Tips to Make Your Brainstorming Session Prodcutive

Tips to Make Your Brainstorming Session Prodcutive

I was once asked to sit on a brainstorming session for new marketing collateral. The concerned teams discussed and floated infinite ideas for collateral designs. Finally, the design team created three or four templates based on the ideas generated at the meeting. I came out refreshed at the end of the session, amazed at the ideas that floated all around.

Why brainstorm? Simply said, brainstorming is an idea-generating process aimed to think up out-of-box ideas while working on a problem. Many brainstorming sessions deal with a particular problem where fresh ideas are needed.

How does one brainstorm? Brainstorming can take place in groups of four to seven or ten. Some rules to follow for healthy brainstorming session are:

  • Avoid passing judgment on others’ ideas. The ideas generated in the session can be noted down for further evaluation. Instant criticism is detrimental to the group.
  • The whole idea of the session is to think differently. Individuals can come up with wild, out-of-box, bizarre ideas that can even make the group laugh. Some of these ideas turn out to be practical when put in use.
  • Catch on to an idea, improve, modify or build around it. Suggest changes that would make the idea much better, bizarre or wild. Use someone else’s idea as a stimulus and improve on it.
  • Quantity is more important than quality. At the start, regular, run-of-the-mill ideas come to mind. Later on in the session, participants come up with fresh and creative ideas. The more you brainstorm, the more there is to choose from, adapt or combine. Most sessions aim for at least 50+ ideas.

Anyone and everyone can brainstorm, but not always is a brainstorming session held, probably because it is much easier to use standard templates, colors and other available elements from the library.

I agree that sometimes brainstorming can be time-consuming if the ideas at the end of it offer nothing new. When a team of creative individuals gather to discuss, ideas fly around, while others build around them or refine them or come up with much better ideas. Collating these ideas can lead to an interactive and engaging web-based course. This makes the brainstorming process simple.

  • List the basic outline of the course content and flow
  • Mention the topics to be brainstormed
  • Ask for ideas on presenting the topics
  • Jot down all the ideas
  • Collate similar-sounding ideas and strike off unfeasible ones

At the end of the process, the ideas are refined with the best ones rising to the occasion. An e-learning course can be greatly improved if the concerned people brainstormfor good, workable ideas.

Do share your thoughts with me on the same.

View eBook on E-learning to Achieve Business Goals

  • “Walk around time” is another form of brainstorming. Many memories of getting a cup of coffee to return to my office a half hour later after informally brainstorming or problemsolving in the kitchen. Today, working as a freelancer, there is very little walk around time, and brainstorming is scheduled.

    A certain element of spontaneity is necessary and missing from these sessions today. Everyone is too busy looking at the clock to allow uncontrolled creativity.

  • Thanks for posting, Asma. I would add that effective brainstorming relies on the equality and mutual respect to individuals involved. Recognize that ideas can come from anywhere… even turn the worst idea on it’s head and you may have an insight. You mentioned what we call “No Bazookas” this is important to maintain the flow and energy level in the room. A good facilitator can initiate and guide, while noting the energy/excitement ebb and flow. Being able to revisit an idea that charged up the room is critical. Notepaper is a must to capture thoughts before they pass, useful if strong personalities dominate. I agree w/ Shoshana about walk around time or any break… even overnight when your mind continues to problem solve.

  • This is a very good article.

    I think while brianstorming, some basics help, for example we should not discuss too much detailed into an idea as soon as it has come up. And the guys contributing with ideas should not be made to feel uncomfortable by critical glances. Ideally we should note down all points being raised. Later on while reviewing we can wipe out some ideas which were not exactly relevent.

  • Irena Anne Gossels

    Listen. Most people are so busy thinking about what they want to say that they forget to listen to what other people are saying.

  • In addition to the above – put every idea on the table – no idea is weird, outrageous or not practical and keep the session short. And no more than an hour or end at the point when no one is generating a new idea.

    These are my favorite sessions to lead!

  • Staying positive about the process and all of the ideas, is a big key to great brainstorming. Participants should be encouraged to come up with wild & creative ideas & thereafter,priortizing the ideas based on criteria of subject under discussion

  • Ritesh Nambiar

    Using a STRUCTURED APPROACH is key to the success / outcomes from brainstorming sessions. It is often observed that brainstorming sessions are hijacked by the most vocal participants, exceed the overall time limit set for the session and seldom generate any new ideas.

