Anatomy of a … Brainstorming Meeting

Generate Ideas—Not Stress
When you need fresh ideas, it’s time for a brainstorming session. And while some people love them, others dread them, in part because they can be unfocused, sometimes seeming like a free-for-all college dorm rap session. So, as a leader, how do you facilitate a lively, energetic—yet controlled and focused—meeting that actually produces the new perspectives you’re seeking?

Here are some ideas.

Schedule for morning. Everybody is likely to be fresher.

Invite 3 to 10 diverse people. Fewer than three doesn’t build much energy; more than ten gets unwieldy. You’ll get a broader range of ideas if you include men and women with differing experience levels, backgrounds, and ethnicities.

State the goal clearly. “Identify strategies for increasing our Latin American market share,” for instance, or “Enlarge the audience for our thought leader content.”

Emphasize quantity. At the outset, identify how many ideas you want to come up with. A big number—50 to 100, say—encourages people to keep generating ideas.

Defer judgment. If someone starts critiquing an idea, remind participants that evaluation comes later.

Be inclusive. Start the meeting by saying that you want to hear from everyone. If some participants are keeping mum, go around the room to ensure that everyone speaks.

Capture everything. You might try easel-size Post-it notes rather than butcher paper or a white board, for ease of transferring afterward.

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