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Brainstorming Redefined: 7 Steps to Questions-based Brainstorming

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Creative ideas—such as Innovation, Process Improvement initiatives, or Growth Strategy opportunities—drive businesses.  It’s every executive’s dream to manage a team that is creative enough to come up with innovative ideas perpetually.  Traditional brainstorming is the conventional method utilized by teams to generate new ideas globally.

The conventional brainstorming sessions, however, often falls short of generating innovative ideas.  These stints are typically unstructured, attended passively by a group of people trying to pay attention to a moderator who requests the team to think outside the box.  The participants, mainly, remain quiet during the workshop, while a few take control of the session with their mundane ideas.  They believe the sessions take up their precious time, and yearn to get back to their routine work.  The few ideas generated during the workshop are seldom put to test after the session.

A more pragmatic and productive approach to idea generation commences by developing and asking intelligent questions from the participants.  The Question-based Brainstorming approach necessitates more planning and organization than traditional brainstorming, but delivers better ideas for effective business problem solving and tackling various business situations.

This practical, question-based approach to brainstorming entails 7 key steps:

  1. Understand the Organization’s Decision Making Criteria
  2. Ask the Right Questions
  3. Pick People Who Can Answer the Questions
  4. Hold Focused Idea Generation Sessions
  5. Set the Brainstorming Expectations
  6. Have Subgroups Determine Their Leading Ideas
  7. Follow up Quickly

Let’s take a deeper dive into the first 3 steps to brainstorming.

Understand the Organization’s Decision Making Criteria

The first step to effective brainstorming entails acquiring a thorough understanding of the organization’s decision making criteria.  Most organizations are too rigid and afraid of trying out new insights and ideas.  They trust that their existing policies and procedures must be strictly adhered to no matter what.  Thus any creative ideas if generated go largely unimplemented.

Senior executives aiming to trigger innovative ideas in their people need to comprehend, quantitatively outline, and possibly influence the criteria their organizations utilize to make decisions about the ideas developed.  The team needs to know the limitations that should not be surpassed before engaging into any brainstorming sessions.

Ask the Right Questions

Traditional brainstorming focuses on the quantity of ideas; the more the better.  A more structured approach to idea generation exploits organized probing to generate insightful viewpoints.  The senior managers generate a string of carefully constructed questions, which should then be rigorously analyzed by the participants in small groups during a series of idea generation sessions.  The probing should make the respondents think in new ways, control the thought dimensions that the team will analyze, yet it should not restrict the attendees to specific answers.

Pick People Who Can Answer the Questions

Traditional brainstorming sessions select workshop attendees based on their ranks in the hierarchy, and not because of their valuable insights.  However, leaders aiming to inspiring creative brainstorming should choose workshop participants who possess deep “hands-on” knowledge on the subject, and have the ability to express themselves clearly.

Interested in learning more about the other steps to Brainstorming?  You can learn more and download an editable PowerPoint on the 7 Steps to Brainstorming here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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