A bad brainstorming session can feel extremely frustrating because of its lack of effectiveness to generate innovative ideas. In reality, a bad brainstorming session can have other negative consequences like demotivating the team and have you spinning your wheels chasing ineffective ideas.
But a good brainstorm, built on the 5 keys to a successful brainstorm, will energize, motivate, and generate a wealth of innovative and meaningful solutions. This list of proven brainstorming activities is an extension to the micro-lesson where I dig into how to create and lead a wildly successful brainstorm, one that is productive and innovative.
How it works: State the challenge you are trying to solve. For example, “How do I attract new customers to our product suite?” Do a simple solution mind map off of that question. Then, in order to get different solutions, play word games by changing out the verb in your sentence. Doing this will adjust your mindset and focus, leading to new ideas. For example, “How do I capture new customers…?” or “How do I develop new customers…?” As you can see a slight tweak in your language completely changes the focus and the results.
Tamara’s Take: This exercise is great in small groups and helps everyone expand their thinking.
Everyday Innovator styles: Tweaker, Imaginative & Risk Taker
How it works: This is mind mapping in a slightly different way. You start with a central idea in the middle of the diagram. Then you create branches from that idea to other ideas as they pop up and you start seeing connections much like a tree. Ideas can be written, drawn, fully thought our, or just nuggets. An idea tree is useful in visualizing how seemingly unrelated ideas are interrelated and building on your ideas. It’s a way to discover combinations of ideas that you might not have been able to otherwise.
Tamara’s Take: This exercise is great in small groups or pairs.
Everyday Innovator styles: Instinctual, Fluid & Tweaker
How it works: Think of storyboarding as a series of images that come together to form a cohesive story. While you might have heard it within the context of novels or movies, storyboarding is an excellent brainstorming technique for any initiative that’s primarily narrative-driven. If you think of a storyboard with a page full of boxes, like a movie storyboard, you build the idea one box at a time. I like to print out a storyboard with at least 12 boxes. This forces people to stretch their thinking and not stop at the first 3, more incremental ideas. Then I have them spend 15 minutes building their storyboards before discussing and sharing.
Tamara’s Take: This exercise is great individually, and then present and build with each other.
Everyday Innovator styles: Imaginative, Fluid & Tweaker
In role storming, the group picks a well-known business, brand or person who is not in the room that they respect for being innovative. Then you solve your challenge as if that business or brand was at the helm. For example, you might ask: How would Amazon remove customer friction in our business? Or, how would Peloton connect their hybrid teams? Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can help your team approach the problem a different way. Teammates can sometimes be hesitant to put forth their creative ideas, but if someone else’s name is attached to the ideas people are more willing to remove the handcuffs and go for it.
Tamara’s Take: This exercise is great for small and large groups. It truly removed the handcuffs and resistance by stepping out of your day to day to ideate.
Everyday Innovator styles: Instinctual, Collaborative & Risk Taker
How it works: To do this, you’ll want to start with two team members discussing the topic at hand, then after some time add another team member to the discussion, and so on. Do this until you get the whole team involved and see how your ideas and suggestions take shape. It’s important to capture all the ideas as the team grows and the idea evolved. You can begin with one challenge to solve or one idea to optimize. I like to pair up half the team, let the other team take a break, and then add in the team members taking a break until everyone is working.
Tamara’s Take: This exercise is great for groups and allows you to connect people in new ways. It helps people value and build on each other’s thinking.
Everyday Innovator styles: Risk Taker, Inquisitive, Collaborative
How it works: Sometimes brainstorming within time constraints is a great way to come up with your best ideas. To try rapid ideation, set a time limit, then allow your team to brainstorm as many ideas as possible within your time limit. I like 10 minutes. It’s enough time to generate ideas, but also enough of a constraint to make people feel the positive pressure. Once the time is up, bring all your ideas together and take some time to pick out the best ones. This works really well if each person writes one idea on a sticky note first, under the time constraint and then places it on the wall for discussion. Once all the ideas are on the wall, have people walk around and pull out their top three ideas from all the ideas on the wall.
Tamara’s Take: This exercise is great because is works first individually and then as a groups. When people pull ideas from the wall they are pulling from all the ideas, not just theirs.
Everyday Innovator styles: Risk Taker, Instinctual & Futuristic
How it works: Start by assigning a small team a whiteboard or blank easel pad. Then have your team write down their ideas on sticky notes, one one each sticky note. Be sure you are clear about what they are ideating against. Then, have them place all their sticky notes on the whiteboard or easel pad. Next, in small groups, have them discuss and cluster their ideas on their easel pads or whiteboard into themes. Over each cluster write on a larger sticky note with the bigger idea or theme that came out of that cluster. Each team can have as many clusters and themes as possible.
Tamara’s Take: This exercise works well because it’s both individual and group, and allows people the chance to review and elevates individual ideas into great ideas
Everyday Innovator styles: Instinctual, Collaborative & Inquisitive
How it works: Skit solutions isn’t your typical brainstorming exercise. Largely used in acting scenarios, it can do a lot for idea generation if you use it with a group of people. Gather a group of people and designate a team lead. Have the team work together to create a solution to the challenge or opportunity you are working on. Then have them present their solution as a skit. Each skit is up to 2-minutes, must in some way state the problem they are solving and the solution. After each skit have the greater group discuss and brainstorm.
Tamara’s Take: This exercise works well with groups and pushes people outside their comfort zones (in a good way).
Everyday Innovator styles: Tweaker, Imaginative & Experiential
Go 5 Layers Deep
How it works: Figuring out the the deeper root of the challenge can help you find new, more innovative solutions. First, state the challenge, then ask 5 “Why, How, What” questions that get you to go from the surface of the challenge to the root of the challenge. Then brainstorm off of that. Questions might include, what caused the problem? Then, what’s the reason we have this problem? Then, how did this situation get created? Then, why did this breakdown occur? The key here is to go 5 layers deep before going into solution mode. Then give people time to brainstorm solutions to the deeper challenge. You can do solution mode individually and in teams.
Tamara’s Take: This exercise works well in pairs, first as writing individually and then working together. It’s also great for taking a totally new approach to a stale challenge.
Everyday Innovator styles: Inquisitive, Collaborative & Experiential
How it works: Silently, everyone writes down three ideas that relate to the topic of the brainstorm. Allow about four to six minutes for this process. Then everyone passes their ideas to the person on their right (or left), who will then build off of the ideas, adding bullet points, sentences, or even visualizations. If your team is remote, they can use a communications platform or even email. After another few minutes, everyone will pass the piece of paper again until it makes it all the way around the table. Once the ideas have made it around the circle, the group discusses them and decides which ideas are best to pursue.
Tamara’s Take: This exercise works well because it acts as an individual exercise but also taps the entire group without group think taking over.
Everyday Innovator styles: Futuristic, Fluid & Tweaker
Sometimes a new environment and some time is all the group needs to develop innovative ideas. Present your challenge to the group and then send them off for a 10-minute outside walk. Ask them to pick up an artifact along the way that reminds them of the challenge or the idea they are coming back with. Then capture their thoughts and ideas on an easel pad. After doing that as a large group, I like to break them up into threes to discuss deeper and report back.
Tamara’s Take: This exercise is great for small and large groups. It gives people much needed thinking time and a change of outside environment can change the inside mind.
Everyday Innovator styles: Imaginative, Futuristic & Collaborative