Widespread in business for some years, brainstorming is a technique that helps creative ideas to emerge within a working group. When it is carried out properly, a number of possibilities can be envisaged in a short space of time. It is carried out in two stages: firstly without any judgement being applied, then with a view to assessing and grouping the ideas.
The advantages of brainstorming
The brainstorming technique helps to encourage fluid thinking in a group. By noting pell-mell a large quantity of ideas without any criticism or censure, the group can rapidly run the rule over a wide range of possibilities. Then, during the grouping and selection phase, only the most relevant ideas are chosen.
For start-ups, brainstorming is useful throughout the company’s development: from choosing its name to developing functionalities or improving its services. It is a good practice that can be used regularly to encourage creativity.
The key factors of successful brainstorming
The framework is essential
As in all productive meetings, establishing a framework by reminding people of the subject and the issues is essential to make sure you don’t go off-topic.
The leader’s role is central
- The leader must avoid exerting any managerial pressure, and may even come from outside the company.
- He or she presents the issues and the problem to be considered in the meeting.
- He or she notes down the ideas and makes them visible to everyone.
- He or she ensures that the discussion remains neutral.
- He or she establishes a climate of trust and conviviality among the participants.
- He or she lets everyone speak.
The group is key.
It’s best to have a small group of around a dozen people, with varied profiles, and an emphasis on differences:
- Business areas (Sales, Technical, etc.)
- Age (junior, senior, etc.)
- People from outside the company (consultant or customer)
As a start-up, to obtain a group with varied profiles, why not ask for help from your neighbours in your business incubator or development unit?
Atmosphere, an influencing factor
For a team that is sensitive to its setting, location can be key to the atmosphere of the meeting.
So we don’t recommend holding a brainstorming session in your usual offices, as this might unconsciously restrict creativity. A change of room is best, or at least a little decoration to stimulate your staff’s spontaneity and imagination. Post-its, paperboards and whiteboards are essential tools for a successful brainstorming session and contribute to thriving discussions and a convivial atmosphere.
If, for example, you use the room where the coffee machine is, participants will naturally feel more relaxed and spontaneous.
Time is an asset that needs to be managed
Before you start the meeting, state how much time there will be for each of the brainstorming stages, but remain flexible to allow free expression.
For a group with fewer than ten people, the first ideas expression phase should ideally last 15 minutes, depending on the difficulty of the topic. This will allow everyone to make a contribution and respond to others’ ideas.
The ideas sifting phase will depend on the number of ideas put forward in the first phase.
The ideas production phase
As indicated previously, during this phase the leader will outline the problem and encourage participants to come up with as many spontaneous ideas as possible. Each member of the group can freely intervene and should not criticise what others have suggested, so as to avoid any censorship or self-censorship phenomena. The ideas are generally written down as they crop up on a board that is visible to everyone, so that everyone can easily respond to them.
The ideas exploitation phase
This stage must be conducted methodically. After the buzz of the previous phase, a little break is often a good idea to give everyone the chance to clear their minds and take a step back. The ideas are then reformulated and grouped into topics, with duplicate ideas being eliminated. Each idea is then assessed according to a decision-making grid.
This decision-making grid uses different criteria depending on the subject: feasibility, impact, speed of implementation, etc. The criteria must be simple so that everyone can understand them and there is no debate over their interpretation. This work will make it possible to rapidly line up or even rank ideas, in summary form.
Brainstorming uses collective intelligence and individual creativity to solve a problem. The summary obtained produces key ways forward for innovation, using the suggestions that are the easiest to apply.
This technique is primarily used when looking for ways to add functionalities, improve a product or create a slogan. By contrast, it is less effective for solving problems that involve important technical concepts, for which a round table of experts is a better solution.