    One such structured tool is Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. The meeting facilitator usually wears the blue hat to set the agenda, bring the discussion on track, keeping time etc The facilitator then requests all participants to wear one hat at a time and captures all ideas that emerge. Use of the six hats method ensures that participants share their emotion (red hat) about the topic, examine facts and data (white hat), generate creative ideas and solutions (green hat), call out the positives (yellow hat) and the risks of each solution (black hat) …thus providing a holistic, sequential and structured approach to brainstorming.

    The only drawback of this approach is that all the participants and the facilitator need to be trained on the six thinking hats methodology prior to the brainstorming session.

  • Diksha Gupta

    Brainstorming sessions are one of the best ways to create new innovations in your company or division.
    Try not to go on for more that 30-35 minutes.

    2. Define the objective of the session. That way everyone knows what you’re trying to be achieve.

    3. Define the rules. Eg. one person speaks at a time, all ideas accepted, no insulting laughter at an idea and whatever else you may think is necessary.

    4. Once all ideas are recorded, the mediator may bring in each idea one at a time and throw it open for discussion.

    5. Set priorities for the conclusions reached and agree on a time frame for their implementation.

    6. The mediator initiates action steps to be taken by maybe individual members of the group and a time frame for their conclusion, development, implementation and so on.

    7. Then agree on follow up meetings if needed and how you are going to measure progress on any new innovations which the group has created.

    Regular brainstorming sessions are an easy way to get your whole team involved in matters that affect them.

  • I’ve found it’s critical to put your brainstorming question in a positive context, such as “What are all the possible ways we could fix this situation?” versus “What are all the obstacles preventing us from fixing this situation?” Once I start them down that “obstacles” path, the situation just seems more and more hopeless. After they’ve wasted their creativity on all the reasons we’re in this mess and can’t get out, they don’t have any creativity left to brainstorm solutions! I’m surprised how many times I’ve had to correct leaders who were inadvertently heading their team down that same hopeless (versus hopeful) path.

  • The most important item is to keep your mind open and do not be judgemental to the person bringing forth an idea. Under this type format everyone can feel free to bring forth their idea. You need a facilitator for this process and in the end good ideads are kept, thrown out or expanded upon.

  • Qazi Naseeruddin Ahmed

    -the problem to be solved is defined
    -the first step in the brain storming session is the team composition i.e., people should be from a wide range of disciplines
    -the second is to give respect to all members of the team
    -no team member is more important
    -now this aggressive team is ready to build a storm
    -no one is to stop the storm, all have to take it positively as it is the purpose of the team to create the storm
    -one person watches the storm develop and build, (s)he, captures the images of the storm
    -this person should be the most qualified to play this role
    -finally the images captured are sorted, analysed to bring an idea into focus for detailed discussion

  • I would also set time to the brainstorming. I.E. if the meeting duration is 1 hour, then the part of brainstorming should be fix and known beforehand. Another idea, which could be good in case the participants tend to talk in loud voice and interrupt each-other (because they get excited/interested in the subject) is to ask for each of the participants to write down his ideas, and only then begin the brainstorming out-loud. It can also enables the one who are less talkative to take part: or by reading what they wrote or by giving it directly to moderator/team leader to read it out-loud for them. I hope I help.

  • This will sound harsh, but alas true. The one thing to remember when conducting brainstorming is DON”T DO IT.

    It is unreliable, unpredictable, nearly impossible to prepare for, and most definitely unsystematic. Some people will say, “Yes, that is exactly the point, and that’s why it helps creativity.”

    Yes, that was the thinking up until the early 1990’s. However, we have moved on a long way since then, There are now systematic, reliable and powerful techniques that can get any normal adult to generate literally thousands of commercially focused, and useful ideas per day.

  • Elaine Heyworth

    Have at least one person who is completely separate from the problem or the solution – he or she must be completely neutral. Having someone who can step back and look at an issue holistically can sometimes throw up the most interesting ideas.

  • I have always saved the evaluation and assessment to another time, as I believe it can appear to be judgemental if you try to improve, modify and build around an idea, only for the idea to become valueless or pointless. You have only a limited time, so keys to me are as many ideas as possible (however ludicrously sounding) and then get as many ideas along the same or different tracks as possible in a predetermined time (15 to 20 mins) – then everyone goes back to work.

