Two coworkers brainstorming and writing on a whiteboard.
Before you convene a team brainstorming session, give your team members some time to think of ideas on their own. This can produce a better discussion in the group session. — Getty Images/Luis Alvarez

Whether you’re working solo or leading a team, brainstorming sessions can sometimes hit a wall. Maybe you’ve run out of ideas, or the discussion has petered out. Perhaps you’re confronting a new issue in your business and are hoping for a novel idea to emerge. Consider a few of these tactics to improve brainstorming at your business and spark creative thinking.

[Read more: What Business Should I Start? 6 Factors to Help You Decide]

Brainstorm for questions, not answers

When you and your team are feeling stuck, reframing the discussion to come up with related questions can often help. Imagine your team is trying to think of a new way to innovate on an existing product. Breaking the problem down into questions, such as “What sustainable materials could we use?” or “What will our customers need in five years?” can help inspire new ideas in a further brainstorming session.

“Brainstorming for questions rather than answers makes it easier to push past cognitive biases and venture into uncharted territory,” wrote Harvard Business Review.

At the start of the questions brainstorm, set a few ground rules: First, only questions are allowed. This is not the moment for answering questions as they arise. Second, questions cannot be preceded by any framing. This is to avoid the risk of anchoring other participants in a particular viewpoint or solution.

Try storyboarding

Storyboarding is a brainstorming technique that creates a visual representation of ideas, problems, and possible solutions. The process involves physically pinning quotes, sticky notes, pictures, or user info to visualize different relationships between components and ideas. Storyboarding is a great way to discover trends or patterns in your thinking or in your business data. Use this technique when you’re looking for high-level insights without getting too far into the weeds.

[Read more: 5 Steps to More Effective Brainstorming]

Sometimes, a change of scenery can help loosen up your brainstormers and get the creative juices flowing.

Separate idea generation from discussion

Group brainstorming can have some pitfalls. Some team members might not be comfortable sharing their ideas on the fly. Other employees might struggle to speak up in a large group setting. Anchoring bias — the tendency to favor the first idea we hear — can prevent creative thinking and iteration on different solutions.

To avoid some of these challenges, separate your discussion session from your creative thinking session. Give every person involved time to brainstorm individually before coming together to discuss. “When your team is brainstorming ideas individually, away from distraction and public opinion, you generate concepts that may not naturally surface in a larger setting,” wrote Wrike. This tactic gives the group more to discuss when you actually do come together.

Set the parameters early

Brainstorming session attendees are often told to “think outside the box.” Unfortunately, that’s not a helpful set of directions when the company faces real constraints that impact the success of a solution. You could spend too much time coming up with ideas that won’t be feasible, inadvertently avoiding directly solving the real issue at hand.

“Managers hoping to spark creative thinking in their teams should therefore start by understanding (and in some cases shaping) the real criteria the company will use to make decisions about the resulting idea,” wrote McKinsey.

Share the parameters of what your solutions must achieve before the brainstorming session. That way, your participants know that their ideas should be both creative and realistic. These parameters can lead to more productive discussions and ideas that are closer to being actionable.

Try a change of scenery

Sometimes, a change of scenery can help loosen up your brainstormers and get the creative juices flowing. Try booking space in a coworking location, heading to a park, or even just going to a nearby coffee shop to get out of your normal environment and into a different headspace. You can even use your surroundings as a starting point for observations from which to ideate. If some members of your team work remotely, create a space on an online platform through which they can also participate. A separate Slack channel, Google Doc, or online storyboarding tool can help.

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.

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Published October 27, 2022