We’ve all had painful brainstorming sessions where we’ve sat around a table and told to “innovate on command.” Instead, take inspiration for brainstorming techniques from the innovation experts to create brainstorming sessions that actually work and are worth the time commitment. While it may seem counter-intuitive to provide limitations and boundaries on creative brainstorming, having guidelines actually encourages higher quality ideas.
Try these four brainstorming techniques from R&D teams to help employees generate new workplace design ideas.
1. Brainwriting: This is a creative exercise during which each team member is given a “brainwriting” sheet to write down an idea for solving a specific problem. Then, each sheet is passed to another person who writes his or her own solution. This continues until the paper is full of ideas. This exercise is for employees who may be wary of talking about an idea that goes against the grain or competes with others, or are reluctant to offer ideas in an open group session. At Go Beyond the Sky, we have used this and other brainstorming techniques in numerous sessions as an easy, portable way to brainstorm no matter what circumstance and even with little preparation.
2. Brainmapping: Like brainwriting, this tool begins with each participant writing a specific problem on a sheet of paper. The paper is then passed to the next person, who then draws one branch leading off from the original problem and adds a specific aspect of the problem that will be used later to trigger further thoughts. This process is repeated, with each person handing off a page and receiving another. Your teams should use this tactic if they want to save time and come up with multiple ideas simultaneously. We have found that the intentional steps of branching off a colleague’s ideas are what makes this successful.
3. Lotus Blossom: This process gets participants to move past a rut by using ideas as triggers for further thinking. First, start with a description of the problem and write it on a card or Post-It Note and place it in the middle of a large working area. (For instance, you might ask employees to explore the issue of designing space for collaboration that’s not disruptive to other staff.) Then, surround the problem card with ideas (each written on its own card) for solutions. Use each of those idea cards as a jumping-off point for new ideas. Eventually, you’ll create a full blossom.
4. The Hundred Dollar Test: This method asks employees to imagine they have $100 to spend on developing new ideas. Ask employees to split up their $100 across the ideas they value most. For a brainstorming group, ask each participant to allocate $100 each across the ideas, then add up the totals. Your teams can use this test when evaluating multiple ideas at once in these brainstorming sessions to help determine which ideas to concentrate on and which to discard. We have found this creates an atmosphere to encourage ideas while also providing a framework with which to provide useful boundaries.