Going down a storm: why all ideas are good when you’re brainstorming

At City & Guilds Kineo creativity and innovation is at the heart of what we do. This permeates through our whole business – from our work with clients to the way we decorate our offices.

Over the last year we’ve established regular brainstorming sessions to help people feed into the ideas that help us thrive. Everyone is welcome at these sessions and it’s great to get different perspectives and have a combination of technical, practical and creative people all in one space. This is what we’ve learnt from our experiences over the last year.

Our mantra: no idea is a bad idea

The key to holding a successful brainstorm is positivity. You don’t want people to feel afraid to contribute or that their ideas will be shot down. People will be naturally apprehensive anyway – better to help them feel confident than tap into that negative mindset.

That’s why we have a mantra which we repeat at the beginning of every session – no idea is a bad idea. The concept is that even though something might not be right for that particular project or proposal, it may be right for something else. And there’s always the option to come back to it.

Warm-up exercises

To get rid of that natural apprehension and encourage people to work as a team, it works well to start with some warm-up exercises. You can find a plethora of these online. We’ve experimented with word games, drawing challenges, physical games and splitting people up into smaller groups.

Some of the most successful sessions we’ve run have started with physical exercise. We find that this gets people out of their standard work headspace and allows them to be more creative and think about problems differently. The 10-minute yoga sessions have gone down a storm and loosened everybody up.

The warm-ups should be short and sharp, taking up no more than 10 minutes of the session. Even though they don’t take long, they shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s an opportunity for people to release what they’ve been working on and start afresh with revived energy.

Brainstorming techniques

The trick with a brainstorming technique is to allow people to be creative but also to come up with something that’s fit for purpose. Some techniques we’ve used such as random word generators have come up with some fantastical and inventive ideas, but not necessarily ones that were suitable for the problem we were trying to solve. We never critique these ideas in the session - that’s what the following consideration is for. The brainstorms are about idea generation only.

There are two techniques that we’ve found to be particularly successful. Why not try them out with a group of your own?

Reverse brainstorming

This seems like a bit of a contradiction to the positive mind-set we try to keep when brainstorming, but we’ve found it really useful for evaluating a problem and identifying a solution. You start by defining the problem which you’re trying to solve. Then you work backwards thinking of all the causes of this problem. One of our key techniques is working out what would be the worst thing to do; how could you create the worst solution to this problem?

This works with people’s natural apprehension and the fact that it’s much easier to think of how to do something badly than how to do it well. The second part of the brainstorm looks at the negative suggestions and sees how these could be transformed into positives. It’s often the case that solutions now flow more easily with people being able to see the best thing to do by identifying the worst. This is a technique that can be used again and again, on a variety of different problems, whether that’s coming up with creative ideas or business strategies.

Role storming

Looking at a problem from a different perspective can help you to consider a whole new world. It also allows people to escape their own reservations by adopting a new persona. There’s a number of ways that you can use role storming: by assigning roles before the session, swapping around during the brainstorming, or collectively brainstorming from a shared perspective.

One of the most successful ways we have used this is to look at the problem from the perspective of famous people. When taking a design issue, we considered how certain characters, such as Steve Jobs or Henry VIII, would tackle it. This relies on looking at their personality and behaviour to consider their perspective. You can see some of the characteristics we identified below which helped us think about different ways to tackle the design. Out of this we thought about what practical solutions we could apply to our design, such as games or scenarios.

Our top tips for a great brainstorm

  1. Get the environment right
    People need to be away from their busy desks, somewhere they have space to move around and with whiteboards or flipcharts to write on. You may find it helps to get out of the office completely.

  2. Provide positive reinforcement
    People need to feel comfortable to make suggestions and that they won’t be criticised for doing so. Along with our mantra we encourage people to contribute more and never tell them that something is a bad idea.

  3. Don’t start filtering
    It’s natural that the ideas suggested will need cutting down before they can be used, but the brainstorming session isn’t the right place to do this. If things start to go down an impractical route you can try to gently steer the conversation away from this, but it’s not the time to start evaluating.

  4. Keep enthusiasm levels up
    You want to create a sense of excitement and get people keen to share their ideas and get involved. If the energy starts to drop you can take a different tack or go back to some of the warm-up activities again. Keeping people engaged is the key.

So, that’s it. If you’re thinking of running a brainstorm, there’s tons of materials that you can use online to help you. If you want more expert advice from City & Guilds Kineo on this, come to Learning Technologies 2016 this Thursday to see our seminar: 'No idea is a bad idea: using creative brainstorming to deliever results'. Hosted by Liz Smith (Lead Solutions Designer) and Adrian Day (Creative Director), this seminar will teach you how to harness the collective mind.


Originally published in Learning Technologies magazine

Leave us your comments...

Rick Griggs | 7th September, 2016

Glad to see your insight in adding the Rolestorming tool to the mix.