How to Brainstorm—and Leave With Ideas That Actually Work

Perhaps one of the most frustrating consequences of working remotely has been retaining the magic that happens when creative people are in a room together coming up with ideas. For a while, it seemed like we’d always miss stopping by someone’s desk and bouncing ideas around on the fly or picking up a dry erase marker and mapping out a crazy plan (that just might work).

But because working remotely is here to stay, we’ve had to work hard to evolve and create great brainstorming sessions. Here’s how we’ve gotten a bit of the magic back and made collaborating over Zoom productive and fun.

Be inclusive.

Nowadays, you’re likely to come across a brainstorm session in which some participants are remote and some are in a room together. It can be easy for the in-person team members to communicate more effectively while the remote participants hang back (or fight with technological hiccups). For a great brainstorm session, remote inclusivity is critical—and it means much more than providing a meeting link to remote participants.

Before the meeting, double-check your Internet connection, sound and video to ensure everything’s working properly. Designate a way for remote participants to weigh in—and don’t forget to engage that way. If you tell them to “drop questions in the chat,” don’t forget about checking the chat! Be sure to effectively engage everyone on the call.

Get organized behind the scenes.

A great brainstorm can look like it happens on the fly—but the behind-the-scenes administrative tasks can be a recipe for success. For example, designate a facilitator, note taker and any other roles that will help you keep the session organized.

Challenge your group’s facilitator to prepare questions and ways to guide the session toward productive outcomes. One participant can also be tasked with follow-up: reviewing next steps, setting any subsequent meetings and sending out notes from the session. Taking these small organizational steps can help you make sure your best ideas don’t get lost in the shuffle.

Work ahead.

Send out information prior to the session so the team knows the specific problem they’re trying to solve and any necessary background information on the project. It may even help to compile this information in a brainstorm brief before the session. This helps direct conversation and prevents participants from feeling put on the spot.

You may even ask your team to come to the session with a task completed, such as writing down three ideas or three questions they have regarding the topic. This will help kick off the session without the inevitable lull that happens when the first question is posed.

Say yes.

It’s an old improv trick, but it goes for brainstorm sessions, too—always say yes. Admit all ideas, even if they feel silly, impossible, too complicated or too simple. Assume the idea will work and add on to it as you discuss.

Sometimes it’s even helpful to get people talking (and laughing) by starting with the “bad” ideas. Challenge the group to put forth their worst, half-baked ideas first. You’ll either get them all out of the way—or discover a nugget of an idea that leads to something great.

Use creative approaches.

Instead of simply asking for ideas, take a different approach. For example, start by taking three minutes for each participant to write down ideas in real time, then ask each person to share one out loud. This can help jump-start conversation. You could also challenge your team to respond with a question first to each idea. For example, after an idea the first person to talk could ask, “How can we expand the idea to our secondary audience?”

This approach helps another great tactic—focusing on questions rather than judgments. One fun way to remind your team of this is to “ban” the phrase “I like.” This will encourage your group to shift from judging ideas on their initial, gut-level responses and instead measure them against the goals of the brainstorm and the client.

And why not take advantage of being remote and dispersed? Challenge the team to find an object around them and use it as inspiration for an out-of-the-box solution. It may feel silly at first to stare at a coffee mug or picture book and trying to connect it to your client’s need for a new ecommerce solution, but you never know where the right piece of inspiration will come from.

Ready to get the ideas flowing?

Remote brainstorming may be a part of our work lives for years to come—but these tips work just as well in person. So no matter where your next brainstorm session happens, take these tips into it and give yourself a leg up when it comes to finding the next idea that moves the needle for your client.

At GS&F, the best idea wins. When you work with us, you get not only our strategic insights but brainpower from creatives, account managers, media specialists and more. Have something you’d like us to noodle on? Get in touch here.

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