  • One simple, unique idea with which to approach any and all brainstorming sessions – Openess! (to all ideas)

  • Whilst I agree with both the original outline and Nick’s modification to include parties outside of the group to again that perspective I would also suggest adding the role of a facilitator. A person whose role is not to participate in the process but to organise and reorganise the outputs, possibly using a mind mapping framework to achieve this. When everyone can see their ideas in relationship to those generated by others the process can become a lot more exciting and the product is, generally, much easier to define.


  • Stress the ability to ‘listen from nothing’ and you will hear what you have never heard before.

  • Thierry Guy

    I like to encourage ”stupid’ ideas during the season. It is amazing how far fetched ideas can actually lead to solid and innovative solutions.

  • Cynthia Baird

    I think the key is to keep an open mind throughout the brainstorming session…

  • Paul

    There have been some great suggestions here.

    The most difficult thing people seem to find is to not start rejecting the proposed ideas, the ‘that won’t work because’ etc It is essential to keep everyone off evaluations until all ideas are in, finish the brain storming session with a list published.

    Then later after some time allowing ideas to be mulled over decision/comparison matrix could be made up and evaluation and judgments made using the same criteria but weighting say 0 to 5 for each one in turn.

    Stopping the premature judging is the hardest to achieve as some people cannot separate ideas from the real world implementations – a job for later.

  • Always take a pen and paper. Everyone has great ideas – not just me.

    I need to sit and listen carefully to what is being said during the session.
    I need to ensure that everyone “has the floor” at least once before the session ends.
    I need to ensure that everyone feels comfortable saying whatever they want to say – if it pertains to the subject at hand.
    I need to steer the conversation to focus on the purpose for the session.

    As the owner of the firm, I do make the final decisions. But I try to make certain that everyone has ownership in the final outcome. Whenever possible and feasible, I make certain that each individual has at least one idea that is incorporated in the final decision. I also allow myself to be “outvoted” by the participants. I may not agree with their conclusions but as long as they are not putting the firm at risk, I will give their decision a trial period. I may be the highest ranking individual in the room but that does not make me the sharpest tool in the shed on any given day.

  • I always make sure to ask questions. Why would that idea work? How would you handle this issue? Why would we do X instead of Y? Why do you think this is a good idea? Not only does this help others think about the idea, but it kind of forces the person who’s idea it is to defend their stance, to “prove it”, as to why it is a good idea.

  • Brainstorming can most definitely be accomplished with shy folks in the room.

    The facilitator merely needs to distribute either 3×5 index cards, sheets of a post-it-note pad, small pieces of paper, etc., and request that each participate write on his/her respective note whatever the individual would like to see included in the brainstorming session.

    A basket or box can then be passed around the room for individuals to place their submissions in.

    The facilitator can either write all of the suggestions on the board or ask for volunteer(s) to do so. The number of volunteers solicited can vary, depending on whether or not the facilitator might like one of the volunteers to begin categorizing the brainstorm suggestions collected.

    Of course, we can expect that the shy folks won’t volunteer to be at the board or flip-chart stand, but nevertheless, their thoughts will have been included in what’s written up by the volunteers at the board/flip-chart stand.

  • Livia Decker

    I have participated in many brainstroming sessions which were not succesful because of the role the facilitator. The role of the facilitator is to remain silent, try to get those involved who are vey quiet but never categorize or comment on the ideas put forward as ” not being to the point”. In many cases the facilator simply put the ideas aside – making decisions. Big mistake.
    As mentioned already above, to be a good listener as it might happen that an idea might give rise to an another idea, thus further developing the previous one. Please leave the egos outside in these cases.
    To work as a team with a common goal of solving an issue. This in many cases is missing.

  • Carl Merrell

    Make sure the people brainstorming don’t fall into a rut. Use some technique (ex. introducing a random object) to get people thinking along different lines. Also, time box the brainstorming and provide time for evaluating (also timeboxed) AFTER the brainstorming is done… not during.

  • Make sure you hear from everyone who is at the table.

  • I believe the primary point one should bear in mind during a brainstorming session is what comes just before it:

    Edward de Bono calls it a “white hat” session – I call it the “problem and facts-related-to-the-problem” discovery session.
    To my opinion and to my experience, any effective brainstorming (generation of ideas) session MUST be preceded by a short but significant discovery session.

    During a discovery session:
    # the problem (or the issue subject to brainstorming) is identified, defined, clearly spelled out, and shortly but significantly described (a very simple sentence!)
    # all facts and figures related to the problem/issue under scrutiny are listed, defined and agreed upon by all team members
    # the targets of the subsequent brainstorming session are identified and clearly set
    # the timing factor (and, where applicable, a quota of ideas to be produced) is set

    Einstein used to say: “a problem well defined and well described is half solved”. My practical experience confirms this.

