Get the best out of brainstorming 

One of the best things my partner and I do is brainstorm together. We put some music on, get coffee brewing and go to work. One of us stands at the whiteboard, the other takes notes on a computer and we start shooting out ideas. Nothing is too harebrained to make it onto the whiteboard. These sessions are about generating ideas — lots of them. Refining comes later. 

We’ve used these sessions to plan websites, podcast series, new publications and communications strategies for our clients. We’ve brainstormed the course of our own business. For me, this is the most enjoyable part of my work. I like nothing better than hunting for creative ideas with talented colleagues – especially if there is coffee and chocolate involved.

Brainstorming isn’t always a joy, however. I’ve been in sessions that were hijacked by the loudest voice or most anxious person in the room, the one with the biggest grievance or longest agenda. I’ve wasted time in sessions with no clear purpose or discernible outcome.

Those sessions are frustrating. Brainstorming should be a joyful, creative exercise that produces unexpected results.

What is the key to successful brainstorming?

Here are five of my favorite ideas:

State the problem clearly

If the purpose is vague, brainstorming sessions will quickly get out of hand. Help sharpen the focus with:

  • session prep such as a topical video or field trip, as Linda Tischler suggested in Fast Magazine ;
  • related props to be used during the session.

Select participants carefully

  • “Only invite brains,” says Geoffrey James, who in an article warned against expecting new ideas from the perpetually negative or yes-people;
  • limit invitees to no more than 10 .

Set ground rules and enforce them

Common rules include:

  • shut off and put away all electronics;
  • stay on topic;
  • listen actively; do not speak over colleagues
  • be respectful;
  • all ideas are welcome; give every one a fair chance;
  • everyone participates.

Name a session monitor

Equip her with a tambourine, drum or bell to use when a participants break the rules.

Don’t leave before you decide something

  • identify the winning idea and assign tasks on the spot
  • or take James’ suggestion and sleep on it, but make sure you set a time to reconvene and reconsider.


— Barbara LeBlanc

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Contact Us

Bob Unger  508-542-1252

Barbara LeBlanc  603-486-8760