Brainstorming can often improve creativity when you need many possible ideas. Consider these 12 suggestions the next time your team needs to generate solutions to a problem.
- Encourage debate, dissent, and healthy criticism of ideas. Healthy debate has shown to produce more ideas than the traditional, “don’t criticize any idea” mentality (Nemeth et al., 2004). Set these rules beforehand, though, to keep the debate healthy and the ideas coming.
- Don’t personally attack people.
- Use such phrases like, “I have a different view,” “I see things differently,” or “What about this?”
- Reiterate the other’s person’s viewpoint before offering your own.
- Clarify the other person’s viewpoint first.
- Keep your creative teams diverse. Include new people and women and men.
- Make sure the brainstorming leader is affirming and not overbearing and that he doesn’t unintentionally drive his personal agenda.
- Create spaces in your office area that encourage frequent and spontaneous interactions.
- Don’t allow one person to dominate brainstorming sessions. Sometimes a ‘know-it-all’ can shut down creativity.
- Be observant of something called ‘social loafing,’ our tendency to feel less responsible for a project in a group than when doing a project alone. Some on your team may sit back and let the rest of the team generate the ideas. Guard against that. Studies with a rope tug-of-war showed that blindfolded people who believed they were pulling a rope alone pulled 18% harder than those who thought they were on a team (Karau & Hart, 1998). However, the more cohesive the group, the less social loafing.
- When beginning a creative session, the leader should acknowledge that everyone is on equal footing and that she wants everyone to feel that they can contribute.
- Before your brainstorming session, ask the team members to generate ideas on their own and to submit them in writing before the session.
- Be wary of too much group harmony in creative sessions. Artificial harmony that fosters a ‘too nice’ atmosphere can stifle appraisal of alternatives.
- When trying to solve a problem in a brainstorming session, challenge the group to present counterintuitive solutions (i.e., what’s obviously not the solution to the problem). This approach can foster even more creativity.
- Provide an incubation period to let ideas simmer. If you give the team a brain break and encourage daydreaming, when they come back to the problem, solutions often arise (Sio & Ormerod, 2009). Sometimes ideas come to us while doing something moderately taxing and daydreaming at the same time (i.e., taking a shower or walking on a treadmill). It’s called unconscious thought theory, UTT, (Dijksterhuis & Nordgren, 2006) that proposes that solutions to complex problems often come when we are intentionally not trying to solve them.
- When trying to solve problems, encourage your team to imagine themselves a year from now instead of imagining themselves tomorrow. Studies show that this time perspective fosters more creativity (Förster et al., 2004).
What has helped your brainstorming sessions be more productive?
- Nemeth, C.J., Personnaz, B., Personnaz, M. & Goncalo, J.A. (2004) The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: A study in two countries. European Journal of Social Psychology, 34 (4), pp.365–374.
- Karau, S.J. & Hart, J.W. (1998) Group cohesiveness and social loafing: Effects of a social interaction manipulation on individual motivation within groups. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2 (3), pp.185–191.
- Sio, U.N. & Ormerod, T.C. (2009) Does incubation enhance problem solving? A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 135 (1), pp.94–120.
- Dijksterhuis, A. & Nordgren, L.F. (2006) A Theory of Unconscious Thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1 (2), pp.95–109.
- Förster, J., Friedman, R.S. & Liberman, N. (2004) Temporal Construal Effects on Abstract and Concrete Thinking: Consequences for Insight and Creative Cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (2), pp.177–189.