Four people in business casual clothes lean over a table and examine the pile of papers spread out before them. The papers show various small photographs. The man standing on the far left is reaching toward the table as if to pick up one of the papers.
Traditional brainstorming sessions can lend themselves to limited thinking. New thought exercises may be the key to new ideas. — Getty Images/Hinterhaus Productions

When you’re seeking fresh new ideas, your immediate move might be to schedule a brainstorming session with your team. Brainstorming is ubiquitous in business—but Columbia Business School Professor William Duggan argues that the best way to generate new ideas is to avoid brainstorming altogether. He contends that traditional brainstorming approaches are about as effective as medical leeches and phrenology.

Fortunately, there are plenty of alternative approaches that your team can take to come up with innovative ideas.

The burstiness approach

Bursty” is a term from psychology that, in this scenario, describes bursts of creativity. The best way to think of burstiness is to compare it to jazz: There’s a solid goal or set of parameters in place, but with plenty of room for improvisation.

“Burstiness is when everybody is speaking and responding to each other in a short amount of time instead of having it drawn out over a long period of time,” said Carnegie Mellon University Professor Anita Williams Woolley on the podcast WorkLife with Adam Grant.

[Read more: 5 Steps to More Effective Brainstorming]

The idea behind burstiness is to allow everyone to participate freely and contribute ideas in creative spurts. It challenges the brainstorming paradigm of everyone sitting in a room trying to guess the right answer — or what the boss is thinking.

Burstiness doesn’t allow one person to dominate the conversation. Instead, all ideas are encouraged, even if they aren’t well thought out. Interrupting team members is forgiven; the goal is speed and quantity of creativity, rather than polished, structured conversation.

The sleepover approach

This approach is almost the direct opposite take on burstiness. In this approach, you would hold a traditional brainstorming session in which participants are invited to share ideas. Notes are sent around for all participants, who are told to read through the notes and sleep on them. The following morning, everyone should set aside 15 minutes to write down their thoughts reflecting on the previous day’s ideas. Then these ideas should be shared.

Gamification offers a way for participants to have fun while thinking creatively.

The sleepover method capitalizes on the amount of work our brains do while we sleep. “The reason many people wake up with new ideas is because during the process of falling asleep and waking up, our brains are in an in-between state where our creativity engines have the ability to speak to our conscious minds very clearly,” reported Fast Company. “Tapping into this liminal state can help deepen the creative process and increase your teams’ overall creative output.”

Sleeping on an idea can help you see the problem or issue in a new light and allow your subconscious to generate more innovative thinking.

The gamestorming approach

Gamify your next brainstorming session to help take the pressure out of the room. Gamification offers a way for participants to have fun while thinking creatively. “It's visual, messy, loud, and innovative ... just like brainstorming should be,” wrote HubSpot.

There are a few brainstorming games that can make your next innovation session feel less pressurized and more lighthearted, enabling team members to activate the more inventive parts of their brains. Here are a few options:

  • Squiggle Birds: This game encourages participants to draw random squiggles on a page and find ways to turn those squiggles into birds. It gets people thinking out of the box and stretching their visual thinking.
  • Draw Toast: A similar exercise, this game requires team members to draw “How to make toast.” While all the results will be fundamentally correct, the content will be different, showing how different approaches can lead to similar results.
  • Carousel: This exercise helps gather insight from different points of view. It can break group-think and help bring all participants into the conversation.

Ultimately, the goal is to find different ways to let individuals think creatively without getting anchored on one idea. Try these techniques to spark more innovative thinking at your business.

[Read more: 5 Processes to Help You Tackle Tough Business Decisions]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Applications are open for the CO—100! Now is your chance to join an exclusive group of outstanding small businesses. Share your story with us — apply today.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

Brought to you by
Dedicated to turning our advantage into yours.
Unmatched 5G network : Get work done where your business happens with the speed, bandwidth, and reliability your business needs.
Learn More

Get recognized. Get rewarded. Get $25K.

Is your small business one of the best in America? Apply for our premier awards program for small businesses, the CO—100, today to get recognized and rewarded. One hundred businesses will be honored and one business will be awarded $25,000.