    When I assign some brainstorming exercise during my training courses, I find that:
    # 80% of the failures are due to a lacking (or even missing) “white-hat” session
    # and only 10% to a too-strong use of the black hat (premature judgement/assessment of ideas) during the actual brainstorming session

    Hence, the primary point: a brainstorming team co-ordinator must ensure there is an adequate “discovery” session as a starting point – and remember that, if the brainstorming session does lack momentum, it might be appropriate to go back to the white-hat stage if it was inadequate.

    All the best

    Carlo Scodanibbio

  • Aïssa Hamlaoui

    In brainstorming the ideas are drawn spontaneously by recording the first things that come into people’s minds.

    The basic rules are very simple but often ignored!
    • Do not criticise or discuss other’s ideas – defer judgement
    • Build on each other’s ideas
    • Generate as many ideas as possible to increase the likelihood of finding a useful one
    • The wilder the better
    • The faster the better

    The composition of the group is also important
    • Between five and ten people
    • At least one person with knowledge and experience relevant to the problem
    • A facilitator who can keep members focused on their objective
    • A recorder to write/draw the ideas on the flipchart.

    The basic process is:
    • Clarify the topic, issue to be brainstormed
    • Explain to the group what brainstorming is and how the ideas will be used
    • Brainstorm, capturing ideas on flipcharts, until people start to `dry up’
    • Switch to evaluation mode and consider the advantages and disadvantages of each idea.

    Ask the team to group similar ideas, or to select the best ideas and start to prioritise them.


  • Asad Hassan

    Ms. Omar has valid question here, to me there are two brainstorming in place, one for the presenter who is moderating the discussion, and the other for the group involvement. If you find more interesting then what you prepared for your own brainstorming, then by all means don’t rule it out. I personally think the more people become confortable participating, the more ideas on hand to choice from.

  • We have brainstorming sessions on a weekly basis. GIve ourselves 1 hour to come up with actionable idea. It keeps us from wasting time in redundancies. Everyone must come up with an idea and suportive arguments and then we flash pros and cons, and we decide on an actionable idea to follow through.

  • Jamie F. Goddard

    All excellent contributions, to which I’d like to add four points:

    1. Use an outside facilitator now and then to make sure that all who are valuable to contribute to the session get an equal platform without the burden of facilitating or potential to infuse bias or will over the group.

    2. As a facilitator I am fascinated by that critical moment of suspension when the group has created, struggled, and, often shared so much, and is at a crossroads as to what next. Ideas seem to float above the group and the gems are ready to fall out. After once allowing that moment to play out for too long I now bear in mind that I can’t let that feeling of suspension reign for too long. The discomfort and tension is very productive, especially if change is an objective of the session, but the group may feel too confused or unsafe in the process and it can be difficult to regain footing.

    3. Use a “Parking Lot” or blank flip chart to capture ideas that are either not on point or unscalable, but that may be valuable down the road. This acknowledges all contributions, and keeps the session focused.

    4. Build the action plan as the session unfolds. On a flip have the classic steps of an action plan and fill in steps and owners, S.M.A.R.T. or whatever format is preferred – never forgetting a date (definitely completion, and I’ve had clients who include start date). These can be tweaked and dates filled in quickly at the end of a session. The advantage of this is the creation of the plan is organic and it can end the session with high energy around both creation and commitment.

  • All good comments above. To get the best brainstorming going, you need to have the right environment. Preferably away from the usual workplace, and outdoors, sitting, standing, music and being active all help stimulate the brain tissues and therefore more effective brainstorming. Increase the bloodflow to the mind increases the oxygen, speeds up thinking and promotes creativity.

  • Karthik R

    On this forum, I am thankful that my fellow bloggers have expressed their views and have elaborated on how magical productive brainstorming sessions would be in generating wild and creative ideas.

    Its always better-off to look at more than one way of doing things. It creates newer ways of not only looking at the problem but would also be a means to providing new ways/methods for finding solutions. The facilitator has to be extremely experienced and has to moderate the views with a hawkeye. Its always better-off to look at the competetiveness of the team as well. It is extremely important to know each other’s views but it is all the more important to create winning solutions for the team and it would always be better-off to limit the size of the team. That way the load decreases and will be extremely helpful to working on new ideas.

