEO, they’ll bring in the results needed to amaze your CFO.

You know you need about 6-10 people for a good brainstorm session. So after you draft anyone that is connected to Marketing, you start inviting anyone that seems to be good at their job.

Because you know that something this important needs input from both sides of the brain, and that means you need everyone you can get on your team.

Once you get the group assembled, tell them the rules:

  1. Creativity belongs to everyone. Everyone’s ideas are just as valid as yours.
  2. Put away your phones and tablets. It’s tough to build on ideas if no one is paying attention.
  3. Say something positive. “That’s great” goes a long way in encouraging more ideas.
  4. It’s okay to laugh, as long as you aren’t having fun at someone’s expense (see rule 1).

Enforce these rules of respect and encouragement while brainstorming, and you may be surprised how fast the ideas fly.

But before you get started, do a little improv.

Improv comedians build on whatever just happened, whatever was just said.

So start the group out with a statement, then have person #2 respond with “Yes, and…”, adding their own statement. Person #3 does the same, letting the story flow on and on and on.

“We’re going on a picnic and I’m bringing an elephant…

Yes, and I’m bringing peanuts as a treat for the elephant so he will give us rides…

Yes, and I’m going to dress like Tarzan because when I was a kid I always wanted to be Tarzan riding on an elephant…

Yes, and…”

No one is allowed to question what was said, only build the story.

Actually, no one has time for questions because everyone is too busy trying to think about what they are going to say when it gets around to them.

Now it’s time to start brainstorming.

After you spell out why everyone is here and what is needed, use one or more of these approaches to get everyone thinking differently:

1. Flip it

Instead of trying to solve a problem, ask why you need to solve the problem. What will happen if we don’t solve the problem? What would happen if you caused the problem? Or made it worse?

Sometimes the best way to get a different answer is to look at it from a different angle.

2. Get annoying

State the problem. Then ask why.

Use that answer as the basis to again ask why. Another answer, another why.

It may be annoying, but it works. And 5 whys are usually enough to get to the root cause level, where you can start to fix it.

3. Duck It

In software, rubber ducking is a method of debugging code. You have to explain every line of code so a rubber duck (or a 5 year old ) could understand it.

Define the problem as simply and clearly as possible, and along the way you’ll often run across the seeds of a solution or a creative new idea.

It’s a great way to get preconceptions out of the way.

4. Make it Big & Hairy

Start with a big hairy audacious goal, something ridiculously ambitious, and figure out what it would take to actually get there.

If you can’t get there, how close can you get? What ideas come out of this that are more practical?

And why aren’t you doing all this stuff already?

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