You’ve taken a design thinking course, found a complex human-centered problem to solve and assembled a cross-functional team ready to get to work. Now what?
A good brainstorming session requires that people let go of their inhibitions and get excited about the challenge at hand. You want people jumping out their chairs, building on each other’s suggestions and tapping their creative reserves to generate inspiring, even mind-blowing, ideas.
Trouble is, many adults balk at these sorts of game rules. They’re more accustomed to sitting quietly in meetings, listening thoughtfully and waiting for their turn to talk. Transforming a staid workforce into a boisterous group of brainstormers can take a little work.
We have some ideas.
If the room is full of people who aren’t accustomed to working together, you can get the ball rolling by checking out our post on 5 Icebreakers to Ignite Your Brainstorming Session.
But if you’re in a room with a well-oiled team, or in the midst of a brainstorming session that has started to fizzle, here are six provocative ways to get things back on track.
Get yourself fired. People often hesitate to suggest far-fetched ideas that they know will never be feasible. But outlandish imaginings are crucial to effective brainstorming. Crazy ideas lead us down new paths—paths that can ultimately inspire amazing solutions. Should we burn down the building? Run naked through the halls? Feed mayonnaise to wild tuna? These ideas may not be practical, but they will send your creative thinking in a new direction.
Host an impromptu improv. Turn your problem into a play. Assign brainstormers roles and have them act it out. Cast your colleague as a homeowner asking for a new mortgage, a vegetarian ordering lunch at a burger joint or a busy dad shopping for groceries. Halfway through the improv, have the actors switch roles. This exercise forces participants to look at the problem through a new lens, and allows an audience perspective on the problem they’re solving.
Solve it with a dollar. Challenge the team to solve the problem with a budget of $1. Applying stringent constraints on a problem forces people to think about the content in a new way.
Imagine you are someone else. Assign brainstormers a real or fictional character to play – think farmer, astronaut or George Washington. Now ask them to brainstorm potential concerns from that character’s point of view. It’s another way to help people ponder a problem from a different perspective.
Get in teams. Break the group into teams of two or three and ask that they invent a new idea or pitch. This changes the dynamic in the room, creates new connections and generates a sense of competition that will energize everyone involved.
Give them snacks. When all else fails, try a boost of sugar. Sometimes a jolt of energy is exactly what you need to bring new life to a lagging brainstorming effort.
All of these techniques can get a fizzling session back on track. But if the energy continues to wane, and ideas are starting to sound monotonous, it’s okay to call it quits. Timing will vary based on the size of your team and scope of your challenge, but a typical session with seven or fewer participants can be successfully completed in an hour or less.
Interested in learning more about the brainstorming-phase of human-centered design? Read our post: The #3 Habit of Highly Creative People: Brainstorm
Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Design Thinking 101.