    Having said that solutions will have to checked periodically just to ensure that the V12 Ferrari’s are on the right track….

  • One final good idea, certainly for me personally, is that if I’m ever offered the role of leader, or to be a member of a team, I like to be asked face to face, with a contract in hand to review terms and conditions. Far better than insinuation and enticement, as concrete proposals require feet on the ground.

  • Listen to all ideas with a “hell yes” attitude, seeing the possibilities in every suggestion. Weed out what won’t work later. Also, make sure you’re brainstorming with people that are quite different in mindset from you (though share your goal) & tend to analyze from a different point of view.

  • Listen. Be as open and accepting of ideas even if they sound “ridiculous” and don’t get stuck in your own agenda. I once watched a facilitator lose such a great opportunity. She had limited time with two subject experts in the room but was so focused on her own pre-prepared messages, that she barely sought their input.

  • Aaik van der Poel

    Include the none-verbal members by having everyone do a 5 minute “silent-yellow-sticky-storm” first.
    Write single ideas down on a yellow sticky, short time window forces “top-of-the-head” ideas.
    Collect all stickies and moderator reads them for additional “feed-upon” train of thoughts.
    1. Shy silent members often contribute dramatically.
    2. Controversial ideas remain anonymous but are inserted in the process.
    3. Patterns come to the forefront, higher importance if multiple times.

  • I had the pleasure a couple of years ago of attending the mastermind group of one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I was honored to be a part of the group and was blown away at the power of this group to improve my life.

    That power comes from the groups “thread focus” on improving the individual. It is one thing to share with someone ideas that add to the subject or question at hand. A good group can bring participants remarkable amounts of knowledge.

    However, giving the person advice on how to work their business or solve a life problem is very much like feeding a hungry man rather than teaching him to fish.

    In a master mind discussion I think ones focus should be on listening to how one is thinking about the problem so that the thinking can be improved. For example if a participant says “I am trying to improve my selling skills.” the statement is qualifying the results before they’re even achieved. This person is “trying” not “doing.” It’s a very subtle point but stating it this way “I am improving my selling skills.” is a very different and more powerful statement than the first.

    In a master mind session telling this person about a key book on selling skills or even giving them a critical pointer is all well and good. But correcting the thinking about doing versus trying is far more powerful and even a key to selling. Yoda was right “There is no TRY, only DO.”

    The impact of this kind of coaching and observation in a master mind situation is unbelievably powerful. Coming out of the meetings to the group I mentioned above was like coming out of the Aliens movie — you’ve been moved 4 feet.

    I hope this is useful to others. Read Jeff Olsen’s the Slight Edge if you’d like a book that will make a difference — then help others apply the concepts to their goals and objectives in your meetings — it’s a small but great start.

  • Moderator — I thought this was about master mind as the question in the forum — not sure the previous is appropriate. Sorry

  • Garry Crider

    How to make your brainstorming session effective? Don’t allow management in some brainstorming sessions. This said, now let me explain. And this depends on the process on the table to be improved. In brainstorming sessions, we want to list all ideas – we encourage “all” ideas no matter how silly they are for they spark other ideas – members are instructed to accept all thoughts and not discourage input. A lot of staff members will not open up if their manager is present for fear that the staff member could be held accountable for their comments – even though they are told otherwise.

    I have found that management (at times – not always) can stifle ideas. Keep this in mind when forming a team. What is the topic being discussed – members should have a vested interested in the process – members should have different personality traits — managers definitely have a vested interested but they sometimes think they already know the answers. So when forming that team, be aware of those “stifleners”.

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  • Very good thoughts here. One thing I was exposed to in the advertising business was at a seminar where we were asked to come up with 20 good ideas on a topic. We all thought they were pretty good. Then we were asked to pick the top five. And then we were told to toss all of them and begin the project not being able to use any of the 20. The ideas was to make us get out to the Pluto orbit, where good ideas can be had if we but allow ourselves to get there.

  • Liz

    Can you write about what to do after the brainstorming session? You end of with this list of ideas that is long. What are approaches to weeding out ideas to condense the list? Is the same group involved in post-brainstorming or just management?

  • Micheál

    Great information on “how to” Any thoughts on How to move to the decision phase on picking the top 5 ideas to run with?

  • During a brainstorming session, the organisation is decisive. I think that a jovial atmosphere would help to get the best out of all the attendees.