Brainstorming is one of the most powerful creative techniques ever devised. When used properly, it can produce more and better ideas than any other process. It’s based on the concept that two heads (or three, or four, or more) are better than one.
Many would argue that you can’t create by committee. I agree. Writing and other creative acts are best performed by individuals. Creating by committee, well . . . sucks.
But brainstorming is not about executing ideas. It’s simply about coming up with ideas. And it is almost always more productive as a group activity. The result of a brainstorming session should be a long list of potential ideas which you can evaluate at a later time, acting only on the best.
Sure, you’ll come up with a ton of dumb ideas, but so what? Once you get the ideas flowing, the great ideas will float to the top. And some of those ideas that seem dumb end up being pretty smart — once you try them.
It’s like panning for gold. You have to sift through a lot of sludge to get to the shiny nuggets.
How to brainstorm with other bloggers
If you interact with other bloggers frequently, you probably do a little informal brainstorming already. It’s not just a good way to solve problems, it’s a great way to keep your blog fresh and interesting.
In fact, I’m thinking about brainstorming for bloggers specifically because more and more bloggers are beginning to work together to write blogs, create products, promote each other’s content, and feed off of each other’s energy and ideas.
If you’ve had bad luck with brainstorming, it’s probably because you did it in a stuffy corporate environment where no one feels free to really open up. But if you can assemble the right group of people who feel comfortable with each other, a brainstorming session can be like throwing a match into a room full of firecrackers. There’s a sudden and powerful chain reaction.
What can you brainstorm?
Anything that will benefit from sharper ideas is good fodder for a brainstorming session. Try brainstorming ideas for post topics (or perhaps a series of posts), product ideas, marketing angles, positioning for your business, contests, link building strategies . . . the sky’s the limit.
Here are a few suggestions for creating some fireworks of your own. These guidelines are intended for in-person sessions, so if you plan to brainstorm by Skype, chat, or other means, you may want to adapt the rules a little.
Before your session . . .
Select a leader. When I conduct a session, I often serve as both leader and participant. It works for me, but you may want to select a leader who will remain fairly quiet while the others let their imagination go wild. The leader also needs to keep the group on track and on a time schedule, stifle negative statements, help the group develop ideas fully, and assure that each member contributes.
Define your problem. The leader should write a clear definition for the problem the group will address. All you need is a sentence or two that clearly outlines the situation.
Create an agenda. Outline what topics you want to cover. Prepare a few ideas in advance to get things started, and be prepared to suggest questions to keep the ideas flowing.
Set time limits. How much time you spend depends on the group’s endurance and everyone’s schedule, but it’s usually best to keep it short — 15 to 45 minutes. If you go longer, take frequent breaks to keep people fresh.
Set quotas. The idea is to work fast and produce lots of ideas, which will be evaluated at another time. So decide on a quota, such as a minimum of 100 ideas. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. If you come up with just two ideas a minute, you’ll have 120 in an hour. You can set an overall quota or individual quotas for each topic.
Select your group and announce a session. Choose a mixed group whose blogs are at about the same level to participate. Avoid control freaks and people who need to monopolize the conversation. When you set things up, don’t call it a “meeting.” That conjures images of big oak tables and idiots in neckties. Call it a “session.”
Circulate background information. Prime session participants with a simple statement of the problem, background information, and examples of the kind of ideas you’re looking for.
During your session . . .
Review the problem and background information. Don’t put people to sleep, just quickly go over the problem, background data, and what you hope to accomplish. If there are questions, answer them before you get started.
Establish the ground rules.
- Each session participant must contribute ideas or add to another’s ideas.
- No one may criticize or evaluate any idea. Alex F. Osborn in Applied Imagination said it best: “Think up or shut up.”
- No one will hold back ideas. When something comes to mind, say it.
- The group will encourage wild, out-of-the box thinking.
- The goal of the session is quantity, not quality. Quality will be evaluated later.
- Develop ideas fully. Participants should hitchhike ideas on the ideas of others to produce more and better ideas.
- Once an idea is developed, the group will move on.
Take detailed notes. Whether written or typed, someone needs to rapidly capture the flow of ideas as they occur. One option is to record the session and transcribe the recording. I’ve found that a combination of note taking and recording works best. The notes serve as an outline of the major topics covered and the recording fills in the details.
After your session . . .
Allow for the incubation of further ideas. If you’ve had a productive session, ideas will continue to occur to people for hours or days after the session. Ask everyone to write down these ideas and submit them later to record along with the main session notes.
Type up and circulate all the ideas generated. The final product of a session will be a multi-page document that lists every single idea created. Nothing should be edited. Organize or classify these ideas for later evaluation. Don’t be surprised if you have literally hundreds of ideas.
Evaluate your ideas and choose the best. The same group can evaluate the ideas or another group can. It’s often best for those responsible for the problem to evaluate the ideas, but you can run into “idea ownership” problems. On the other hand, another group may not be able to grasp the significance of many of the ideas generated. You’ll have to experiment.
When the dust settles, you should find yourself with some surprisingly good ideas. And the whole process often energizes all the participants.
Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work perfectly the first time. It usually doesn’t. Assembling the right group, creating an open atmosphere, and producing the best results often takes time. As with so many other things in life, practice makes perfect.
For more tips on being creative, read 10 easy ways to instantly energize your creative powers at my Pro Copy Tips blog.